- Thursday, January 27, 2011 11:12 AM
- Written By: Andrew Simon
Kent Bottenfield pitched nine largely forgettable seasons in the big leagues as a starter and reliever but stumbled on some pixie dust in 1999, when he had an 18-win all-star season that accounted for slightly more than half of his career value. A classic one-hit wonder, Bottenfield was never much good before that season – or after.
This list, however, is about the reverse-Bottenfields, players with stellar careers who suffered through a severely sub-replacement level season. Using Baseball-Reference, I looked at the worst seasons by wins above replacement (WAR) in baseball history, then picked out guys who I considered “good.” This obviously is subjective to some degree, but my standards were a sizable career (10-plus years) and solidly above average performance (OPS+ of at least 110; ERA+ of at least 110).
Here’s the list, ranked in descending order of WAR during the nightmare season.
10. Ken Singleton, 1984 Baltimore Orioles
Singleton was the third overall pick of the 1967 amateur draft, made his big league debut with the Mets in 1970 and went on to play 15 seasons in the majors. He collected 2,029 hits, 246 home runs, a 132 OPS+ and 40.6 WAR. Singleton enjoyed several terrific seasons, including in 1979, when he finished second in AL MVP voting. In 1983 he was a well above average hitter who helped the Orioles win the World Series, but he fell off a cliff the next season, hitting .215/.286/.289 for a 62 OPS+ in 403 plate appearances – all as a designated hitter. That performance resulted in -2.3 WAR and Singleton’s retirement after the season.
9. Andruw Jones, 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers
Jones, who just signed with the Yankees for his 16th big league season, burst onto the scene at age 19 in the 1996 playoffs. Since then he’s racked up 59.9 WAR on the basis of superb fielding in centerfield (third all-time in fielding WAR) and some very good offensive seasons (such as 2005, when he hit 51 HR). But after signing with the Dodgers as a free agent before the ’08 season, he showed up built like a marshmallow, batted an astounding .158/.256/.249 in 238 plate appearances, played subpar defense and hurt his knee. The end result: -2.3 WAR and his release.
8. George Bell, 1993 Chicago White Sox
Bell was a fearsome slugger for the Blue Jays in the late 80s, winning the AL MVP in 1987 and finishing fourth two other times. He moved from the Blue Jays to the Cubs in 1991, then was sent to the South Side before the 1992 season in a deal for some guy named Sammy Sosa. By 1993, Bell was a fulltime DH and was suffering from knee problems. He hit .217/.243/.363, accounted for -2.4 WAR and was released after the season, ending his career.
7. Hippo Vaughn, 1921 Chicago Cubs
James Leslie “Hippo” Vaughn was a big southpaw for the Cubs during the dead-ball era who recorded some fantastic seasons, including 1918, when he led the NL in wins, ERA, strikeouts and shutouts. He also has the distinction of throwing one half of the famous “double no-hitter” against the Reds and Fred Toney in 1917, in a game in which neither team had a hit through nine innings. He was still good in 1920, but his career ended bizarrely in 1921, when he was rocked for a 6.01 ERA in 109.1 innings and was worth -2.7 WAR. After a bad outing on July 9, he went AWOL from the team, and his family, and would up being stabbed by his father-in-law. He survived, and while a major league comeback never worked out, Hippo pitched effectively in minor and semi-pro leagues until he was 49.
6. George Scott, 1968 Boston Red Sox
Boomer made the AL All-Star team as a rookie in 1966 and was 10th in MVP voting in 1967. He went on to play 14 seasons in the big leagues with a 114 OPS+ and accumulated 30.9 WAR. Scott also possessed a good sense of humor, once responding to a reporter’s question about his shell necklace by saying it was made of second basemen’s teeth. But there was nothing vaguely funny about Scott’s 1968 season. That was one of the most pitching-heavy seasons in baseball history, but even considering offense was tremendously depressed, Scott’s output was anemic. He hit .171/.236/.237 in 387 plate appearances, good for a 39 OPS+. He actually won a gold glove at first base that season but still collected -2.9 WAR.
5. Ted Simmons, 1984 Milwaukee Brewers
Simmons was an excellent player and probably a borderline Hall of Fame candidate who never got the consideration he deserved for said honor. He certainly was one of the most productive offensive catchers of all time, although he migrated to first base and other positions later in his career. In 21 seasons, Simmons posted a 117 OPS+ and 50.4 WAR. But in 1984, he cost the Brewers 2.9 WAR. Playing DH, first base and a little third base, Simmons got 532 plate appearances and hit .221/.269/.300 for an OPS+ of 61. Surprisingly, at age 35, Simmons actually bounced back to play decently for the Brewers in ’85, then spent three more seasons as a part-time player with the Braves.
4. Roy Halladay, 2000 Toronto Blue Jays
Doc has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 10 seasons – look no further than 2010, when he won his second Cy Young and threw a perfect game and a postseason no hitter. But 11 seasons ago, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball history. The Blue Jays’ first-round pick in 1995 had tasted a little success in his 1999 rookie season but in 2000, he posted a 10.64 ERA in 13 starts and six relief appearances. Halladay gave up 14.2 hits per nine innings and walked 42 batters while striking out 44. He was so bad the Blue Jays sent him all the way down to Class A to start 2001, before pitching instructor Mel Queen revamped his approach and resurrected his career. Halladay has collected 54.3 WAR in his career, but in 2000, he was worth -3.2.
3. Bob Feller, 1952 Cleveland Indians
Rapid Robert enjoyed a Hall of Fame career (66.0 WAR) that would have been even greater had he not missed almost four full seasons of his prime fighting in World War II. In 1940, Feller won 27 games, completed 31 of his 37 starts, led the league in strikeouts and ERA and racked up 9.4 WAR. In his first full season back in 1946, he collected 10.1 WAR, making it one of the 20 best seasons for a pitcher ever. But Feller was fading by 1948, and in 1952 he turned in a -3.5 WAR campaign. Feller made 30 starts for the Indians that season and finished last among qualified pitchers in the AL in ERA, last in hits per nine innings and sixth-worst in K/BB ratio.
2. Jack Chesbro, 1909 New York Highlanders/ Boston Red Sox
Happy Jack pitched in an era that bears little resemblance to today. For one, the Highlanders had not yet become the Yankees. For another, take a look at his 1904 stat line: 55 games, 51 starts, 48 complete games, 454.2 innings, 41 wins. The wins total is the most by a pitcher since the turn of the 20th Century, and certainly is unrepeatable considering pitchers don’t even start 41 games in a season anymore. Chesbro was good for 8.8 WAR in ’04 and 33.2 in his career, but he didn’t exactly ride into the sunset gracefully. In 1909, he made 10 appearances (five starts) for New York and was rocked for 70 hits in 49.2 innings. He was waived and picked up by Boston but pitched just one game. Overall, he posted an ERA+ of 42 for the season and -3.6 WAR.
1. Brian Giles, 2009 San Diego Padres
Giles never was a great outfielder, that one tremendous home-run robbing catch in the left field corner in Pittsburgh notwithstanding. But he possessed an excellent blend of power and patience as a hitter, posting at least a 120 OPS+ every season from 1998-2005. In 2002 for the Pirates, he hit .298/.450/.622, and for his 15-season career, he accumulated 42.7 WAR. He was still going strong in 2008, when he hit for a 137 OPS+ and collected 3.9 WAR for the Padres. But in 2009, his age 38 season, Giles fell into that cave I’ve seen in the trailers for Sanctum. Perhaps due largely to an arthritic knee that ended his season in June, Giles posted the third-worst season by a position player in baseball history, with -3.9 WAR. His defense in right field was poor, but Giles also hit .191/.277/.271 for a 52 OPS+. He went to camp with the Dodgers the next spring but quickly retired.
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