The Fastest Phenom Flameout in Each of the Last 25 Years
You might refer to these one-hit wonders as the Mark Prior All-Stars.
Some guys experience a meteoric rise to stardom and shine there for many seasons. Rick Weiner took a look at a few of those guys yesterday.
These guys, on the other hand, are the annual bottle rockets—players who came up and made some noise only to dissipate just as quickly.
Compared to these shooting stars, Mark Prior was a long-lasting supernova. Though most would consider him a phenom flameout because of how rapidly injuries derailed his career, Prior more or less survived four fruitful seasons before breaking down.
Most of these guys are left wishing their career would have even lasted four years.
On the next slide we'll explain the process behind which we chose one player for each season dating back to 1987.
After that, make sure to brace yourself for the laughter/anger/tears that some of these names will stir up in your memory.
*All statistics are courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com
The Selection Process
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm much too young to remember some of these guys. When the first guy on the list finished his rookie season, I was celebrating my first birthday.
As such, this is almost entirely based on statistics—as all good sports discussions should.
In order to be a "phenom," the player in question must have had a WAR* of at least 2.0 in his rookie season.
In order to be a "flameout," the player in question must have a career WAR* of less than 20.0.
Just based on those two criteria, the list of possible candidates dropped from more than 4,000 to a grand total of 84. From there, it was just process of elimination to settle upon the best candidate.
For example, Troy Percival technically fits the bill, as he registered a WAR of 2.4 in 1995 and a career WAR of 11.8. However, there were much better candidates than Percival, such as Steve Sparks, Carlos Perez and Jon Nunnally. But none of them dropped as quickly from so much greatness as Marty Cordova, so he gets the write-up for 1995.
Feel free to make your own arguments in the comments for the guy whose fall from grace still haunts your dreams, but those were the filters that were applied for this article.
*According to Fangraphs
1987: Kenny Williams (Chicago White Sox)
Rookie Season (1987): .281 AVG, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 21 SB, 2.0 WAR
Rest of Career (five seasons): .186 AVG, 16 HR, 69 RBI, 28 SB, -1.7 WAR
Long before becoming the executive vice president of the Chicago White Sox, Ken(ny) Williams was the third round pick of the White Sox in the 1982 draft.
He had a cup of coffee with the big league team in 1986, but didn't have enough at-bats to lose his rookie status until 1987. Playing most of his 116 games that season in center field, Williams belted 11 homers and swiped 21 bags.
He would never approach either of those numbers again in his career.
He never became a full-time player. One year later, he only played in 73 games—probably because his batting average had dropped 122 points from the previous season. Within three years, he was primarily used as a pinch runner.
By 1992, he was out of the league and working on his second career as a scout for the White Sox.
1988: Dave Gallagher (Chicago White Sox)
Rookie Season (1988): .303 AVG, 5 HR, 59 R, 5 SB, 2.0 WAR
Rest of Career (eight seasons): .265 AVG, 12 HR, 214 R, 15 SB, 1.9 WAR
I don't know much about Dave Gallagher.
His Wikipedia page is about as full of useful information as your average post-game press conference, and his Twitter page is overrun with the occasionally incoherent diatribes of your average die-hard NHL fan.
Gallagher does have a baseball training organization and a website for it, but the only information garnered from there was that you can spin a largely fruitless MLB career into an "experience (that) speaks for itself," and that he had a pretty incredible mullet in his playing days.
What I do know from his statistics is that Gallagher finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1988 despite only playing in 101 games. Given a full-time job in 1989, however, he hit one home run in 667 plate appearances and was one of the least-valuable defenders in the entire American League.
After that mess of a year, he never again reached 100 games played or 310 plate appearances in a season.
1989: Bob Geren (New York Yankees)
Rookie Season (1989): .288 AVG, 9 HR, 26 R, 27 RBI, 2.0 WAR
Rest of Career (four seasons): .213 AVG, 13 HR, 36 R, 49 RBI, -0.1 WAR
Bob Geren was a first-round pick in the 1979 MLB draft, but it took him nearly 10 years to make it out of the minor leagues.
He was hardly Mike Piazza with the bat when he made his long-awaited debut, but ask any team today if they would take a back-up catcher who bats .288 with a home run for every 25 plate appearances and they'll be asking you where to sign.
His following few seasons weren't nearly as glamorous.
Geren's batting average ranged from .213 to .219 over the next three years while only averaging a home run for every 47 plate appearances.
On the bright side, Geren did help his family win on an episode of Family Feud in 1988. How many people can say they hit 22 major league home runs and successfully participated in a game show?
Also considered: Derek Lilliquist
1990: Dana Kiecker (Boston Red Sox)
Rookie Season (1990): 8-9, 152.0 IP, 3.97 ERA, 93 K, 3.0 WAR
Rest of Career (one season): 2-3, 40.1 IP, 7.36 ERA, 21 K, -0.2 WAR
The beauty of the internet is that Jon Goode caught up with Dana Kiecker nearly a decade ago, and we can just link to that interview like it happened yesterday.
Some fascinating takeaways from that piece:
Kiecker worked as a UPS driver in the offseason while pitching in the minor leagues and eventually became an executive within the company. Said Kiecker, "I made more money driving for UPS as a seasonal delivery driver...than I did playing Minor League baseball."
Having made just 25 starts in his career to that point in time, Kiecker was the starting pitcher for game two of the 1990 ALCS against Oakland (and pitched pretty well).
As far as his short-lived career is concerned, twas elbow problems that killed the beast.
Pitching through pain in 1991, Kiecker made just five ineffective starts—tallying more walks than strikeouts—and failed to survive Spring Training cuts the following season. Within a span of 18 months, he went from starting pitcher in the postseason to full-time UPS employee.
1991: Phil Plantier (Boston Red Sox)
Rookie Season (1991): .331 AVG, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 2.3 WAR
Rest of Career (seven seasons): .235 AVG, 80 HR, 257 RBI, 0.8 WAR
This one is a bit of a stretch, because Phil Plantier had a pretty impressive season just two years later. So impressive, in fact, that I made sure to search "Phil Plantier steroids" to find out if there's any damning evidence of how he went from 57 plate appearances per home run in 1992 to 15.8 plate appearances per home run in 1993.
No such link exists, but I'm not the only skeptical party. Steroids is the third-most popular auto-fill option when typing Plantier's name into a certain popular search engine. Then again, that's probably the case for anyone who hit more than 20 home runs in any given season in the 1990s.
Suspicions aside, Plantier's abbreviated rookie season was a pretty fantastic one. Despite playing in just 53 games, Plantier rode his funky batting stance to a .615 slugging percentage and a WAR that would have equated to 7.0 if he had maintained those stats over the course of a full 162-game season.
Unfortunately, he never did. The power was for real but the BABIP was not. Not only did he fail to ever duplicate the .331 batting average from his rookie season, but the next-best mark in his entire career was .255 in 76 games in 1995.
His inability to consistently reach base resulted in an inability to stay in the starting lineup. After mashing 34 home runs in 1993, an injury-plagued 1994 led to a platoon/back-up role in the following three seasons before disappearing from the big leagues for good at the age of 28.
1992: Pat Listach (Milwaukee Brewers)
Rookie Season (1992): .290 AVG, 93 R, 47 RBI, 54 SB, 3.4 WAR
Rest of Career (five seasons): .231 AVG, 157 R, 96 RBI, 62 SB, -1.8 WAR
Finally, someone who was actually a rookie phenom!
Believe it or not, Pat Listach won the vote over Kenny Lofton for the 1992 AL Rookie of the Year. In the battle of who could slug less, Listach's .349 slugging percentage and 54 stolen bases helped lead the Brewers to a 92-70 record, while Lofton's .365 slugging percentage and 66 stolen bases apparently caused the Indians to finish 20 games out of first place in the AL East.
By virtually every metric, Lofton deserved the award. He had more power, more speed on the basepaths and was a much more valuable defender than Listach. But my goal today isn't to stir up a debate that's over 20 years old.
In fact, for today's purposes it's pretty amazing that Listach won the Rookie of the Year, because it makes his fall from grace seem even more spectacular.
After his rookie season, Listach never again topped 101 games played in a season. His .290 batting average plummeted nearly 60 points over the following five seasons, and his rate of plate appearances per stolen base nearly doubled from 12 to 21.6.
He spent the 1998 season in Triple-A before mercifully hanging up his cleats for good—less than six years after winning the ROY.
Also considered: Andy Stankiewicz
1993: Wayne Kirby (Cleveland Indians)
Rookie Season (1993): .269 AVG, 6 HR, 71 R, 60 RBI, 17 SB, 2.5 WAR
Rest of Career (seven seasons): .242 AVG, 8 HR, 112 R, 59 RBI, 27 SB, -1.6 WAR
Like so many others on this list, he took advantage of his chance at everyday playing time before quickly throwing it away. He was a serviceable asset during the strike-shortened 1994 season, but followed it up with a .207 batting average in 1995 which sent his playing career on a downward spiral.
It took him nearly a decade to climb out of the annals of the minor leagues to make his major league debut. So even though he had only been in the majors for a short time, by the end of the 1995 season he was a light-hitting 32-year-old outfielder that no one seemed interested in committing to playing everyday.
He stuck around for another three years in a back-up/pinch hitting capacity, but was never again able to get even 50 percent of the plate appearances he had in 1993.
Also considered: Rene Arocha
1995: Marty Cordova (Minnesota Twins)
Rookie Season (1995): .277 AVG, 24 HR, 81 R, 20 SB, 3.6 WAR
Rest of Career (eight seasons): 274 AVG, 98 HR, 399 R, 37 SB, 2.9 WAR
We're finally getting into names that I can actually remember—if only because they were among the players animated in my favorite video game of all time.
Marty Cordova was named the AL Rookie of the Year in 1995, leaving Garret Anderson, Andy Pettitte and Troy Percival among the list of runners-up.
With 24 home runs and 20 stolen bases in just 137 games, it seemed like he could one day join the 30-HR, 30-SB club.
He never even came close.
Though he would never again top 20 home runs or 13 stolen bases in a season, he remained an effective player when healthy—something he rarely was.
Cordova missed a ton of games over the course of his career while dealing with back problems. He also infamously missed a few games in 2002 after falling asleep in a tanning bed and suffering considerable burns on his face.
All in all, he averaged just 110 games per season from 1997-2002 before the first of multiple elbow surgeries abruptly ended his career in 2003.
Also considered: Jon Nunnally
1996: Alex Ochoa (New York Mets)
Rookie Season (1996): .294 AVG, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 4 SB, 2.0 WAR
Rest of Career (seven seasons): .276 AVG, 42 HR, 228 RBI, 52 SB, 4.1 WAR
For whatever reason, there weren't any great candidates from the 1996 season. Alex Ochoa was neither great in 1996 nor terrible for the rest of his career, but he fits the description better than anyone else who was a rookie that year.
Ochoa wasn't much of a power hitter or a speedster, but did just enough of both to get a fair amount of regular playing time as an outfielder for five different teams.
While batting a good-not-great .279 for his career, he played in roughly 114 games per season (excluding his September call-up in 1995) and averaged about nine home runs and 11 stolen bases for every 162 games.
He didn't exactly decline after his rookie season, but you would have been disappointed if you thought 1996 was a sign of even better things to come for the 24-year-old.
1997: Kevin Orie (Chicago Cubs)
Rookie Season (1997): .275 AVG, 8 HR, 44 RBI, 2 SB, 2.3 WAR
Rest of Career (three seasons): .235 AVG, 14 HR, 72 RBI, 3 SB, 0.8 WAR
Kevin Orie's rookie season wasn't much more memorable than Alex Ochoa's, but his fall from grace was a much steeper one.
Orie made the Cubs starting roster out of Spring Training as a 24-year-old in 1997, but struggled mightily throughout the month of April. After spending some time in the minors, they called him back up at the end of May. He went on to club eight home runs and raise his batting average by 40 points over the rest of the season.
Between sub-par hitting (.219 AVG) and fielding in 1998—including being the reason that Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game wasn't also a no-hitter—Orie quickly wore out his welcome in Chicago. He went on to disappoint Marlins fans for roughly a full season before his career effectively ended.
Orie was traded to the Dodgers after the 1999 season (for a player to be named later), but didn't even last through Spring Training before being cut. Over the next seven years, he played in the minor leagues for the Royals, Yankees, Phillies, Cubs, Astros, Indians, Nationals and Brewers.
For all of his efforts, the journeyman only played in 13 major league games after 1999—as a back-up third baseman for the Cubs in 2002.
1998: Bobby Smith (Tampa Bay Devil Rays)
Rookie Season (1998): .276 AVG, 11 HR, 44 R, 55 RBI, 5 SB, 2.4 WAR
Rest of Career (four seasons): .197 AVG, 10 HR, 44 R, 52 RBI, 6 SB, -1.9 WAR
Before we start, I'd like to take a moment and just soak in how awesome the Rays' uniforms used to be. Sometimes you just don't know how great something was until it's gone.
Moving on to Bobby Smith's flash in the pan of a career, he was Tampa Bay's sixth selection in the 1997 expansion draft—you absolutely need to read through the names in that draft and be amazed that both the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks won a single game in 1998.
Though he didn't receive a single vote for the AL ROY, Smith impressed in his first season in the big leagues.
In the minors over the previous six seasons, his best batting average was .266. Over the next four seasons of his career, his best MLB batting average was .234. Yet, he managed to hit .276 in 1998 and had more home runs and RBI than he would have in the rest of his career combined.
In 1999, the Devil Rays acquired Jose Canseco to be their DH, necessitating more time at third base for Wade Boggs and less time at third base for Bobby Smith. Smith played in just 68 games in 1999 and in 73 games over the following three seasons after they acquired Vinny Castilla to man third base.
He was tied for second on the team in WAR in its inaugural season, but was a disposable asset just one year later.
1999: Chris Singleton (Chicago White Sox)
Rookie Season (1999): .300 AVG, 17 HR, 72 RBI, 20 SB, 4.6 WAR
Rest of Career (five seasons): .265 AVG, 28 HR, 204 RBI, 61 SB, 4.0 WAR
Chris Singleton's rookie season had to have been a pleasant surprise for the Chicago White Sox.
Over his six previous seasons in the minor leagues, Singleton never had a double-digit tally in the home run column. Heck, by the start of play on June 15 of that season he only had two home runs and three stolen bases through 41 games. He would go on to hit 15 home runs and steal 17 bases over the next 89 games.
To help put those numbers in context, through approximately 70 games of the 2013 season, only Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez and Mike Trout are on pace to either match or exceed both of those numbers at the 89-game mark.
To get Trout-worthy numbers from a guy who displayed minimal power in the minors is pretty exciting. But those numbers quickly diminished.
He did have 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases the following season, but his batting average dropped to .254 and he wasn't nearly as valuable of a fielder as when he should have won a Gold Glove Award in 1999.
His average jumped back up to .298 in 2001, but both his power and his speed had decreased significantly. By the end of 2003, he was all but out of the league, only again making a brief and disappointing appearance with the Devil Rays in 2005.
2000: Mitch Meluskey (Houston Astros)
Rookie Season (2000): .300 AVG, 14 HR, 47 R, 69 RBI, 2.3 WAR
Rest of Career (four seasons): 93 plate appearances, 1 HR, 9 R, 6 RBI, 0.0 WAR
The first four sentences of Mitch Meluskey's Wikipedia page pretty well sum up his career:
"Meluskey played his entire career in the National League with the Astros except for (eight) games with Detroit in 2002. He is best remembered by Astros fans for punching fellow Astro Matt Mieske in the eye during batting practice in on June 11, 2000. Meluskey was late for his turn to hit and then attempted to cut in front of Mieske. Heated words were exchanged and Meluskey proceeded to punch Mieske in the eye."
As a former Astros fan, I can honestly say that's what he is most fondly remembered for.
Sure, he batted well during one of the two years that Houston randomly let Brad Ausmus play for Detroit, but he will be forever remembered for his right hook instead of finishing fifth in the NL ROY race in his one prolonged stint in the majors.
Also considered: Chuck Smith
2001: Chris Reitsma (Cincinnati Reds)
Rookie Season (2001): 7-15, 182.0 IP, 5.29 ERA, 96 K, 2.0 WAR
Rest of Career (six seasons): 25-31, 427.0 IP, 4.45 ERA, 263 K, 2.4 WAR
Like 1996, 2001 wasn't particularly flush with candidates for this article.
Chris Reitsma had a pretty sub-par ERA and his win-loss record contained considerably more of the latter. Yet, he was somehow worth two wins above a replacement-level player.
I suppose 2001 was the apex of the steroid era, so ERA numbers were a bit bloated back then. 31 different players hit at least 34 home runs that season as opposed to the nine that reached that mark last year. Considering Rob Bell's 6.67 ERA that season was the definition of replacement level in 2001, maybe 5.29 doesn't sound so bad.
Regardless, it's not as though Reitsma got much better after 2001.
He lasted just one more season as a somewhat regular starting pitcher before converting to a relief role. He bounced in and out of the closer role for the Reds and Braves over the next four seasons, but did so as more of a lack of better options than because of a proven ability to handle the job.
Despite the transition to the bullpen, he dealt with elbow problems in 2006 and put together an 8.19 ERA over his final two seasons before retiring in 2007.
2002: Eric Hinske (Toronto Blue Jays)
Rookie Season (2002): .279 AVG, 24 HR, 99 R, 84 RBI, 13 SB, 4.6 WAR
Rest of Career (11 seasons and counting): .244 AVG, 113 HR, 450 R, 438 RBI, 48 SB, 5.9 WAR
Eric Hinske is still alive and kicking with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he has never even remotely approached the level of success that he had in his rookie year.
His only other season finishing in the top 70 in his league was in 2008 when his 2.0 WAR with the Rays was good for 57th place in the AL.
2008 was also the only time since 2005 that he received anything resembling regular playing time. Hinske was given 2,335 plate appearances in his first four seasons, but only had 1,917 plate appearances from 2006-2012—and has just 54 plate appearances in 48 games thus far in 2013.
He never matched the batting average, run, home run, RBI or stolen base totals from his rookie season, and I somehow doubt he'll be reaching them now.
If you had told someone in 2002 that Hinske would still be playing in 2013, that person likely would have assumed he'd be chasing at least 300 home runs by now. He needs 13 more home runs just to get to half of that total.
Also considered: Mark Prior
2003: Jody Gerut (Cleveland Indians)
Rookie Season (2003): .279 AVG, 22 HR, 75 RBI, 4 SB, 3.2 WAR
Rest of Career (five seasons): .255 AVG, 37 HR, 151 RBI, 26 SB, 3.5 WAR
After a great rookie season, Jody Gerut had trouble finding work.
He tore his ACL near the end of the 2004 season, but was back on the field within eight months. Unfortunately, he wasn't the same player anymore.
Two seasons after belting 22 home runs, Gerut played a total of 59 games for three different teams, hitting one home run in 191 plate appearances before disappearing from the league entirely for two years.
Even though he came back in 2008 and had a pretty strong season with the Padres, it was a short-lived renaissance and wasn't enough to undo the damage done to his career from the previous three seasons.
2004: Bobby Madritsch (Seattle Mariners)
Rookie Season (2004): 6-3, 88.0 IP, 3.27 ERA, 60 K, 2.3 WAR
Rest of Career (one game): 0-1, 4.1 IP, 6.23 ERA, 1 K, 0.0 WAR
Bobby Madritsch came and went in the blink of an eye. So much so that I can't tell if I actually remember him or if I'm just convincing myself that I remember him.
Madritsch made 11 starts for the Mariners over the final two months of the 2004 season and pitched like a prequel to Felix Hernandez. He went at least seven innings in nine of those 11 starts, including a three-hit complete game win in his final start of the season.
Who was this 28-year-old Native American and where did he come from?
He made just one start in April of 2005 and then vanished. Fans were left searching for Bobby Madritsch.
After exiting that game with a shoulder injury and never really healing, Madritsch bounced around the minors and spent some time playing independent ball—just as he had before being discovered by the Mariners in 2003.
And now he's coaching little leaguers.
Also considered: Bobby Crosby
2005: Gustavo Chacin (Toronto Blue Jays)
Rookie Season (2005): 13-9, 203.0 IP, 3.72 ERA, 121 K, 3.3 WAR
Rest of Career (four seasons): 14-8, 167.0 IP, 4.80 ERA, 95 K, 0.1 WAR
However, multiple injuries to his pitching arm derailed a large portion of his 2006 season.
Alcohol proceeded to derail the rest of his career. Chacin was arrested for a DUI during Spring Training in March of 2007. He wasn't immediately punished by the team, but he was in the minors by the end of April.
It wasn't until three full years later that he made it back into the big leagues as a relief pitcher for the Astros, but it only lasted for one season.
Also considered: Jeff Francoeur
2006: Josh Barfield (San Diego Padres)
Rookie Season (2006): .280 AVG, 13 HR, 72 R, 58 RBI, 21 SB, 2.4 WAR
Rest of Career (three seasons): .245 AVG, 3 HR, 61 R, 54 RBI, 14 SB, -1.3 WAR
In the minor leagues from 2003 to 2005, Barfield batted roughly .300 and hit 49 home runs. He carried that momentum into his rookie season, fulfilling expectations several years in the making.
Just as suddenly as he was traded to the Indians after the 2006 season, he dropped off the face of the earth. He struggled for several months as the starting second baseman in Cleveland before losing his job to Asdrubal Cabrera.
After that 2007 season, he only made 53 more plate appearances in the major leagues.
Barfield is currently playing for the Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks alongside other former major leaguers Bill Hall, Dontrelle Willis and Ian Snell.
Also considered: Joel Zumaya
2007: Norris Hopper (Cincinnati Reds)
Rookie Season (2007): .329 AVG, 51 R, 14 RBI, 14 SB, 2.3 WAR
Rest of Career (47 games): .270 AVG, 9 R, 6 RBI, 3 SB, -0.1 WAR
I only vaguely remember Norris Hopper, but that's perhaps because he only vaguely played in the majors. He was basically Willy Taveras with less speed and fewer opportunities—which isn't saying much, because Taveras was only valuable for his stolen bases.
Hopper is probably "best" remembered as the guy who viciously collided with Ryan Freel in right-center field on May 28, 2007. In a strange twist of fate, while Freel recovered from the concussion, Hopper benefited by picking up more regular playing time in a Reds outfield already consisting of Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Josh Hamilton.
Though he was only given 335 plate appearances that season, Hopper batted .329, stole 14 bases and was the only outfielder on the team to have a positive fielding runs above average metric.
That was pretty much the end of the line for him, though. Hopper played sparingly in 2008 and spent the entirety of 2009 and 2010 in Triple-A.
Best I can tell, he spent 2011 with the Atlantic League's Somerset Patriots before heading to Mexico in 2012.
Also considered: Travis Buck
Too Early to Call
With the exception of Eric Hinske, each of the guys on the previous slides has already been out of the major leagues for a few seasons and is considerably unlikely to redeem himself now.
It's still too early to write off anyone who made his debut in the past five seasons. But from what we've seen since their rookie seasons, these are the guys most likely to be officially appended to the list in the future.
2008: Mike Aviles
2009: Chris Coghlan
Coghlan somehow won the NL ROY in 2009, but has been unable to secure regular playing time with the Marlins—which is really saying something.
2010: Ike Davis
Davis belted 32 home runs just last season, but his .161 batting average has relegated him to the minors for the foreseeable future.
2011: Vance Worley
Worley is already out of the majors after running up the worst ERA in the entire league earlier this season. If his strikeout rate from 2011 doesn't resurface, he might not either.
2012: Mike Fiers
Fiers was a lot better in 2012 when he wasn't giving up 3.22 home runs per nine innings pitched.