Worst Final Seasons, Part Four

Well, we made it. We’re here. If you missed the first three installments, you can peep them here, here and here. Today, we wrap things up with pitchers who amassed between 60 and 69 WAR, and pitchers at 70 WAR and above.

60-69 WAR

Name Last Season WAR Age Total WAR
Tom Glavine 2008 -0.5 42 64.3
Juan Marichal 1975 -0.3 37 69.9
Mickey Lolich 1979 -0.2 38 61.5
Jim Kaat 1983 -0.2 44 69.4
Bobo Newsom 1953 -0.2 45 62.2

When the Mets signed Glavine following the 2002 season, it seemed like an ill-fated move. Glavine was set to enter his age-37 season, which meant he wouldn’t conclude his contract until he was 40. And the Mets, who had won just 75 games in 2002, were more than one aging southpaw away from contention. When they actually lost nine more games in ’03 than they had in ’02, that wisdom essentially prevailed for Glavine’s tenure there. They finally made the postseason in the last year of his deal, and he pitched decently in the postseason. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. The Mets brought back Glavine in ’07 for a run at 300 wins, which he would mercifully notch on August 5th. New York was finally done with him following that season, but then the Braves just couldn’t resist a farewell tour. Except even his poor 2008 season might not have been his last. Atlanta signed him up again for 2009, but he never pitched, as the team released him in June as he was finishing up his rehab stint.

That was probably for the best. The 2008 season was easily the worst of Glavine’s career. While the crafty lefty never burned his fastball past opposing hitters, his velocity really made things difficult in ’08. Since 2008, there have been 1,562 pitchers who have an average fastball velocity measured by Pitchf/x. Glavine’s average of 82.5 mph in ’08 bests only eight of them. Four of those belong to Tim Wakefield, three to Jamie Moyer and one to R.A. Dickey. He was the junkballer’s junkballer, and the fact that he walked as many batters as he struck out was particularly damning. Throw in an absurdly high HR/FB%, and you have one terrible final bow.

One of the best control pitchers in history, things fell apart much faster for Marichal. After his age-35 season, the Giants — with whom he had pitched for 14 seasons — sold him to the Red Sox. He was only able to take the ball for 11 times in ’74 though, and things seemed destined to end for him in Boston. Nevertheless, the Dodgers signed him as a free agent for the ’75 season, though he wasn’t received all that warmly until Johnny Roseboro pleaded with fans to forgive Marichal. He never would find out if they truly had, however. In his first two starts for the boys in blue, Marichal pitched just six innings, and allowed nine runs while striking out just one and walking five hitters. They were the only two starts he would make for Los Angeles, as he called it a career in mid-April.

The only other player with a negative final-season WAR in this group was Hal Newhouser at -0.1 WAR.

70+ WAR

Name Last Season WAR Age Total WAR
Steve Carlton 1988 -0.4 43 102.5
Pete Alexander 1930 -0.1 43 98.0
Bob Gibson 1975 0.0 39 91.1
Tommy John 1989 0.3 46 75.2
Randy Johnson 2009 0.3 45 111.7
Phil Niekro 1987 0.3 48 80.8

Like Marichal, Gibson’s curtain call was also in 1975. But unlike Marichal, Gibson lasted most of the season. He was a starter for the first half of the season before being pushed to the bullpen in late July. And he was mostly fine in the ‘pen. In his first six games in the ‘pen, he allowed just two runs in 13.1 innings. But the final game of his career washed away all that good work, as he allowed five runs in one inning on Sept. 3, 1975, versus the Cubs. He walked three, struck out none, uncorked a run-scoring wild pitch and then coughed up a grand slam. He would be allowed to finish the inning, which he did one batter later, but that would be it for Hoot. It was a disappointing ending, but considering some of the final seasons on this list, a 0.0 WAR isn’t all that bad.

Alexander and Carlton met similar ends, in that neither was with their original team, neither pitcher lasted long in his final season, and both of them were in their age-43 campaigns. But where Alexander had been just fine in the few seasons prior to his last, Carlton had been fading for awhile. He finished the 1987 campaign on the Twins, but was left off of Minnesota’s postseason roster. After the Twins’ triumph, Carlton would accompany the team on their visit to the White House, but he would be mistaken for a Secret Service agent in photos from that day. One would think that would be a telling sign — a sure-fire hall of fame pitcher mistaken for an anonymous authority figure. Maybe after something like that it would be time to hang up your spikes, right? Especially if you consider the fact that in the previous three seasons, Carlton had been worth 1.2 WAR total and had been released twice, let go in free agency once and traded once. He was then released by the Twins over the winter, but decided to give it one more go in ’88. The Twins obliged, but only for a short time.

Carlton pitched in relief three times in April, the last time of which was fairly dreadful. Carlton allowed six runs in one inning, on seven hits and a walk. But because his performance was sandwiched in between two pitchers who allowed five and six runs themselves, Carlton was given one more chance. In fact, it was a start. On April 23, he toed the rubber against the Indians. It didn’t go any better. Carlton would strike out four batters in five innings, but he also walked three and permitted nine hits, two of which went for home runs. The nine runs he allowed blew his rate stats sky high and ended his career. Still believing he had something in the tank, he would try to hook on with another team the next spring, but to no avail.

The next three names on the list are Don Sutton, Pedro Martinez and Jim Bunning, though obviously none of them finished with a negative WAR.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

10 Responses to “Worst Final Seasons, Part Four”

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  1. Jaack says:

    Woah–Bobo Newsom. Dude changed teams midseason nine times in his career and was named Bobo.

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  2. Matt says:

    I think Nolan Ryan holds the record for worst last GAME of a hall of famer. I was there, and if I remember correctly, it went something like hit, walk, hit batter, walk in a run, grand slam, walk a batter, threw out his arm. Left to a standing ovation.

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  3. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    That isn’t too shabby for our most elite pitchers. When you consider how easy it is to hold out hope that the best pitchers of all-time can find something, it’s pretty good that, for the most part, they didn’t go out and COMPLETELY embarass themselves at the end.

    Randy Johnson was coming off of a very good (by mortal standards) season (3.7 WAR in 2008) and he actually pitched to a 3.69 xFIP in 2009.

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    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      Tommy John posted a 3.0 WAR in his penultimate season.

      I would vote for him to go in the hall. I know he is the classic stat acuumulater and didn’t have a great peak, but I don’t care. I say this as a guy that hates everything that has to do with the Yankees besides Babe Ruth.

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  4. Trevor Gerhardt says:

    If Roy Halladay’s career (67.6 WAR) ends after this year he’ll lead that top group with -0.8 WAR in his last season.

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    • Chooch says:

      It should be the end of his career. He could only pitch to 3 batters last night. He has been bad/hurt for 2 years and there is no reason to believe he is going to get any better.

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      • derp says:

        The Phillies brought him back way too quickly, and I thought he should have sat out the entire season anyways; shoulder surgeries are nasty work and I bet anything that he would have come back much stronger next season. Now, i don’t know.

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  5. derp says:

    Rather infamously, Tommy John figured that it was time to retire “When your dentist’s kid starts hitting you.” That kid was Mark Mcgwire, who just got 2 hits off of him.

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