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November 7, 2005

Call it a Comeback

Best Rebound Seasons, Part 2

by Ben Murphy

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After the first glance at the ORA's and our 2005 winner, Jason Giambi, I thought it would be interesting to go back and look at who would have won past ORA's, and how the races might have played out. Last time we listed 3- and 5-year rebounds, but this time I'm only going through the 3-year rebounds. Also, we'll only look graphically at the interesting races, since graphics for a runaway winner wouldn't be particularly intriguing.

I also thought it would be interesting to look at the largest rebounds ever, over 3 or 5 year spans. Although I might revisit the methodology for how we define the rebounds, as noted before to accomodate things like Ken Griffey Jr.'s trend from 1997-2002-2005, I will go ahead and run the data for greatest rebounds using the current methodology. Without further ado, the best 3-year rebounds:

Hitters:


NAME               AGE  YEAR1   PEAK1  YEAR2  VALLEY  PLAYING  YEAR3  PEAK2  REBOUND
Nomar Garciaparra   27  2000  104.206  2001    6.38     91     2002  72.303  163.749
Pedro Guerrero      30  1985   74.822  1986    3.78     64     1987  69.469  136.732
Darin Erstad        25  1998   39.097  1999   -5.327   638     2000  84.691  134.442
Scott Brosius       30  1996   50.817  1997  -18.112   526     1998  43.033  130.074
Robin Yount         25  1980   70.804  1981   29.453   411     1982 110.307  122.204
Jim Edmonds         29  1998   57.406  1999    6.435   233     2000  75.872  120.409

chart 1

Nomar Garciaparra's 2001 was derailed after his first wrist injury, and he's never really been the same. He had pretty good years in 2002 and 2003, but he was one of the elite shortstops from 1997 to 2000. Pedro Guerrero had all sorts of crazy fluctuations in his career, bouncing back and forth from 1984 to 1990. Darin Erstad had his one incredible year in 1998, and otherwise, he's been overpaid and overhyped. Brosius was improving steadily until he cost the A's almost two wins as the second worst position player in 1997. The Yankees then enjoyed his return to respectability, the subsequent decline, and a fluke year in 2001 when he was worth 2 or 3 wins. Yount's career line looks like Guerrerro's at times--though better for the most part--and he had a huge "rebound" from 1980 to 1982, largely because of his career year in 1982 as a 26-year old. Jim Edmonds managed to post about 6 runs of VORP in 1999 after he tried to avoid shoulder surgery in the off-season and had the injury flare up and require work right before Opening Day. He managed to play about two months, compiling those 233 plate appearances.

Pitchers:


NAME         AGE   YEAR1   PEAK1  YEAR2  VALLEY   PLAYING  YEAR3  PEAK2   REBOUND
Jim Palmer    28    1973   86.267  1974  20.787    178.667  1975 101.439   146.133
Steve Blass   31    1972   49.524  1973 -48.854     88.667  1974  -5.34    141.892
Randy Johnson 39    2002   80.933  2003  11.175    114      2004  69.348   127.93
Bert Blyleven 37    1987   49.684  1988  -4.495    207.333  1989  65.546   124.22
Pat Hentgen   26    1994   53.273  1995  12.659    200.667  1996  94.704   122.658
Rick Rhoden   32    1984   49.446  1985  -2.532    213.333  1986  60.439   114.95

Note: the next row down is Loaiza's 2003-2005 rebound.

chart 2

If you're ever talking to somebody who doesn't believe how erratic pitchers can be, bring up this graph. Of course, these are some of the more extreme examples, but some of these guys are, should be, or are likely to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Jim Palmer tops the list with his rebound starting in 1973, as he basically established himself as one of the elite pitchers in 1973, then had a down year in 1974 when he lost several weeks to elbow problems.

Steve Blass caught what we can only call "Steve Blass Disease," and he didn't rebound as much as he didn't accumulate a severly negative VORP in 1974. He was all but done after 1973, when he racked up about five losses more than a replacement pitcher, and 1974 he only had 5 IP (and cost his team about a run per inning!).

Most of us remember Randy Johnson's knee problems in 2003, and we wrote in Baseball Prospectus 2004 that he might not return to his previous levels of dominance. He might never be a work horse again, but he was dominant in 2004, carrying the entire Arizona pitching "staff" on his way to leading National League pitchers in VORP, plausibly earning the Cy Young Award that was given to Roger Clemens, who was close behind Johnson. Johnson is a good example of how a dominant pitcher can fluctuate season to season--back problems, joint problems and occasional overuse didn't help.

Bert Blyleven had a career high 5.43 ERA in 1988, and high usage in '86 and '87 might have caught up to him. The thing that jumps out is his control--in 1987, he had a career high 13 wild pitches, and 101 walks, one of his highest walk rates (3.4) since he established himself as a valuable major league starter, but he rebounded well and was much closer to his career line for each in 1988. The culprit for his poor year in 1988? A league high BABIP. Without a marked decrease in his peripherals (and actually some improvement), I'm without an explanation for his troubles other than the chance that he was "hit unlucky." He left Minnesota for good after his mediocre showing in 1988, and won the Comeback Player of the Year in the AL pitching for the Angels in 1989.

Pat Hentgen is probably here due more to his solid years in 1994 and 1996 than his down year in 1995, when he compiled a 5.11 ERA over 30 starts and 200 IP. He was actually worth over a win over replacement level in 1995, but his 1996 was a Cy Young winning campaign when Hentgen was almost a win better than the next best AL pitcher.

Rick Rhoden had a downturn in his career in 1985, with a 4.47 ERA in over 213 IP. It was one of his worst years as a regular starter, and like Blyleven in 1988, he had one of the worst BABIP in the league. Unlike Blyleven, Rhoden's defense in Pittsburgh had one of the worst defensive efficiency ratings in the league (Blyleven's Twins defense was middle of the road).

Next time we visit rebounds, we'll take a look at the greatest rebounds by position. I'm still hoping to look at some better ways to analyze rebounds, and identify patterns like those of Ken Griffey, Jr. like we saw last time.

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