Worst Final Seasons, Part Three

Now it’s the pitcher’s turn. Today I’ll cover the 30, 40 and 50 WAR groups, and we’ll leave the 60 and 70+ WAR groups for the final installment. If you missed Part One and Two on hitters, you can find them here and here.

30-39 WAR

Name Last Season WAR Age Total WAR
Livan Hernandez 2012 -0.8 37 31.9
Dave Goltz 1983 -0.6 34 31.1
Jim Maloney 1971 -0.6 31 37.0
Jim Perry 1975 -0.6 39 32.5
Rick Sutcliffe 1994 -0.5 38 32.8
Bump Hadley 1941 -0.5 36 32.5
Andy Messersmith 1979 -0.5 33 31.1
Johnny Podres 1969 -0.5 36 31.9
Danny Jackson 1997 -0.5 35 31.0

Entering 2012, Hernandez had only been an above-average pitcher in one of the past seven seasons — in 2010 with the Nationals. As such, he wasn’t able to find work as a starting pitcher. The rubber-armed dynamo wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet, however, and signed on for one more season with the Braves, who became the eighth franchise for which he pitched. But while he had his curveball mojo working in 2011, it dried up last season. In fact, he was negative across the board in terms of pitch values, be they cumulative or per 100 pitches.

As the 1974 season came to a close, Gaylord and Jim Perry were wrapping up their first full season as a brother tandem. It was actually one of the most productive brother tag teams in the game’s history. But in 1975, new manager Frank Robinson wanted things run a certain way, and he and the Perry boys simply didn’t see eye to eye. Both were shipped off — Jim to the A’s, and Gaylord to the Rangers. But while Gaylord would pump out 6.9 WAR that season, and then at least five wins in each of the next three seasons, Jim didn’t have the same success. He languished in Oakland for almost his entire team there, which was brief because they released him on Aug. 13. Since he was already in his age-39 season, Jim just decided to call it a career.

40-49 WAR

Name Last Season WAR Age Total WAR
Harvey Haddix 1965 -0.7 39 41.8
Orel Hershiser 2000 -0.7 41 45.6
Earl Whitehill 1939 -0.4 40 48.6
Bob Rush 1960 -0.3 34 44.9
Babe Adams 1926 -0.2 44 49.3
Frank Viola 1996 -0.2 36 47.1
Derek Lowe 2013 -0.2 40 42.4

Here, a couple pitchers stand out from the pack, neither of whom was able to take the ball for a full workload. We like to think of the 1980’s and 1990’s as the time when the age of the specialized reliever came about, but there certainly were instances prior to that of relievers working less than an inning at a time. Haddix was a good example of this. In 1965, he worked less than an inning in eight of his 24 appearances. In one of the eight, he was smacked around pretty good, but in at least two of the other seven he pitched perfectly, retiring both batters he faced.

Unfortunately, he was far from perfect the rest of the time. In his 33.2 innings pitched that season, he walked 23 batters and struck out 21. His ERA was tamped down by nine unearned runs — official scorers handed out a lot more errors than they do today — his FIP- was a shockingly poor 157. This was a sharp drop for a pitcher who had never had a FIP- worse than 100, and had generally lives in the 80s in his nearly 2,000 innings as a starting pitcher. He had even transitioned well to the bullpen, as he posted an 86 and 53 FIP- in his first two years in the ‘pen. But the wheels came off in that age-39 season, and the Orioles tried to sell the man known as “Kitten” to the Braves at the end of August, only to have them return the damaged goods back three days later.

By 1999, Hershiser’s Cy Young season of 1988 was just a distant memory, but he still managed to re-live his glory twice before hanging it up. On the final day of the 1999 season, he pitched one-run ball for 5.1 innings for the Mets to set up the team’s one-game playoff with the Reds. The following season, back in Los Angeles, he pitched six innings of one-run ball in the Dodgers’ home opener to notch win #204 of his career. Unfortunately, it would be the last win of his career. Hershiser’s season spun rapidly out of control following that outing. In his next start, he allowed seven runs in 1.1 innings, and was sent to the bullpen. After he blew a lead in the 12th inning of a May 9th game against the Dbacks where he allowed five runs in just one-third of an inning, he was put on the shelf for a month. When he came back, it was in the rotation, but the results were disastrous — he allowed 15 runs in seven innings across three starts. In the final start, he recorded just five outs against eight runs allowed, and the Dodgers dropped him like he was hot. And with good reason. Of the 29,553 pitchers in FanGraphs’ database who have pitched at least 20 innings in a season, only two posted a worse ERA than the 13.14 mark that Hershiser did in 2000 — John Cahill (14.32) and Bill Bishop (13.33), both in 1887.

50-59 WAR

Name Last Season WAR Age Total WAR
Dwight Gooden 2000 -0.4 35 55.3
Jim Palmer 1984 -0.4 38 52.0
Tommy Bridges 1946 -0.3 39 54.1
David Cone 2003 -0.2 40 55.5
Jerry Reuss 1990 -0.1 41 52.1
Stan Coveleski 1928 -0.1 38 55.3
Ed Walsh 1917 -0.1 36 52.4

Gooden isn’t even a guy you think of when you get this high in the stratosphere, as he flamed out so early in his career. But he had piled up more than 30 WAR by the end of his age-23 season, so even though he only had one other season afterwards with better than 4.0 WAR (6.6 WAR in 1990), he was well on his way to a great career. And while the end seemed drawn out and sad, he actually isn’t someone who you think of for this list, as he resurrected himself again on the 2000 Yankees. However, those feats only saved him from dipping further on this list. In his final season, he didn’t actually start the season with the Yankees, but rather the Astros.

He didn’t last long there though, as he had his contract purchased by the Devil Rays after just one appearance with Houston. He didn’t last much longer in Tampa Bay either, as he started eight games for them, and somehow managed to allow 14 home runs in 36.2 innings. He would further ignominy by rebounding in a big way with the Yankees from a horrible pitcher to a merely average pitcher, however. After the D Rays released him, New York signed him for a second tour of duty in the Bronx, and he managed to turn things around. In 18 games (including five starts) across 64.1 innings, he managed to post a 70 ERA- and 101 FIP-. The 0.5 WAR during his time in the Bronx helped bring his season total back up to -0.4. He would even pitch 2.1 scoreless frames in the American League Championship Series, though he wouldn’t get to square off with his former team in the Fall Classic.

The stint with the Yankees also helped him avoid some hall of shame distinctions. If he had not signed with the Yankees, he would have become just the first pitcher in major league history to allow 15 or more homers in 41 or fewer innings (two pitchers have since allowed 14 in 40 or fewer — Mike Bynum in 2003 and Zach Stewart in 2012), but the stint in New York helps him slide anonymously into the middle of the pack. On the whole, Gooden would allow 23 homers in 105 innings pitched. A Play Index search for >20 HR and <110 IP turns up 64 names, of which Gooden’s 23 homers allowed ranks T-15th. A small silver lining, and a lesson that not all poor final seasons are created equal.

The end for Jim Palmer wasn’t nearly as heartwarming. It wasn’t an unexpected end, as Cakes had been worth just 0.4 WAR in his penultimate season. But his final 17.2 innings were still sad nonetheless, as he allowed more runs in them (19) than he had in his 49.0 innings in his injury shortened 1967 campaign. The Orioles would release him before Memorial Day, and even though he thought he could still pitch, he chose not to sign with another team. He didn’t go down quietly though, as he attempted a comeback seven years later — after he was enshrined in Cooperstown — only to be felled in spring training by a hamstring injury.



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


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John
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John
2 years 8 months ago

Jamie Moyer?

Robert Kuhl
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Robert Kuhl
2 years 8 months ago

0.2 WAR in 2012

Ruki Motomiya
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Ruki Motomiya
2 years 8 months ago

We don’t even know if Moyer is done.

Mike
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Mike
2 years 8 months ago

Supposedly working on a knuckleball with Hough and Wakefield for a comeback next year.

maguro
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maguro
2 years 8 months ago

How about Best Final Seasons? Will Clark and Ted Willams come to mind, who else?

Matt
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Matt
2 years 8 months ago

Barry Bonds was pretty good his last couple years. It was much more the stigma of “The Cream” that made no one want to sign him rather than decline of talent.

maguro
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maguro
2 years 8 months ago

Yeah, Bonds was basically blackballed from baseball. It was unfortunate, the man could still play.

Wil
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Wil
2 years 8 months ago

Chipper had a really good final season, so did Kenny Lofton. Cy Young is another who had a decent final season, also Tom Seaver and Clemens. Heck even Maddux was worth almost 2 wins his final season.

Those are the best I can see from a quick search in the 40-44 age range.

Mythical Monkey
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2 years 8 months ago

Best final season? Maybe Sandy Koufax — 27-9, 1.73 e.r.a., 10.3 WAR …

Incitatus
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Incitatus
2 years 8 months ago

Mike Mussina: 5 WAR in his age-39 season.

Anthony
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Anthony
2 years 8 months ago

He doesn’t qualify for this list, both because he wasn’t good enough long enough to reach 30 WAR and because technically his one appearance in 1974 would be his “final season,” but Steve Blass’s -2.2 WAR in 1973 (the season after he was the Cy Young Runner-Up) is worth mentioning in any “Worst Final Season” discussion.

Ian R.
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2 years 8 months ago

This is probably the first article in the history of baseball analysis to discuss Harvey Haddix without so much as a mention of his 12 perfect innings in 1959.

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