Monday, February 25, 2013
One-hit wonders: NL West
By David Schoenfield
Back in January, I did lists of the best one-hit wonders for each team. Except, as I was recently reminded on Twitter, I forgot to do the NL West. So here we go: These are guys who basically had one big season -- as opposed to one big moment or playoff series or the like.
Here's the American League East, AL Central, AL West and National League East, NL Central.
Junior Spivey was never much of a prospect coming up through the Arizona system as a 36th-round draft pick out of a Kansas community college. He hit for some decent averages, but not much power, and he hit just .232 for Triple-A Tucson in 54 games in 2001 at the age of 26.
So, sure enough, in his first full season in the majors in 2002 he hit .301/.389/.476 with 16 home runs, played in the All-Star Game and even finished 14th in the MVP voting. Omar Vizquel never finished that high in the MVP voting and he may make the Hall of Fame one day.
Spivey just wasn't that good. He played OK in 2003, but battled some injuries and played just 106 games, was traded to Milwaukee in the Richie Sexson deal but got injured that year and his major league career basically ended after he broke his wrist with the Nationals in 2005 while hitting off a practice tee. Hey, but he stuck around long enough to make over $5 million in his career.
In four seasons with the Tigers from 1989 to 1992, Kevin Ritz had a 5.85 ERA. OK, it was only 177 innings, but remember, that was before the offensive explosion. For some reason, the Rockies selected Ritz in the expansion draft, which probably said more about the state of the Tigers at the time than the Rockies believing they had plucked some rotation stalwart. After missing all of 1993 with an injury, he pitched poorly in 1994. Then it all came together for him in 1995. He went just 11-11 but with a 4.21 ERA, which in Colorado is absolutely fabulous. He finished seventh among NL pitchers with 4.4 WAR and the Rockies won the wild card. Ritz even started the first game of the playoffs against some guy named Maddux and left with the game tied 3-3.
Maybe Ritz wasn't quite a one-hit wonder: He won 17 games in 1996, although with a 5.28 ERA (and 2.0 WAR). But he walked 105 and struck out 105 and made just 20 more major league starts.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Billy Grabarkewitz had not only one of the all-time great names in Dodger history, but one of the all-time great one-hit wonder seasons for any team. As a 24-year-old rookie in 1970, he played third base, shortstop and second base and hit .289/.399/.454, with 17 home runs, 19 steals and 92 runs. His 6.2 WAR was tied for third among NL position players, behind Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. The Dodgers orchestrated a write-in campaign to get Grabarkewitz elected to start the All-Star Game (he didn't win, but made it as a reserve).
Was Grabarkewitz's season a complete fluke? He only initially earned playing time in 1970 because second baseman Ted Sizemore got injured in the second game of the season. Grabarkewitz clearly had some skills: He walked a lot (95 walks, although he also struck out 149 times) and had some speed and some power, especially for an infielder of that era. He hit .341 in the first half but just .232 in the second half. It could be that he just had a hot three months. But we don't really know what he could have done; he hurt his shoulder early in 1971, eventually had surgery, and was never effective again (5.2 career WAR).
San Diego Padres
1970 was a great year for fluke seasons. The same year Billy G. had his big season, 26-year-old second-year center fielder Cito Gaston of the Padres joined Grabarkewitz on the NL All-Star team. Gaston would hit .318/.364/.543 with 29 home runs, 93 RBIs and a 146 OPS+ that ranked ninth in the NL. Gaston's WAR that year: 4.8. His WAR in his rookie season: -0.8. His WAR in following seasons: -0.2, -0.6, -1.6, -1.3, -0.4, 0.4 (yay!), -0.2, -1.2.
Gaston was not a good major league ballplayer. He didn't walk, didn't have much speed, doesn't appear to have much range as an outfielder (minus-63 Defensive Runs in his career according to Baseball-Reference.com) and didn't hit enough home runs to make up for everything else. He played 10 seasons in the majors and was below replacement level in eight of them.
He did, however, fare much better as a manager.
San Francisco Giants
When the Giants picked up Andres Torres in 2009, he'd been let go by the Tigers, White Sox, Rangers, Twins, Tigers again and Cubs. He hadn't played in the majors since 2005 and had never hit more than 11 home runs in a minor league season (and just one in the majors). After a good season as a backup in 2009, Torres won the regular center field job in May of 2010 and hit .268/.343/.479 with 16 home runs, 43 doubles and 26 steals. Not bad for a 32-year-old guy who had played nearly a decade in Triple-A. His range in center gave him outstanding defensive metrics that year and Baseball-Reference credits him with 5.1 WAR. The Giants won the World Series.
Torres hit .221 with four home runs in 2011, but the Giants used him to help get Angel Pagan from the Mets. Talk about lightning striking twice. The Giants won the World Series again with Pagan contributing much like Torres had in 2010. Meanwhile, Torres hit .230 with three home runs for the Mets. (The Giants have brought Torres back for 2013.)