Yankees fans got another bitter reminder of the 2004-2005 offseason yesterday when the team asked Carl Pavano to accept a minor league contract.
Three years ago, the Yanks threw big free agent dollars at Pavano and Jaret Wright—and both turned out to be enormous busts.
Hindsight is obviously 20-20, and few predicted the extent to which Pavano and Wright would flop—but it's my contention that the signings wouldn't have made sense even under the best circumstances.
Much ink has been spilled on the Pavano disaster, but I'd rather talk here about a Wright—a player whose career ended with a sputter, and whose signing hasn't received nearly enough scrutiny.
Wright became a household name after starting Game Seven of the 1997 World Series for the Cleveland Indians. His performance there may have created unfair expectations for the 21-year-old, who had been little more than average for the Tribe during the regular season.
But Wright would have killed to be average over the next six years.
From 1998 to 2003, Wright pitched a TOTAL of 480 innings—an average of only 80 a season. His stats were no better: a 5.94 ERA; 10.26 hits allowed per nine innings pitched; 1.25 HR p/9; 4.95 BB p/9; and 6.50 K p/9.
Excepting the strikeouts, those numbers are uniformly horrible.
But then everything came together for Wright in 2004.
Pitching in Atlanta under Leo Mazzone (the consensus pick for greatest pitching coach of all time, even with his stint in Baltimore), Wright had the best season of his career. Consider his 2004 line compared to his 1998-2003 performance averaged over the same number of innings:
186 IP, 15-8, 168 H, 11 HR, 70 BB, 159 K, 3.28 ERA, 8.12 H/9, 3.34 BB/9, 7.7 k/9
186 IP, 11-13, 212 H, 23 HR, 102 BB, 134 K, 5.94 ERA, 10.26 H/9, 4.95 BB/9, 6.5 k/9
For six years, Wright was abominable. It was like the old joke about the restaurant where the food is terrible and the portions are too small—Wright was pitching at a subpar level, and he wasn’t doing it nearly often enough.
To any reasoned observer, then, Wright’s 2004 performance should have screamed fluke. And even if he really had taken his game to a new level, what were the odds that he'd contribute enough to make his talent count?
Wright’s 2004 total of 186 innings pitched was the second highest of his career, and his most since 1998. His IP totals from other seasons included numbers like 56, 51, 29, and 18.
The point here: How much could the Yankees really have expected from Wright in 2005?
For those expecting a return to poor form in 2005, Wright didn't disappoint. Over the next three seasons (including a career-ending 10-inning disaster for Baltimore in 2007), Wright put up the following line:
213 IP, 16-15, 250 H, 19 HR, 98 BB, 127 K, 5.11 ERA, 10.57 H/9, 4.14 BB/9, 5.37 K/9
Wright was a disaster for the Yankees—and anyone and everyone should have seen it coming.