Ranking the 10 Biggest 'One-Hit Wonders' in MLB History

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Ranking the 10 Biggest 'One-Hit Wonders' in MLB History
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Whenever an MLB player enjoys a breakout season, the inevitable question arises about whether the production is for real and a sign of things to come or is a matter of everything falling into place for one season.

There have been no shortage of "one-hit wonders" over the years, from Rookie of the Year winners who faded into obscurity to journeyman veterans who put it all together for one great season.

With that in mind, here is a look at the 10 biggest one-hit wonders in MLB history.

 

10. SP Wayne Garland, Baltimore Orioles

 1976 Stats  38 G/25 GS  20-7  2.76 ERA   64 BB  113 K
 Rest of Career  152 G/96 GS  35-59  4.23 ERA  264 BB  337 K

After spending his first three seasons as a middling reliever, Wayne Garland came out of nowhere to go 20-7 with a 2.67 ERA as a 25-year-old in 1976. That earned him an eighth-place Cy Young finish and a 10-year, $2.3 million deal from the Cleveland Indians in one of the first big free-agent signings.

He then promptly led the AL in losses his first season in Cleveland, going 13-19 with a 3.60 ERA, and it was all downhill from there. He pitched just 61 more games over the next four years, going a combined 15-29 with a 5.28 ERA, before his career ended at the age of 30, just five years into his contract.

 

9. 2B Warren Morris, Pittsburgh Pirates

 1999 Stats  147 G  .288/.360/.427  15 HR  73 RBI  65 R 
 Rest of Career  293 G  .256/.320/.349  11 HR  91 RBI  111 R

Warren Morris is perhaps best known for his walk-off, series-winning home run for LSU in the 1996 College World Series. But he was also a top prospect coming up through the Pirates organization.

He arrived in the majors as a 25-year-old in 1999 and immediately became one of the top offensive second baseman in the game, joining fellow prospect Abraham Nunez for what looked to be a solid double-play combination for the Pirates long-term.

His production plummeted the following season, though, with his OPS dropping 103 points and his RBI total falling by 30, despite 17 more at-bats. That would be the last season he saw everyday at-bats, and his big league career was over by 2003. 

 

8. 1B Kevin Maas, New York Yankees

 First 25 Games    79 AB  .291/.398/.684  10 HR   17 RBI   16 R
 Rest of Career  1,169 AB  .226/.325/.404  55 HR  152 RBI  155 R

Any time a rookie has a hot start to his career, the baseball world takes notice. And that is only amplified when said rookie plays for the Yankees. In 1990, that rookie was Kevin Maas, and he looked like the game's next great slugger.

He blasted 10 home runs over his first 25 games and finished his rookie season with a .252/.367/.535 line, along with 21 home runs in 254 at-bats, to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting to Sandy Alomar.

His average dropped to .220 the following season, though he still managed 23 home runs in 500 at-bats. That would wind up being the only season he saw everyday at-bats, and his big league career was over by 1995 at the age of 30.

 

7. SP Pete Schourek, Cincinnati Reds

 1995 Stats     29 G/29 GS    18-7  3.22 ERA   45 BB  160 K
 Rest of Career   259 G/147 GS  48-70  4.86 ERA  375 BB  653 K

Pete Schourek had a longer career than most guys on this list, playing 11 seasons and making a total of 288 appearances for five different teams, but there's a clear outlier when looking at his numbers.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

After going 23-26 with a 4.54 ERA over the first four seasons of his career, the left-hander entered the 1995 season as the Reds' No. 4 starter. But he finished it as their ace.

His 18-7 record helped the Reds reach the NLCS and netted him a second-place finish in NL Cy Young voting behind Greg Maddux.

It was back to mediocrity after that, though, as Schourek was 4-5 with a 6.01 ERA the following season and a combined 25-44 with a 5.13 ERA the rest of his career.

 

6. 2B Brian Doyle, New York Yankees

 1978 World Series   6 G    7-for-16 (.438 BA)  0 HR   2 RBI   4 R
 Regular Season Career  110 G  32-for-199 (.191 BA)  1 HR  13 RBI  18 R

A 23-year-old rookie in 1978, Brian Doyle played in only 39 games during the regular season, hitting just .192 with zero RBI and six runs scored.

However, when Willie Randolph went down with an injury prior to the World Series, Doyle stepped into a starting role on the game's biggest stage. He made the most of the opportunity, starting all six games of the series and helping the Yankees to a title by going 7-for-16 at the plate.

He'd return to the role of backup infielder the following year, and he was out of baseball by the end of the 1981 season, but he'll always be remembered as an integral part of the Yankees' 1978 title.

 

5. SP Bill James, Boston Braves

 1914 Stats  46 G/37 GS   26-7  1.90 ERA  118 BB  156 K
 Rest of Career  38 G/23 GS  11-14  2.88 ERA   81 BB   97 K

Not to be confused with the sabermetrics guru of the same name, Bill James was a right-handed pitcher for the Boston Braves, breaking into the league as a 21-year-old in 1913.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

After enjoying modest success as a rookie, James emerged as ace of the staff in 1914, tying Dick Rudolph for the team lead in wins. The Braves would sweep the Athletics in the World Series that year, with James going 2-0 and allowing just two hits and no runs in 11 innings of work in the series.

Arm problems set in from there, though, and he would make just 14 more appearances in the big leagues. He toiled in the minors until 1925, but was never able to regain his star form, and he goes down as one of the bigger "what-ifs" in baseball history.

 

4. SP Kent Bottenfield, St. Louis Cardinals

 1999 Stats   31 G/31 GS   18-7  3.97 ERA   89 BB  124 K
 Rest of Career  261 G/85 GS  28-42  4.69 ERA  296 BB  442 K

Many of the guys on this list had big seasons when they first broke into the league, then failed to match that success moving forward. In the case of Kent Bottenfield, however, his "one-hit" season came at the age of 30 in what was his eighth year in the majors.

A journeyman swingman, Bottenfield entered the 1999 season with an 18-27 career record and a 4.27 ERA. He'd appeared in 44 games (17 starts) for the Cardinals the year before, going 4-6 with a 4.44 ERA. But he joined the rotation full-time that season, and everything fell into place. He went 14-3 with a 3.78 ERA at the All-Star break to earn his first and only trip to the Midsummer Classic.

He was just 4-4 with a 4.25 ERA in the second half, and the Cardinals wisely sold high on him in the offseason, shipping him to the Angels with Adam Kennedy for center fielder Jim Edmonds. Bottenfield would spend just two more seasons in the majors, going 10-15 with a 5.63 ERA, before retiring.

 

3. SP Tom Cheney, Washington Senators

 Sept. 12, 1962    1 G/1 GS   1-0   16 IP   1 ER   4 BB   21 K
 Rest of Career  115 G/70 GS  18-29  450 IP  194 ER  241 BB  324 K

With 19 wins in eight seasons, Tom Cheney had a career that by all accounts could easily have been lost in the shuffle and never talked about again. That is, except for one start late in the 1962 season.

A 27-year-old pitching for his third team in six years, Cheney had just 40 starts under his belt when he took the mound against the Orioles in what was his third-to-last start of the season.

It would be no ordinary start, though, as the Senators came away with a 2-1 win in 16 innings and Cheney recorded the win in a complete-game effort. He had 13 strikeouts through nine innings and ended up throwing a total of 228 pitches on his way to a record 21 strikeouts for the game.

 

2. SP Mark Fidrych, Detroit Tigers

 1976 Stats  31 G/29 GS   19-9  2.34 ERA  97 K  250.1 IP  24 CG
 Rest of Career  27 G/27 GS  10-10  4.28 ERA  73 K   162 IP  10 CG

As a 21-year-old rookie in 1976, Mark Fidrych took the baseball world by storm, winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. He also the the AL in ERA and earned the starting nod in the All-Star Game.  But perhaps his most telling stat of all was his 24 complete games in 29 starts.

A manager would literally be run out of baseball today if he abused a rookie pitcher the way Ralph Houk did Fidrych did in 1976, but it was a different time then. Either way, after a strong start the following season (11 GS, 6-4, 2.89 ERA), injuries set in and "The Bird" was essentially finished.

 

1. LF Joe Charboneau, Cleveland Indians

 1980 Stats  131 G  .289/.358/.488  23 HR  87 RBI  76 R
 Rest of Career   70 G  .211/.258/.371   6 HR  27 RBI  21 R

Joe Charboneau had an inauspicious start to his pro career, to say the least. He was taken in the second round of the 1976 draft by the Phillies, but he quit baseball just a year later after fighting with management. The Twins signed him the following year, and he was traded to the Indians the next season.

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The 1979 season saw him hit .352/.422/.597 with 21 home runs in Double-A, and an injury to Andre Thornton the following year gave him his chance at the big league level.

He made the most of it, winning Rookie of the Year honors and winning over the city of Cleveland in the process. His decline was a rapid one, though, as battled back problems and hit just .210 the next season, becoming the first reigning Rookie of the Year to be demoted to the minors the following season.

He would play just one more season before calling it a career, as issues with his back persisted and he was never able to return to his 1980 form.

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