Famous flameouts

Here are players who posted a very strong 1st or 2nd season (specifically they had to be among the 172 guys since 1901 to qualify for the batting title with an OPS+ of at least 125 in either year) but finished with a career OPS+ no higher than 110:

Rk Player OPS+ From To G PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
1 Greasy Neale 94 1916 1924 768 2989 319 71 50 8 200 .259 .319 .332 .651 978 TOT-CIN
2 Red Barnes 95 1927 1930 286 952 152 41 24 8 97 .269 .347 .404 .752 *8/79 WSH-TOT
3 Grady Hatton 96 1946 1960 1312 4912 562 166 33 91 533 .254 .354 .374 .728 *54/376 CIN-TOT-BOS-CHC
4 Vic Power 97 1954 1965 1627 6461 765 290 49 126 658 .284 .315 .411 .725 *34/58796 PHA-KCA-CLE-MIN-TOT-CAL
5 Chad Tracy 98 2004 2010 773 2747 304 161 9 79 333 .278 .337 .445 .782 53/9D7 ARI-TOT
6 Ralph Hodgin 98 1939 1948 530 1822 198 79 24 4 188 .285 .330 .367 .697 75/98 BSN-CHW
7 Walt Dropo 100 1949 1961 1288 4521 478 168 22 152 704 .270 .326 .432 .757 *3/5 BOS-DET-CHW-TOT-BAL
8 Chet Ross 100 1939 1944 413 1442 156 53 21 34 170 .241 .309 .392 .701 *7/98 BSN
9 Dick Porter 100 1929 1934 675 2844 426 159 37 11 282 .308 .376 .414 .790 *9/47 CLE-TOT
10 Billy Grabarkewitz 101 1969 1975 466 1390 189 41 12 28 141 .236 .351 .364 .716 54/6D7 LAD-TOT-OAK
11 Max Flack 101 1914 1925 1411 5905 783 212 72 35 391 .278 .342 .366 .708 *97/8 CHI-CHC-TOT-STL
12 Snuffy Stirnweiss 102 1943 1952 1028 4292 604 157 68 29 281 .268 .362 .371 .733 *45/6 NYY-TOT-CLE
13 Colby Rasmus 103 2009 2011 420 1580 232 74 11 53 171 .251 .322 .432 .754 *8/79D STL-TOT
14 Ira Flagstead 103 1917 1930 1219 4791 644 262 50 40 450 .290 .370 .407 .776 *89/6745 DET-TOT-BOS-PIT
15 Benny Meyer 103 1913 1925 310 1236 146 29 17 7 84 .265 .365 .346 .711 *9/78642 BRO-BAL-TOT-PHI
16 Jim Lefebvre 104 1965 1972 922 3417 313 126 18 74 404 .251 .323 .378 .701 *45/37 LAD
17 Marty Kavanagh 105 1914 1918 370 1192 138 47 20 10 122 .249 .330 .362 .693 4/397586 DET-CLE-TOT
18 Tom Brunansky 106 1981 1994 1800 7169 804 306 33 271 919 .245 .327 .434 .761 *9/78D3 CAL-MIN-STL-BOS-MIL-TOT
19 George Watkins 106 1930 1936 894 3526 490 192 42 73 420 .288 .347 .443 .790 978/34 STL-NYG-PHI-TOT
20 Johnny Pesky 107 1942 1954 1270 5516 867 226 50 17 404 .307 .394 .386 .780 654 BOS-DET-TOT
21 Pinky Higgins 107 1930 1946 1802 7554 930 374 51 140 1075 .292 .370 .428 .798 *5/46 PHA-BOS-DET-TOT
22 Harry Anderson 108 1957 1961 484 1785 199 82 16 60 242 .264 .334 .450 .784 *7/39 PHI-TOT-CIN
23 Bing Miller 108 1921 1936 1821 6885 946 389 96 116 990 .311 .359 .461 .820 *978/3 WSH-PHA-TOT-SLB-BOS
24 Duffy Lewis 108 1910 1921 1459 6007 612 289 68 38 793 .284 .333 .384 .717 *7/8195 BOS-NYY-WSH
25 Bob Hamelin 109 1993 1998 497 1505 179 70 3 67 209 .246 .352 .464 .816 *D3 KCR-DET-MIL
26 Vada Pinson 110 1958 1975 2470 10403 1366 485 127 256 1170 .286 .327 .442 .769 *897/3D CIN-STL-CLE-CAL-KCR
27 Charlie Hollocher 110 1918 1924 760 3390 411 145 35 14 241 .304 .370 .392 .762 *6 CHC
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/8/2012.

There are a lot of olde-timey players on here, but a few more recent examples:

  • Chad Tracy was great in his second season with the Diamondbacks, then good for a couple of years, then not so good, then not in the majors in 2011.
  • Colby Rasmus was great in his second season (2010) with the Cardinals, and started off pretty well last year before crashing and burning after the trade to Toronto.
  • Tom Brunansky had one outstanding season–his first in 1982. He posted many solid seasons after that but lived off the reputation earned as a rookie.
  • Bob Hamelin was Rookie of the Year in 1994 and then awful in 1995. He rebounded nicely in 1996 and 1997 but finished in the majors after 1998.

 

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33 Comments on "Famous flameouts"

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Max
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I read the criteria and immediately thought of Claudell Washington, but he fell 6 points shy of getting the 125 for the first two seasons.

Will we be getting an opposite list of players who had awful rookie/sophmore seasons who turned out to be good players? (bizzaro-flameouts? slow starters?) Or of course a companion piece on pitchers and ERA+?

Kahuna Tuna
Guest

Or of course a companion piece on pitchers and ERA+?

Fidrych.

John Autin
Editor

(We need a button for “Likes … ruefully.”)

MikeD
Guest

I’m thinking the bizarro chart might have many more names, such as a Mike Schmidt. I guess it would depend on where data points were set, meaning how low is low and how high is high.

Ed
Guest

I would be interested in seeing what it looks like with career PAs rather than career OPS. I mean Joe Charboneau just cries out to be on any list of flameouts. First year OPS+ of 129 in 512 PAs. Only played two more seasons, during which he got only 138 and 56 PAs and turned in OPS+ of 74 and 84. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone with those first year credentials who ended up with only 722 career PAs.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
Ed, Yes, I agree; this seems to be a fundamentally wrong interpretaton of the term “flameout”. To me, it’s a player whose first full season or two are excellent, but then they quickly decline and their career is fairly short; there should be some maximum number of Games Played or PA, as Ed said. How about 800 G or 2500 PA? Tom Brunansky, Pinky Higgins, and especially Vada Pinson (!) were all players who had quite long, very good careers. Johnny Pesky started his career with three MVP-level careers, but had the misfortune to have the heart of his career… Read more »
Hartvig
Guest

One similar name to Reiser that popped into my head when I read the headlines was Tony Conigliaro but he had almost 500 games in 4 seasons under his belt at the time of his beaning at age 22.

Ben Grieve was another name that came to mind but his career was more of a fizzle out (at least based on expectations) than flameout.

I do agree that Charboneau should pretty much be the poster child of this sort of headline.

Lawrence Azrin
Guest
Hartvig, Yes, I also thought of Tony C., but: – he had _four_ straight very good years at the start of his career, not just one or two -his decline was not due to a loss in ability, but one incredibly devastating beaning, that took away a lot of his vision (he was basically batting with one good eye after 1967) From the list posted at the top, I’d call Billy Grabarkewitz (ROY,then ???) and Bob Hamelin (same) “true” flameouts. Many of the rest, as Hartvig so aptly states, are more like “fizzle outs”. Several (which I mentioned in comment… Read more »
CursedClevelander
Guest

Things you learn randomly from BB-Ref: Joe Charboneau went 1 for 1 with the Canton Crocodiles of the Frontier League in 2000 when he was 45 years old.

As far as I can tell from searching on Google, Super Joe was the Crocs’ hitting coach, and he came out of retirement for one PA and singled.

Dave V.
Guest

The first guy I thought of was Kevin Maas (but while he had a 150 OPS+ in his rookie season, he “only” had 300 PA’s, so he doesn’t qualify for this list).

Kahuna Tuna
Guest
Bill James’ NBJHBA flameouts by decade: 1900s: Harry Lumley 1910s: Josh Devore 1920s: Carson Bigbee 1930s: Bill DeLancey 1940s: Dick Wakefield 1950s: Johnny Groth 1960s: Zoilo Versalles 1970s: Bobby Tolan and Mitchell Page 1980s: Oddibe McDowell and Juan Samuel 1990s: Phil Plantier James took a more nuanced approach than the one used here. Half of James’s guys fit the classic “great start, quick decline, short career” pattern (Lumley, Devore, DeLancey, Page, McDowell, and Plantier). Groth, Wakefield, and Samuel had the good start but then played quite a few years at a much lower level. Bigbee, Versalles, and Tolan took several… Read more »
Richard Chester
Guest

Wakefield’s career was similar to Stirnweiss’ in that his big years occurred during the talent-deprived WWII years.

Luis Gomez
Guest

When I read the headline, I thought of Marty Cordova and Ron Kittle. Cordova had 3.0 WAR in his first season, 3.4 WAR the rest of his 9-year carrer. Ron Kittle had 1.8WAR in his ROY season with 570 Plate appeareances, and a 1.8 WAR`, 196 PA in 1989. He accumulated another 1.8 the rest of his 10-year carrer.
Not exactly the criteria Andy used, but those were the flameouts I thought of.

Dr. Remulak
Guest

Vada Pinson was on a HOF track through age 26, and was simply ordinary from then on. Was he hampered by injuries? Peaking by age 26 is odd.

birtelcom
Guest
Bill James in his New Historical Abstract said Pinson was actually born two years earlier than b-ref and other standard references indicate, though James does not cite a reference for that information. SABR’s bio of Pinson says that “several recent publications” claim the earlier birth date. If James is right, then Pinson began his dramatic decline from HOF-level to merely ordinary after reaching 28, not 26. If Pinson really was just 26 in 1965 then his 37.7 WAR through that season really was spectacular: 26th all-time in career (non-pitching) WAR through age 26 (among those 26 guys with a 37.7… Read more »
Lawrence Azrin
Guest

Birtelcom,

Pinson reminds me a bit of Carlos Baerga, who was an All-Star from 23-26, but then ordinary (or worse) for another ten years after that. That’s not a “flameout”, but more like an extended “fizzle”.

Useless fact; Baerga had 14.8 WAR those four years (1992-95), and 16.0 for his entire career.

Richard Chester
Guest

And how does Buzz Arlett fit into the picture? In his only year in the majors, 1931, his OPS+ was 138. His poor fielding relegated him to the minors for the rest of his baseball career where he fared extremely well. SABR has selected him as the greatest minor league player ever.

CursedClevelander
Guest

Personally, I wouldn’t consider Arlett a “flameout” because he succeeded at every level. I think his relegation back to the minors after 1931 was mostly a matter of age. Were he a younger man when he put up that excellent season with the bat, some MLB team would have found a place for his (admittedly poor) glove. IIRC, Bill James said he was likely just as good as the likes of Chuck Klein and Hack Wilson, if not better.

Dr. Remulak
Guest

A bit unfair to characterize Pesky as a flameout. Through the age of 31 he hit >.300 and scored >100 runs every year but one. WWII service robbed him of three years in the middle of his prime.

Dr. Remulak
Guest

And Snuffy Stirnweiss is about the opposite of Pesky: he had two huge years in 1944-45, playing against the old and the infirm. When the big dogs returned from WWII, he regressed to average. He must have had flat feet.

Richard Chester
Guest

Stirnweiss was one of the fastest runners in baseball. He was an All-American halfback for the University of North Carolina.

Hartvig
Guest

I had always assumed that Walt Dropo got his late start due in part to the war but it turns out it was college and professional football that caused the delay. It also seems a bit unusual for the reigning ROY who led the league in RBI & total bases the year before to spend a quarter of the next season back in the minors.

Learn something new on this website darned near every day.

Richard Chester
Guest

Dropo broke his wrist prior tothestart of the 1951 season so perhaps that had an effect on his poor season. In 1952, while with the Tigers, he tied two records, 12 consecutive hits and 15 hits in 4 games. In his 1950 rookie year he became the first rookie to have more RBIs than games played (144 RBI/136 G).

Ed
Guest

Another type of flameout is the guy who stars in the minor leagues but can’t make the adjustment to the majors despite repeated opportunities. Guys like Brad Komminsk and Marc Newfield.

Mike L
Guest

I’d throw in Dave McCarty in there. First round pick, .312/.400/.533 slash line at AAA, and an eleven year major league career with only 632 games at .242/.305/.371. He hit 31 HR’s for Toledo in 1999, and a total of 36 HR’s in the majors.

Ed
Guest

I almost mentioned McCarty but wasn’t sure how familiar people were with him. He was on my fantasy team so I know his quite well. McCarty actually looked pretty good when he was first called up…he got hits in 17 of his first 18 games and was batting .365. He then went into a tailspin and never recovered.

Craig
Guest

Greasy Neale made up for being on this list by being an amazing football coach for the Eagles. He’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I also noticed that he won a World Series AND an NFL championship. I imagine that’s pretty elite company and will never happen again.

Richard Chester
Guest

Deion Sanders came close, being on two Super Bowl winners and being with the Braves in their losing 1992 WS.

Steven
Guest

I thought of Jim Lefebvre as soon as I saw the topic. He got injured a lot after 1966.

nightfly
Guest
This really hurts to put this name out there, but just because of the heights of his first two or three years: Dwight Gooden. He had a great rookie year, that insane 1985, a good ’86… and he was never as good after that. Before he even turned 22, he had thrown the three best seasons of his career, and was decent-to-mediocre the rest of the way. WAR/ERA+, 1984-1986: 21.5, 155 (7.9 WAR/162 G) WAR/ERA+, 1987-2000: 26.1, 102 (3.3 WAR/162 G) min WAR/ERA+ 1984-86: 4.4, 126 (both in 1986) max WAR/ERA+ post 86: 3.8 (1987), 127 (1998) Even though the… Read more »
Dr. Doom
Guest
… but seriously – 218 innings at 19 (!!!), 276 2/3 at 20, 250 at 21, down to 179 2/3 at 22, but then immediately up to 248 1/3 at 23. That means that, before his age 24 season, Doc had already thrown 1172 2/3 innings (basically 235 per year). It’s really no surprise that he wound up with so many issues later in his career. Sure, it’s not as many as Bob Feller, but he’s one of the few people to handle a load anything like that and actually end up having a successful career. It’s really too bad… Read more »
John Autin
Editor
Andy’s posts really stir up the juices! I took another angle: I collected hitters in their first 2 seasons combined (though 2009) with at least a 120 OPS+ and 500 PAs, then looked at the rest of their careers. There were 180 players in the study. Fewest PAs: Player….. … PA … From … To … Age Larry Schlafly … 246 … 1907 … 1914 … 28-35 Troy Neel … 320 … 1994 … 1994 … 28-28 Len Koenecke … 374 … 1935 … 1935 … 31-31 Duke Kenworthy … 461 … 1915 … 1917 … 28-30 Joe Connolly …… Read more »
MikeD
Guest

I thought for sure Mitchell Page would be on this list. I went back and looked at his career and the rapid fall from grace is there, yet it’s not quite as I remembered it. He still was effective at time, he just didn’t ever seem to play, either because of injury or something else.

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