Greatest September Call-Ups

We’re only three days from the expansion of major league rosters. On Sept. 1, all players on a team’s 40-man roster will be eligible to play in the big leagues without an accompanying move. Often times, baseball fans are treated to a sneak preview of teams’ top minor league talent as a result of September call-ups; or they’re surprised by a relatively unknown player who manages to contribute over the season’s final month.

In preparation for this year’s roster expansion, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the greatest-ever September call-ups, defined here as players that made their major league debut during the month of September.

There are, of course, two ways to look at this: The first is to look at players — position players and pitchers — who generated the most value for their clubs during their call-up. The second is to look at players whose careers began as a September call-up and then went on to have great careers.

I’m looking at both.

David Appelman was kind enough to pull the data for me.  For position players, I looked at WAR, but also at wRC+. Why? Any metric can be volatile in a small sample — and a month is pretty small — but defensive metrics tend to be more volatile than others. I didn’t institute a plate-appearance limit for WAR, but I did for wRC+ (40). For pitchers, I looked at FIP- and ERA-.

Let’s first tackle the greatest September performances among position-players, sorted by WAR and then by wRC+:

Player Debut Sept PA Sept wRC+ Sept WAR
Dwayne Hosey 9/1/95 77 171 1.6
Bill Sudakis 9/3/68 102 168 1.4
Chris Parmelee 9/6/11 88 187 1.3
Fernando Perez 9/5/08 72 121 1.2
Craig Wilson 9/5/98 53 228 1.2
Daric Barton 9/10/07 84 183 1.2
Nyjer Morgan 9/1/07 118 107 1.1
J.D. Drew 9/8/98 41 260 1.1
Kevin Seitzer 9/3/86 116 148 1.0
Jim Greengrass 9/9/52 75 159 1.0

 

Player Debut Sept PA Sept wRC+ Sept WAR
J.D. Drew 9/8/98 41 260 1.1
Craig Wilson 9/5/98 53 228 1.2
Fred Lynn 9/5/74 51 226 0.8
Randy Ready 9/4/83 43 211 0.7
Chris Parmelee 9/6/11 88 187 1.3
Daric Barton 9/10/07 84 183 1.2
Mark Quinn 9/14/99 65 175 0.8
Dwayne Hosey 9/1/95 77 171 1.6
Bob Nieman 9/14/51 47 171 0.6
Ron Cash 9/4/73 46 169 0.8

For overall value, it’s hard to top Dwayne Hosey, who made his debut on Sept. 1, 1995. Hosey created 1.6 Wins Above Replacement for the Boston Red Sox, and he did it in only 77 plate appearances. The 28 year-old outfielder posted a wRC+ of 171 (tied for eighth-best among September call-ups) and posted a .279 ISO and a .408 OBP. After his historic September, Hosey came back to earth and earned a negative WAR (-0.3) in 1996 in 87 plate appearance.

Bill Sudakis was a 22 year-old with the Dodgers in 1968. He rewarded his team with 1.4 WAR. All of Sudakis’ value was tied up in his offense that September, and he posted a 168 wRC+ in 102 plate appearances. Sudakis manned third base for 24 games and had a .195 ISO while he walked more than he struck out (15 walks against 14 strikeouts). Sudakis went on to be the Dodgers’ starting third basemen the next year. He generated 2.6 wAR, but only managed a 95 wRC+. He finished his career with 6.9 WAR and a 101 wRC+.

What about pitchers?

Here’s the top 10 pitchers (minimum of four starts), sorted first by ERA- and then by FIP-:

Player Debut Sept GS Sept G Sept IP Sept ERA- Sept FIP-
Josh Beckett 9/4/01 4 4 24 36 99
Marty Bystrom 9/7/80 5 6 36 41 73
Jack McDowell 9/15/87 4 4 28 43 70
Eric Gagne 9/7/99 5 5 30 49 91
Rich DeLucia 9/8/90 5 5 36 50 79
Steve Busby 9/8/72 5 5 40 51 54
Randy Martz 9/6/80 6 6 30.1 53 100
Dillon Gee 9/7/10 5 5 33 56 109
Pat Combs 9/5/89 6 6 38.2 59 63
Tim Belcher 9/6/87 5 6 34 61 75

 

Player Debut Sept GS Sept G Sept IP Sept ERA- Sept FIP-
Steve Busby 9/8/72 5 5 40 51 54
Richard Dotson 9/4/79 5 5 24.1 88 58
Pat Combs 9/5/89 6 6 38.2 59 63
Andy Rincon 9/15/80 4 4 31 71 66
Wade Davis 9/6/09 6 6 36.1 87 69
Jack McDowell 9/15/87 4 4 28 43 70
Marty Bystrom 9/7/80 5 6 36 41 73
Bob Knepper 9/10/76 4 4 25 91 73
Ken Forsch 9/7/70 4 4 24 140 73
Tim Belcher 9/6/87 5 6 34 61 75

In four starts in 2001, Josh Beckett posted an adjusted ERA of 36. While the young pitcher struck out more than 24% of the batters he faced, he also walked more than 11%. The high walks didn’t hurt him, though, and he managed to strand 78% of his runners. Opposing hitters only mustered a .183 BABIP against Beckett.

Future Dodgers closer Eric Gagne started five games for Los Angeles in September 1999. Gagne struck out 25.2% of the batters he faced and stranded 86.8% of the batters who reached base. That helped fuel his 2.10 ERA for the month. Gagne spent the next two seasons primarily as a starting pitcher before he was moved to the bullpen full-time.

A few other notable September call-ups include White Sox great Jack McDowell (43 ERA-, 70 FIP-), Tim Belcher (61 ERA-, 75 FIP-) and Steve Busby whose 51 ERA- and 54 FIP- are nearly identical.

Arguably the greatest relief performance from a call-up belongs to Joel Johnston. Johnston debuted on Sept. 5, 1991 and finished the year with a 10 ERA- in 22.1 innings pitched. Johnston stranded 94% of all base runners and struck out almost 25% of batters faced. In his 13 appearances, Johnston recorded six shutdowns and didn’t have a meltdown. Unfortunately for Johnston and the Royals, he’d would fall far short of his 1991 brilliance and posted a 364 FIP- of in five appearances the next year. Johnston had pretty good season in 1993 with the Pirates (82 ERA-, 111 FIP-), but he pitched horribly in only eight more games from 1994 to 1995.

There’s obviously a significant amount of variability when you see how the best September call-ups’ careers panned out. Some went on to have good to great careers (like Drew and Belcher); but many times, some truly great players managed only mediocre September debuts. Here are the top-20 position players (sorted by career WAR) and pitchers (sorted by career FIP-, minimum 1000 innings pitches):

Player Debut Sept PA Sept wRC+ Sept WAR Career PA Career wRC+ Career WAR
Mike Schmidt 9/12/72 40 84 0.2 10062 146 110.5
Joe Morgan 9/21/63 30 118 0.0 11329 141 108.0
Brooks Robinson 9/17/55 22 -55 -0.5 11782 105 94.6
Chipper Jones 9/11/93 4 353 0.1 10489 143 90.8
Carlton Fisk 9/18/69 5 -100 -0.1 9853 118 74.4
Lou Whitaker 9/9/77 37 64 -0.3 9967 117 74.3
Rafael Palmeiro 9/8/86 78 89 0.0 12046 130 74.3
Ernie Banks 9/17/53 39 141 0.6 10395 117 74.1
Gary Carter 9/16/74 29 186 0.5 9019 114 72.5
Reggie Smith 9/18/66 27 -14 -0.2 8050 136 71.8
Jim Thome 9/4/91 104 80 0.0 10277 144 71.8
Graig Nettles 9/6/67 3 189 0.0 10226 111 71.8
Dwight Evans 9/16/72 64 120 0.3 10569 129 71.4
Willie Stargell 9/16/62 34 99 0.1 9026 145 70.9
Tim Raines 9/11/79 -100 0.0 10359 134 70.9
Joe Torre 9/25/60 2 191 0.0 8801 129 70.8
Edgar Martinez 9/12/87 46 159 0.3 8672 148 69.9
Manny Ramirez 9/2/93 55 30 -0.6 9774 152 69.6
Alan Trammell 9/9/77 48 22 -0.6 9375 111 69.5
Dick Allen 9/3/63 25 106 0.1 7314 156 67.9

 

Player Debut Sept GS Sept G Sept IP Sept ERA- Sept FIP- Career IP Career ERA- Career FIP-
Pedro Martinez 9/24/92 1 2 8 67 34 2827.1 67 67
Lee Smith 9/1/80 18 21.2 74 79 1289.1 76 73
Roy Halladay 9/20/98 2 2 14 41 78 2649.1 73 75
Kevin Brown 9/30/86 1 1 5 85 28 3256.1 78 79
Adam Wainwright 9/11/05 2 2 325 265 1025.2 76 81
Sam McDowell 9/15/61 1 1 6.1 84 2492.1 89 83
Rollie Fingers 9/15/68 1 1.1 939 573 1701.1 83 83
Len Barker 9/14/76 2 2 15 69 94 1323.2 108 84
Tom Gordon 9/8/88 2 5 15.2 130 68 2108 88 84
Nolan Ryan 9/11/66 1 2 3 420 168 5386 90 84
Cliff Lee 9/15/02 2 2 10.1 39 95 1789.2 85 85
Alejandro Pena 9/14/81 14 25.1 84 115 1057.2 85 85
Gary Lavelle 9/10/74 10 16.2 57 99 1085 80 86
Ubaldo Jimenez 9/26/06 1 2 7.2 72 106 1059.2 91 86
Lindy McDaniel 9/2/55 2 4 19 116 133 2139.1 92 86
Tom Bradley 9/9/69 3 2 772 196 1017.2 104 86
Ron Reed 9/26/66 2 2 8.1 59 116 2477.2 93 87
Fergie Jenkins 9/10/65 7 12.1 62 103 4500.2 87 87
Bob Moose 9/19/67 2 2 14.2 110 108 1304.1 100 87
John Hiller 9/6/65 5 6 45 1242 75 88

The lists are packed with all-time greats.

Mike Schmidt is arguably the greatest position player to make his debut during September. Schmidt finished his career with 110.5 WAR and 146 wRC+. Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest hitters ever, posted a meager 30 wRC+ in 55 plate appearances in 1993. Until 2011, that was the last time Ramirez posted a wRC+ below 120.

Pedro Martinez, he of the identical career ERA- and FIP-, threw eight innings in September 1992. It was only eight innings, but those  eight innings gave fans a preview of the Martinez who’d dominate the league in the next 13 years (25%+ strikeout rate, one walk).

Oddly enough, none of the pitchers on this list started more than two games during their September call-up. Lee Smith and Alejandro Pena appeared in the most games (18 and 14, respectively) on their way to excellent carrer FIP- numbers (73 and 85).

Fans can expect to see sneak previews of some of the best players during the coming month, but they also have a good chance to see a few players have truly remarkable runs. Players that may not contribute much outside of one spectacular September. And that’s just one of the things that makes baseball in September so much fun.




Print This Post



Bill works as a consultant by day. In his free time, he writes for The Hardball Times, speaks about baseball research and analytics, consults for a Major League Baseball team and appears on MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential. Along with Jeff Zimmerman, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Tumblr or Twitter @BillPetti.

13 Responses to “Greatest September Call-Ups”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. dave jordan says:

    This is great, Bill. Busby ’72 was always a go-to fill-in guy for me in SIM Baseball.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. drewcorb says:

    Ah yes the great Jim Greengrass, father of the immortal Reggie Greengrass.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. gobears says:

    Fantastic idea for a column! Thanks for the work.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. mattsd says:

    I immediately thought of Francisco Rodriguez when I saw the title, but looking back, it seems that narrative was built almost entirely on his playoff performance that year, as he only pitched 5 regular season innings.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • gdc says:

      I was looking for that name also. What would be his WAR or ERA- including postseason?
      Having the age of the player listed would be a good addition, would expect future greats to struggle if they were brought up at 20 or younger.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Strat-O-Matic says:

    Ah, the small sample size All-Stars. Awesome players in SOM that you could abuse if you didn’t set playing time limits. Nothing quite like playing Chipper or J.D. Drew every game and seeing them put up Troutian stats over 162 games.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. mcawesome says:

    It would be an interesting notion to think if Chipper was called up before September 1, 1993, which would have made him eligible for the playoff roster, the Braves might have won the NLCS against the Phils.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Drew says:

    Um where is Shane “the home run di-” Spencer? The guy got called up in September 1998 and hit 10 home runs, including 3 grand slams for a 227 wRC+and 1.2 WAR. He had a .537 ISO, and a 1.321 OPS! Then of course he fell off the face of the earth. But damn what a September!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bill Petti says:

      He debuted in April of that year. I’ll go back and clarify if it wasn’t clear above (sorry) — this is only for players that made their major league debut as September call-ups.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Drew says:

        Yeah, you’re right. He wasn’t a September call-up. I’m dumb. Didn’t realize he played so much in August.

        He had a 5 for 5 day on August 7 with 2 home runs, 2 doubles, 4 rbi and 3 runs. Now that’s some win probability added right there!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. John C. says:

    Shane Spencer also had 2 HRs in the Yankees three game sweep of the Rangers in the ALDS before turning back into … Shane Spencer. But for that month, he was amazing. As Michael Kay once said: “how do you explain Shane Spencer … and really, who would want to?” (I’m sure he meant that in a nice way).

    Ryan Zimmerman had a pretty impressive callup in 2005 (.397/.419/.569 in 20 games). I looked it up and it was apparently not good enough, though: 0.8 WAR and a 163 wRC+. Whatever happened to that guy? :-)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Baldacci says:

    I think Mike Jacobs applies. 2005 Mets he got 30 games in, hit over .300, whacked 11 HRs, slugged over .700. Maybe he was brought up a few games too early? His WAR is 1.3 for that stint. Of course I made him a keeper in my fantasy league and regretted it for years:)
    Oh, I see he did had 9 games in august, too. Oh, well, he raked for that near-september call-up. Traded to the marlins with Petit for Carlos Delgado.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. JDanger says:

    This was excellent.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *