1. Brady Anderson: 1996
In 1996, Brady Anderson, the left fielder for the Baltimore Orioles during their most recent stretch of relevance, had one of the most bizarrely ephemeral power surges in baseball history, transforming from the mild-mannered .260/.360/.430-ish hitter he'd been the previous three years into a .297/.397/.637 monster. In 1997, he took off the cape, put the glasses back on, and hit an entirely respectable .288/.393/.469.

His 50 home runs in that 1996 campaign were good for ninth in MVP voting (if you'll remember, 1996 was the year Juan Gone robbed A-Rod and Ken Griffey, Jr. of equally deserved honors), and were the only real outlier in his stats that year, leading lazy writers to often point to Anderson as a steroids user. Thankfully, it seems Anderson had the good sense to only juice for one season over the course of his 15-year major-league career, rejecting an awesome and mighty power that might have consumed him whole; he hit 18 home runs in 1997 and never broke 25 any season before or after the '96 campaign. Thus spurned, the excesses of steroids would lurk dormant in the cold earth until 2004, when Barry Bonds hit a baseball so hard it destroyed the world.—Jonathan Bernhardt

2. Wilcy Moore: 1927
His name doesn't show up in professional baseball until his age-25 season, and he made his big-league debut about a month before his 30th birthday… and all Wilcy Moore did after that was immediately become arguably the most important part of the pitching staff of the team that many still consider the greatest ever assembled. Moore appeared in 50 games for the 1927 Yankees, all but 12 of them in relief, yet his 213 innings were second on the team (to Waite Hoyt's 256 1/3), as were his 19 wins (to Hoyt's 22, and tied with Herb Pennock). Had the stat existed, his 13 saves would have led the American League, and his 2.28 ERA is now recognized as having led the league (under the rules at the time, which required a minimum of 10 complete games, Hoyt's 2.63 claimed that title, too). It has to be considered one of the greatest mostly-relief seasons of all time. 

And it was an exaggerated version of the type of iron-man season a lot of us wish modern relief aces could have. But Moore (according to several internet sources) blamed his being overworked in that season for his subsequent arm troubles. Injuries and a tired arm kept Moore to 60 or so ineffective innings in both 1928 and '29, and he was back in the minors for all of 1930, before resurfacing in 1931 with the Red Sox and putting up one more pretty good year in a swing role very similar to the one he filled in 1927. He was 34 by then, though, and lasted just two more poor years (with the Red Sox and then back with the Yankees), then hung around in the minors until age 43. But it's his status as one of baseball's first relief aces, and the fact that it happened for the 1927 Yankees, that makes Moore's rookie year my favorite great season by an otherwise mediocre player in baseball history. —Bill Parker

3. Darin Erstad: 2000
During his first few seasons in Anaheim, Darin Erstad looked like a decent chip on a middling Angels ballclub. Coming off a down year in 1999, Erstad teamed up with the Y2K bug to become a pest at the plate and make the turn of the century the season of his life. In 2000, the former first overall pick established career highs in all three slash categories (.355/.409/.541), homers (25), triples (6), and even stolen bases (28). With the aid of a .375 BABIP, Erstad crossed the 200-hit mark for the first and only time in his career, collecting 240 hits in 747 plate appearances. Awards season was kind to the lefty, who picked up a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger to go with his All-Star appearance, but despite his 8.3 WARP effort, Erstad finished eighth in MVP voting. 

Erstad was never able to replicate his magical season. During the last nine years of his career, he averaged a .267/.319/.367 line and finished off his playing days where careers go to die: Houston. —Stephani Bee

4. Corey Patterson: 2006
Once one of the brightest prospects in the game, Corey Patterson has been teasing clubs with his raw tools for more than a decade. He's never developed a reasonable approach at the plate, so Patterson has largely disappointed in nearly 4,500 major-league plate appearances, over which he's been worth exactly one win above replacement. The Orioles acquired Patterson from the Cubs prior to the 2006 season, and he rewarded them with his finest big-league season, a 2.4 WARP campaign that brought his career value back into the black for the first time in three years.

Unfortunately, the next three years were all below replacement level. Patterson currently qualifies as one of only three players since 1950 (minimum 4000 PA) to have a single season worth more than 200 percent of his career WARP, joining Gary DiSarcina (2.4 WARP in 1995, 0.5 for his career) and Bob Aspromonte, who did it twice (1.9 WARP in 1967, 2.4 WARP in 1962, 0.8 career WARP). —Bradley Ankrom

5. Rick Wilkins: 1993
Nothing about Wilkins’ career made sense, least of all his career year in 1993. It isn’t often you see a player hit 14 home runs over his first 509 major-league plate appearances, then 30 over his next 500, and then 37 over his next 1,426, but again: nothing about Wilkins’ career made sense. Wilkins hit his first home run during that 1993 season on April 29. He hit his 10th on June 9. His 20th came on July 26. His 30th on September 28. The lessons learned: 1) Hit about five home runs a month and you, too, can have a 30-homer season and 2) You may never do it again. —R.J. Anderson

Who says you can know a man by the company he keeps?


Top 30 Cubs Seasons By WARP (1950 – present)

Ernie Banks


Ron Santo


Billy Williams


Sammy Sosa


Ryne Sandberg


Ferguson Jenkins


Derrek Lee


Mark Prior


Rick Wilkins


Five Hall of Famers, a player with Hall of Fame numbers that are filled with cork, a long-time star, the best college pitcher of his generation, and… Rick Wilkins, whose improbably incandescent 1993 ranks among the 30 best Cubs season since the dawn of the nuclear age. On the strength of his .303/.376/.561 line, Wilkins earned 6.2 WARP that year—the same as Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar—while joining Gabby Hartnett as the only Cubs catchers to launch 30 home runs in a season. How’s that for name-dropping?

Wilkins had never shown much power but had been moderately productive the previous season in a job-share with Joe Girardi, and when the Rockies stole Peoria Joe in the expansion draft, the 25-year-old Wilkins was handed the job and ran with it as few have ever done. Typically for the Cubs, their cornerstone catcher slumped badly the next year and face-planted in 1995, posting a career .220/.319/.364 after his breakout season and haunting seven more organizations before hanging ‘em up in 2002. He was an unlikely hero, but for one magical summer when he never missed his pitch, Rick Wilkins was the best catcher Chicago had seen in a generation. —Ken Funck

6. Jeff Ballard: 1989
Once upon a time, the Baltimore Orioles were not synonymous with "flaming train wreck." In 1989, they were less than a decade removed from their last World Series championship, and despite coming off an awful 54-win season, there was cause for optimism. Cal Ripken was 28, Camden Yards was on the drawing board, and young talent had percolated to the major-league team. There was Steve Finley, Craig Worthington, Brady Anderson, and, if you'll come all the way back with me to the summer of '89, Jeff Ballard.

For one sunny season, Ballard was a major-league ace. In 215 1/3 innings, Ballard went 18-8 with a 3.43 ERA, a full 10 percent above league average, and helped the Orioles win 87 games. He finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting behind Nolan Ryan and in front of Dennis Eckersley. But here’s the thing: Ballard did all that with a strikeout rate of—and I hope you're sitting down for this—2.6 K/9. The average K rate that year was just under 6. In 1990, Ballard was essentially the same pitcher, and his strikeout rate rose a bit, but his Oriole Magic was gone. His ERA spiked to 4.93, 22 percent below league average, and his record fell to 2-11. Undeterred, the O's trotted him out again in 1991 with predictably awful results. That was enough, and Baltimore cut bait. Ballard bounced through St. Louis, Oakland, and Pittsburgh, where he pitched in relief for the Pirates, but for all intents and purposes, at the age of 27, Jeff Ballard was finished as a major-league starting pitcher. —Matthew Kory

7. Davey Johnson: 1973
From 1969 to 1972, Davey Johnson hit 40 homers in 2,190 plate appearances for the Baltimore Orioles. After being traded to Atlanta in 1973, he went deep 43 times for the Braves. Although Johnson had strong enough secondary skills to make him a valuable second baseman throughout his career, he never came close to matching that performance before or after. His OPS jumped by more than 250 points from the previous season and would plummet by more than 150 the next. Had Johnson played 30 years later, chemicals would have been blamed for this anomaly. Instead, his 1973 is remembered for what it was: one of the great fluke seasons in baseball history. —Geoff Young

​8. Bill Mueller: 2003
In September 2002, the Cubs traded Bill Mueller to the Giants for Jeff Verplancke. Verplancke was a minor-league reliever and, so far as I can tell, never threw another pitch after the trade. He's a college pitching coach now. Mueller played a few September games for the Giants, then signed with the Red Sox over the winter. He was not the team's starting third baseman on Opening Day 2003. He spent much of the season batting eighth and… finished 12th in MVP voting. He batted .326/.398/.540, the second-highest slugging percentage ever for a Red Sox third baseman.

Mueller, it turned out, was just the perfect Fenway Park hitter. Said Theo Epstein many years later, "The ultimate was a guy like Bill Mueller, who from the left side was an opposite-field guy and was a pull guy from the right side. All of a sudden he gets to Fenway and hits .325." That explains the 31 doubles—31 doubles!—he hit at home that year, and it explains the .344/.415/.579 line he had at Fenway the next year. But Mueller's astounding 2003 season—he was 32—can't entirely be waved away as a Fenway illusion: He hit .309/.373/.530 away from Fenway, with 13 road homers. He never hit 13 home runs in any other season of his career. —Sam Miller

9. Billy Grabarkewitz: 1970
The second-place 1970 Los Angeles Dodgers had two representatives at the All-Star Game: Claude Osteen, making his second of three appearances, and third-baseman Billy Grabarkewitz. Grabarkewitz—often called "Grabby"—was a 24-year-old kid from Texas who, by the break, was batting .341/.445/.498. Grabby's first half was so out of the blue that his name wasn't even featured on the All-Star ballots; the Dodgers launched a write-in campaign for him, but with a name like Grabarkewitz, it proved a bit difficult. Cincinnati's Tony Perez earned the start, but Grabby was named to the team anyway. He even played a key role in the extra-inning affair, moving Pete Rose over to second with a single only one batter before the famous Ray Fosse collision.

Grabby ended the 1970 campaign with a .289/.399/.454 line, 17 home runs, 95 walks, and 6.7 WARP (10th-best it the National League). As a minor leaguer, Grabby hit well in the A and Double-A leagues (with OPS marks of 921, 924, and 963 in the three seasons), but looked barely average in Triple-A (a 767 OPS at Spokane) in 1969. In a brief callup that year, he managed a measly .092 batting average in 70 plate appearances. The best explanation for Grabby's 1970 season seems to be an insanely high BABIP (.470 at the All-Star break and .368 overall despite a .188 August).

In 1971, Grabarkewitz injured his shoulder early in spring training and failed to hit when given the opportunity. After the 1972 season, the Dodgers traded him to the Angels along with Frank Robinson and Bobby Valentine—Grabby had managed a .186 average in 93 games over the prior two years—but it didn't help. Despite Robinson's claim, "If he could talk his way to first base, [Grabby] would be batting 1.000," he was out of baseball after the 1975 season. —Larry Granillo

​10. Daniel Cabrera: 2006
In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that Corey Patterson and Daniel Cabrera eventually found themselves sharing a clubhouse. While years of unrealized potential had caused Patterson to wear out his welcome in Chicago, Cabrera's frustrating career was still in its infancy when the two became Orioles teammates in 2006. Cabrera posted the finest numbers of his career that year, and his 2.6 WARP proved to be more than 370 percent of his career total of 0.7. Nine pitchers (minimum 500 IP) have accomplished that feat, and given that Cabrera hasn't thrown a major-league pitch since 2009, he appears likely to maintain his place in history. —Bradley Ankrom

​11. Xavier Nady: 2008
The 2008 edition of the Annual stated: "At age 29, [Xavier] Nady has passed the expiration date for reaching major league stardom. He has become a useful player with moderate power, but his refusal to take a walk and his average-at-best defense in right field limit his opportunities to start to second-division clubs." If only the Yankees had listened. The thing is, Nady started off the 2008 season hitting like there was no tomorrow; he had a .330/.383/.535 line with 13 home runs, convincing many that he was simply a late bloomer. The Yankees, needing some help in their outfield, opted to trade for this Pirate (along with Damaso Marte, who also largely fizzled), instead of Jason Bay (whom the Red Sox would net in a three-way deal that sent Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers); Boston went on to the postseason while the Yankees remained at home. Nady fell flat after a hot start with the Yankees, and an elbow injury necessitating a second Tommy John surgery in April 2009 cost him his job in the Bronx. —Rebecca Glass

​12. Rich Aurilia: 2001
I don’t have much against Barry Bonds. I don’t particularly mind that he may have experimented with every performance-enhancing substance available (and some he probably had to synthesize himself). I don’t care that he could be cold in the clubhouse or reticent with reporters. I’m even over the fact that his withdrawal from the union licensing agreement forced me to play as fictional right-handed hitter Jon Dowd in MVP Baseball 2005, forever tainting the legacy of the real, pointillistic player with almost the same name.

The only thing I can’t forgive Bonds for is showing up Rich Aurilia by setting the single-season home run record in the same uniform* that Aurilia was wearing when he was possessed by the ghost of Honus Wagner. Aurilia entered the 2001 season as a 29-year-old with over 2,000 plate appearances of .270/.327/.419 hitting under his belt. He finished it as a 30-year-old with a .324/.369/.572 line, 37 home runs, and a league-leading 206 hits. As a shortstop. Aurilia racked up 65.2 VORP that season. Current Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford will probably play his whole career without accumulating 65 VORP.

*Not literally the same uniform. Because Bonds’ head never would have fit through Aurilia’s collar. No one has ever made fun of Bonds’ head for being big before, right? Side-effect-of-steroids joke!

Aurilia’s offensive explosion may have been even less predictable than Bonds hitting 73 homers at age 36. We can't blame BABIP for much of it. Alternate explanations abound—maybe Aurilia was just feasting on fat pitches from hurlers who were afraid to face Bonds and Jeff Kent batting behind him. (Aurilia hit out of the two-hole in almost every game.) Maybe he slipped and fell on Barry’s syringe. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be repeated.

In Aurilia’s Baseball Prospectus 2002 comment, we confidently predicted, “Even regressing to the mean this year, he’ll be the best shortstop in the league.” As it turned out, Aurilia would be worth -0.2 WARP, which qualified him for a 24th-place tie. He was still batting in front of Kent and Bonds, and if he had been on something in 2001, the 2002 testing policy didn’t offer much incentive to stop. So why didn’t he hit? In another comment we’d like expunged from our record, we blamed it on the bone chips in BP2003, writing that he was “a good bet to rebound and be the NL’s best-hitting shortstop.” He rebounded all the way to 0.6 WARP.

Aurilia usually wasn’t a bad player. He also usually wasn’t one of the 10 best in his league. Except for that one year when he was. —Ben Lindbergh

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Respectfully, Bradley, you gotta be able to do better than those two. Daniel Cabrera's ERA in 2006 was 4.74, his FIP not a whole lot better. He was never good. Corey Patterson's 2006 was, offensively, exactly as valuable as his 2003 and 2004, with the higher WARP owing itself to a difference either in defensive performance or in how what most acknowledge to be imperfect barometers measured that defensive performance.

How about Gregg Jefferies, 1993? Esteban Loaiza, 2003?
Thanks for the comments, Dave. I approached this a little differently (which is a nicer way of saying I don't always follow directions) and probably stretched the boundaries of this week's topic. I found it interesting that Patterson and Cabrera - players with significant major-league track records - had single seasons that accounted for absurd percentages of their total career values, and thought others would enjoy reading about them.
Understood. I think both players would make fine candidates for the All "Frustate Us With Your Unfulfilled Potential" Team. Brandon Wood, Matt Anderson, Ollie Perez, and the Brothers Drew can come along, too.
You needed to tweak you formula. Who were the players with the greatest seasons above their career WARP - or above their 2nd greatest season - in total, not percentage? With career average WARPS outside of their career year under 1.5?
Oh, Dear. I made a critical remark about an official BP article. Therefor, no explanation necessary: I must be wrong.
1980 Rick Cerone, 45 VORP, never broke a 15 VORP again in 18 seasons. Wasn't he a 1(-4) that year in strat as well?
First season that popped into my head was Bullet Bob Tewksbury in 1992. His player card here shows a higher VORP in '93 though, which doesn't pass the sniff test to me.
Wilcy Moore's write-up reminded me of Jim Konstanty's incredible year with the 1950 Phillies Whiz Kids.
Very similar, actually. Good call. Can't believe he beat out Stan Musial for the MVP...
It took sort of a fluke year in the minors to get ol' Wilcy to the bigs. He'd had one really good year in Class C in 1923 (19-4, 0.16 ERA) but then bombed in 3 innings with the Tigers' top farm team. After that he puttered along for a couple of years...then came up with 30 wins for Greenville in the Sally League (2.86 ERA) in 1926. During the off season Yankee GM Ed Barrow read about this, and promptly mailed Moore a contract sight unseen and without a scouting report, figuring someone who could win 30 anywhere in the minors was worth a look. The rest you know, thanks to the article.
It's actually a bug in the calculations by baseball-reference. Moore played at two levels that year, only one of which has earned runs tabulated. In the other, Moore allowed 123 combined runs across 270 innings. It is not known how many were earned runs, so that gets blanked out. Moore also allowed 5 earned runs in three innings at a higher level. So BB-ref simply informed us all that Moore allowed 5 earned runs in 273 innings.
Pat Listach? Or will there be a separate sort of list for players who peaked their rookie season?
I almost picked Listach, but discarded him for the reason you allude to.
Curious if ROY, Ron Kittle, would qualify for this particular award.
As soon as I saw the title of the article I immediately thought of Brady Anderson. How about Kal Daniels in 1990?
Speaking for myself only, Daniels was too good for this exercise. He was a stud when healthy, which admittedly was almost never, but check out his 1987 and 1988 seasons. Also, baseball needs more players named Kalvoski.
How about a column for good or great players having one anomalous awful year? You could call them the Dunn awards assuming he rebounds.
I got to put in for Ryan Ludwick. He is the reason I won my league in 2008.

2008 Line: 104 Runs/ 113 RBI/ 37 HR/ 299 BA

Nobody drafted him in my league or any league for that matter. I picked him up after week 2.
Brady Anderson was not a "mediocre" player and he did not have a "fluke" year by WARP standards. He had a fluke year with *home runs.* This is a career 36+ WARP player that didn't really begin compiling that figure until he was handed a full-time gig at age 28. He was one of the best baserunners of his era and tremendous defensive corner outfielder when he played LF. Since when has .288/.393/.469 been "entirely respectable" and not "damn good"? By BP standards, his 50hr year was less than a win better than his 1992 season, when he threw down a 6.3 WARP. (And, for the sake of ephermera, I believe he's the only player ever with a 20hr/50sb season AND a 50hr/20sb season in his career.)

Free Brady Anderson
Daniel Cabrera was never mediocre; he flat out sucked. King Entropy, master of the chaos theory.
Good to bad players often have one anomalous year, and I have long wondered why. Rico Petrocelli in 1969 - 1969! - set career highs in everything, including 40 homers at SS, and put up 8.6 WARP. The rest of his career he was OK to good, but I suppose mostly better than mediocre. But Walt Dropo 1950. Rick Sutcliffe 1984. Red Schoendienst 1953. I'll bet there are dozens of guys.
Well, with Rico, it was injuries. He did follow up '69 with 29 homers.
True. I realized as I wrote that he did not belong in the same article as Rich Aurilia et al.

Injuries are probably behind many of these cases. Not just major ones, but also minor lingering ones that reduce a player's effectiveness and stamina, but don't take him out of the lineup. Then one year he's completely healthy and also his skills and luck align, and pow.
Phil "The Vulture: Regan, 1966:

21 saves
1.62 ERA
208 ERA+
7th in the voting for MVP
Phil Regan in 1968 was almost as good:

25 saves (led league both years)
2.27 ERA
pitched 135 innings as compared to 117 in '66
17th in the voting for MVP

The Dodgers traded him to the Cubs on April 23 that year with Jim Hickman for Jim Ellis and Ted Savage. That was the 2nd time Regan was traded and the 2nd time the team acquiring him gained a Cadillac for a Chevy (in '60s parlance). Detroit traded him to the Dodgers before the '66 season for a utility back-up infielder Dick Tracewski (career WAR after the trade: 0.1). Jim Hickman could have made this list himself. He finished 8th in MVP voting in 1970 (.315/.419/.582), but never was close to being an all-star game or receiving an MVP vote in any other year, although did have a good year as a platoon player in 1970. For Hickman and Regan, the Dodgers received Ted Savage who produced a negative WAR for the Dodgers, was traded two more times before his career year in 1970 with Milwaukee: a 2.2 WAR as compared to Hickman's 5.0 that year. Jim Ellis (no relation to Doc) never pitched for the Dodgers. He pitched in two more Major League games the rest of his career.
Furthermore, Hickman's career year came in his age 33 season - his 9th year in the Majors. His second best year came at age 35.
The Orioles have had an awful lot of these guys. Patterson, Cabrera, Ballard were mentioned. Floyd Rayford is another - 1985 he was 3.0 WAR, 0.5 for his career. Steve Stone. 1980 he won 25 games and the Cy Young, only had three years of 100+ ERA+ in his career. Larry Sheets had a .921 OPS, 2.4 WAR in 1987, but 1.0 WAR for his career. Wayne Garland went 20-7, 2.67 in 1976 and his 2nd-best year in the majors he was 13-19.

And David Newhan. 0.2 WAR for his career, but 2.2 WAR in '04, including hitting .403 in his first 34 games with the O's.
I nominate Cito Gaston's 1970 (I thought fellow Padre fan Geoff would write about this one for sure) Miguel Dilone's 1980, and Mike Norris' 1980.
Good call, Lance. I was reminded of Gaston's 1970 after I'd committed to Johnson. No doubt, Cito would be a most worthy addition to this list.
Rebecca, Nadymight have helped the Yankees by getting hurt in 2009. Girardi had allegedly planned on Nady being the regular RF, with Swisher as backup. Nady's injury scrapped that foolish plan.

This was a great read!
How about Jack Wilson 2004? Batted .308, 201 hits, 41 doubles, 12 triples and 11 HR's. Never hit more than 29 doubles in a season after that. Never had more than 151 hits in a year after that. Aside from 2007 when he hit .296, the next best average was .273.