In the last 30 seasons (1983-2012) there are 169 now-retired players to have registered at least 1 season worth 5 Wins Above Replacement. This group is led by Barry Bonds, who did it a whopping 17 times, and Ken Griffey, who did it 9 times. The players atop that list are among the best to have played MLB in the last 3 decades.
But by looking at things a bit differently, we can come up with some surprising names among that same group.
Among those 169 players with at least 1 career 5-WAR season, here are the lowest total career WAR:
So, yeah. Kevin Young put up a fantastic 1999 with the Pirates, posting a 5.3 WAR. He had a 128 OPS+ as the everyday first baseman and also posted unusually good defensive numbers. But in the rest of his career? He posted -1.1 WAR in his 11 other seasons, giving him a career total of just 4.2.
Many of the rest of these guys are all known for 1 or 2 breakout seasons:
- Rich Gedman had a stellar 1985, playing in 144 games as a catcher and putting up a 126 OPS+. He was also good in 1984 and 1986, amassing 11.4 WAR over those 3 seasons. Sadly, that means he totaled -3.3 WAR in the rest of his career.
- In 2002 Jacque Jones looked like a breakout star, putting up 5.1 WAR in his 4th season. He wasn’t a terrible player by any means, but he was worth close to 1 WAR in most of the rest of the years of his career.
- Hank Blalock couldn’t stay healthy. He put up 6.1 WAR at age 22 and another 4.3 at age 23. Then he stopped hitting for 2 years, and when he got his stroke back he couldn’t stay in the lineup.
- Randy Ready was a part-time player his entire career except for 1987 with the Padres. He had a 153 OPS+ and 5.6 WAR, but still wasn’t given a chance to play full time in the rest of his career. He never had another season with even as much as 2 WAR.
- And then there’s Ruben Sierra. Our own Adam Darowski wrote about him at Beyond the Boxscore, noting that Sierra had essentially all of his career value within his first 6 seasons, and most of that was in just two years–1989 and 1991. Sierra had WARs of 5.5 and 4.9 in those seasons, never had another season higher than 2.2, and had -5.7 WAR from 1993 through to the end of his career in 2006.