Wilber Cooper, born February 24th, 1892, was a 5'11" left-hander from Bearsville, WV. The pitcher, who threw right-handed, had his first taste of minor league action with the "D" level Marion Diggers, of the Ohio State League, going 17-11 as a 19-year-old in 1911. After pitching one game at the "C" level later that season with the Mansfield Brownies in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League, he went 3-3 for the "A" level American Association's Columbus Senators. He remained in Columbus the following season, posting a 6-9 record with a 2.76 ERA. On August 25th, 1912, the Senators traded Cooper to the Pirates for two PTBNL (unknown). He went undefeated (3-0) in four starts, including an 8-0 blanking of the St. Louis Cardinals in his debut. He ended up pitching two shutouts and posting a 1.66 ERA striking out 30 batters in his first 38 major league innings.
In 1913, Cooper registered three CG's and one shutout. His 1.538 WHIP was by far the highest in his Pirates career. He walked 45 with 39 strikeouts in 93 innings, allowing 98 hits, a 3.29 ERA, and a 5-3 record. Although it was arguably his worst Pittsburgh season, he ably filled the spot-starter/long reliever role currently inhabited by Jeanmar Gomez in the era of complete games, appearing 21 times in relief, along with nine starts. Pittsburgh finished the season in fourth place, at 78-71.
Cooper turned down a $5,000 per season, two-year offer to play with the upstart Federal League during the offseason. He remained with the Pirates, and went 16-15 with a 2.13 ERA (NL sixth) in 40 games, starting 34 and pitching 19 complete games. His 16 wins led a trio of Pirates with 13 wins each. He lowered his WHIP to 1.219, and struck out 102 with 79 bases on balls in 266.2 innings pitched. The Pirates went 69-85, finishing seventh in the National League.
1915 would see Cooper post a 5-16 record with a 3.30 ERA, and started in 20 of his 38 appearances, completing 11. He registered a 1.250 WHIP with 71 strikeouts and 52 walks in 185.2 innings pitched, ranking third in the NL with four saves. Pittsburgh went 73-81, finishing the season in fifth place.
In 1916, Cooper went 12-11 with a career best 1.87 ERA (NL fourth). He started 23 times, completing 16 games with 19 more appearances in relief. He had a 1.069 WHIP, allowed just 6.915 H/9 (NL third), and walked 74 with 111 strikeouts in 246 innings. On August 12th, he limited the Chicago Cubs to a double and two singles in a complete game shutout, winning 3-0. On Septemer 4th, he struck out three Cardinals in a complete game, 2-0, four-hit win over St. Louis. In his 11 appearances between August 12th and September 9th, he went 5-2 with two saves, a 0.88 ERA, an opponent batting average of .170, and a 0.882 WHIP. He finished up the season ranked fourth in the league with a pWAR rating of 5.9.
Cooper's ERA went up to 2.36 in 1917, although his record improved to 17-11 (NL eighth in wins). He made 34 starts (NL ninth) out of 40 overall appearances, completing 23 (NL eighth). He had seven shutouts (NL second), a 1.109 WHIP, and allowed 8.3 H/9 with 1.633 BB/9 (NL seventh). He struck out 99 batters against 54 walks in 297.2 innings (NL fourth) with a 7.0 pWAR (NL second). On July 27th, he earned a 5-1 win over the Dodgers by limiting Brooklyn to one earned run on three hits, striking out seven. In a 2-0 win over the Chicago Cubs, he pitched a 12-inning, complete game shutout victory, allowing a walk and nine hits. Cooper's 17 wins were even more impressive considering the Pirates posted an NL last place record of 51-103.
1918 would see Cooper go 19-14 (NL third in wins) in 38 games, making 29 starts (NL eighth) and 26 complete games (NL third) with two shutouts. He dropped his ERA back down to 2.11 (NL third) with a 1.039 WHIP (NL third), 7.211 H/9 (NL third), 2.1 BB/9, 3.852 K/9 (NL second), and 117 strikeouts (NL second) in 273.1 innings (NL third). His 4.4 pWAR ranked him fourth in the NL. On June 18th, he was a hard-luck, 1-0 loser to the Philadelphia Phillies, when he allowed one hit, one walk, and one unearned run, striking out three batters. In the first game of a doubleheader on August 29th, he found himself on the right side of a similar decision, striking out seven and allowing four hits to St. Louis in a 1-0 win over the Cardinals. Pittsburgh went 65-60 and finished the season in fourth place.
1919 would see Cooper go 19-13 (NL fourth in wins) with a 2.67 ERA in 35 games (NL ninth). 32 of his appearances were starts (NL third), with an NL leading 27 complete games and four shutouts (NL fifth) and 286.2 innings pitched (NL third). He posted a 1.057 WHIP (NL seventh), 7.190 H/9 (NL second), 2.1 BB/9, and struck out 3.328/9 (NL 10th) with a 4.2 pWAR (NL eighth). His best three games of the season came on consecutive starts from August 8th through August 18th. It started with a 3-0 win over the Dodgers in which he allowed three walks and one hit. On the 13th, he pitched a complete game, 3-2, 14 inning win, striking out six and allowing one earned run on nine hits to the Boston Braves. Next, he pitched a 13-inning five-hit (all singles), 3-2 win against Philadelphia, striking out seven Phillies. Pittsburgh brought up the rear of the first division with a 71-68 record.
In 1920, Cooper went 24-15 (a career high and NL second best in wins, an NL seventh best .615 win percentage) with a 2.39 ERA (NL fourth). He pitched in 44 games (NL fourth), with 37 starts (NL third) and 28 completed (NL second) with three shutouts. He pitched 327 innings (NL second), walking 52 with 114 strikeouts. He finished with a 1.098 WHIP (NL second), 8.450 H/9 (NL ninth), 1.431 BB/9 (NL second), and a 6.0 pWAR (NL third). On May 2nd, he earned a 3-0 win against the Cincinnati Reds, allowing four hits and striking out three. He pitched a three hitter and struck out four Phillies in a 2-1 victory on July 7th. On August 4th, he pitched a five hitter and struck out four Braves in a 3-0 decision. The Pirates finished in fourth place for the third season in a row, going 79-75.
Cooper led the NL in wins in 1921, going 22-14 with a 3.25 ERA (NL eighth). He appeared in 38 games, all starts, completing 29 (NL second) with two shutouts (NL eighth). He again pitched 327 innings (NL first), facing 1377 batters (NL first) with a 1.287 WHIP and a 4.5 pWAR (NL sixth). In game two of a twin bill on September 5th, he allowed four hits and struck out five in a 2-1 win against the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates finished in second place in the National League, four games behind the New York Giants with a 90-63 record.
1922 would see Cooper go 23-14 (NL second in wins with an NL fifth best .622 winning percentage), 3.18 ERA (NL fourth) in 41 games. He completed 27 (NL first) of his 36 starts (NL second) with four shutouts (NL third), pitching 294.2 innings (NL second). He led the National League with a 6.4 pWAR and placed second with 129 strikeouts. On July 14th, in a 6-1 win over the Braves, he pitched all nine innings, allowing only an unearned run on a walk with three hits while striking out seven. In his next start on July 19th, he allowed six hits and struck out six in a win against the Phillies, 2-0. Pittsburgh went 85-69, finishing 3rd in the NL.
In 1923, Cooper posted a 17-19 record (10th in wins, first in losses) and a 3.57 ERA. He started an NL leading 38 times, appearing 39 times overall. He completed 26 of his starts (NL fourth), pitching 294.2 innings (NL seventh) and racking up a 3.8 pWAR (NL seventh). His control was still a strength, as he walked 2.169 batters per nine innings (NL sixth). He earned his only shutout of the season on June 27th, blanking the Cardinals, 6-0 and allowing only four hits. The Pirates placed third in the league, at 87-67.
1924 would be Cooper's last season in Steeltown, For the third time in his career, he eclipsed the 20 win mark, compiliing
a 20-14 (NL third in wins) record with a 3.28 ERA. He appeared 38 times (NL fifth), with 35 rotation starts (NL second), 25 completed games (NL fourth), and an NL leading four shutouts. His WHIP was the lowest it had been in four seasons, at 1.251. He also walked a career low 1.340 batters per nine innings, ranking third in the National League, also ranking third with 268.2 innings worked. He opened the season strong, with a complete game five-hit shutout win against the Reds, 1-0 in Pittsburgh's second game of the season, on April 16th. On June 27th, he dropped a two hitter on the Cubs for a 9-0 complete game victory. On August 22nd, he allowed just three hits to the Braves in a 3-0 win. The Pirates were officially back in business with a 90-63 record, but still ended up just three games short of the NL Pennant.
Cooper was traded with first baseman Charlie Grimm and middle-infielder Rabbit Maranville just after the 1924 season to the Cubs for pitcher Vic Aldridge, right side infielder George Grantham, and first baseman Al Niehaus. He played a season and a half with Chicago (14-15, 4.31) before closing out his career in the American League, with the Detroit Tigers (0-4, 11.20). Although he was one of few bright spots during the Pirates dry stretch, and often ranked with the league leaders in innings pitched, walks allowed per nine, and wins and losses, he never earned more than 11 votes for Cooperstown. He is the Pirates all time leader in wins, with 202.
All-Time Statline: 13 seasons, 202-159, 2.76 ERA, 469 games, 369 starts, 263 CG, 33 shutouts, 14 saves, 3199 innings
pitched, 3074 hits allowed, 762 walks, 1191 strikeouts, 1.199 WHIP, 50.5 WAR (46.8 as a pitcher, 3.7 at the plate).