Each of these guys had an out-of-character season for his respective team. - Getty Images
Baseball's a funny game: robotically consistent in some cases, random and adventitious in others. Sometimes, a player comes out of nowhere — or, at least, seemingly nowhere — and has a season no one could have anticipated. These are the stories of those players.
New York Mets — Bernard Gilkey
There have been several out-of-character individual seasons in the history of the New York Mets, but perhaps no season was quite as unlikely as Bernard Gilkey’s 1996 campaign. Gilkey had a good career spanning twelve seasons, hitting .275/.352/.434 with 118 home runs in 4,626 plate appearances, but what he did in 1996 was by far his best performance.
Acquired by the Mets in a trade in January that year, Gilkey’s first season in orange and blue was stellar. He hit 30 home runs — he never hit more than 18 in any other season — and put up an incredible .317/.393/.562 hitting line. He drove in 117 runs, and while RBI is a nearly useless statistic, he never came close to driving in 100 during any other season in his career. Gilkey’s 153 wRC+, like his other hitting statistics, was completely out-of-character. To top all of that off, Gilkey played 153 games that year, another milestone that he never matched in another season.
Gilkey followed up that fantastic 1996 campaign with a decent season in 1997, but his production plummeted in 82 games with the Mets in 1998, and they flipped him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a mid-season trade. He had a bit of a resurgence in 1999 with Arizona, but his final two seasons were below-average. 2001 was his last year in Major League Baseball.
Gilkey was certainly a good player over most of his career, but his 1996 season was an outlier. Because of his brief tenure with the Mets and the nature of his 1996 season, Gilkey makes for a great answer to many Mets trivia questions.
For more Mets coverage, please visit SB Nation's Amazin' Avenue.
Philadelphia Phillies — John Denny
Probably like most of us, I’m a huge fan of Nate Silver's. I was a deep admirer of PECOTA, and an early and probably borderline obnoxious booster of FiveThirtyEight.com. There’s an aspect of Silver’s prognostication that I find both perceptive and canny: he always couches his predictions in terms of likelihood, rather than certainty. On the one hand, unless you’re a hardcore believer in predestination, this seems more aligned with how the universe actually works, when each event has so many variables in place; on the other, it’s a nifty way of leaving wiggle room when the “unlikely” event happens.
Had Silver issued a PECOTA forecast for right-handed pitcher John Denny in spring 1983 — and for all we know, the seven-year-old might have written out something in crayon — the 50th-percentile prediction probably would have come in around 11-10, with an ERA in the high threes and a total of about 160 innings. Joining the Phillies following a September 1982 trade with the Indians for Will Culmer, Jerry Reed, and Roy Smith (who? exactly), Denny was expected to fill a mid-rotation role behind ace and defending Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton.
Silver’s 95th percentile best-case scenario, however, might have looked a hell of a lot like the numbers Denny actually put up for the NL Champion “Wheeze Kids” en route to his own Cy Young: a 19-6 record, 2.37 ERA, and 242.2 innings pitched, all career bests. Denny surrendered just nine home runs all year, averaging a league-best 0.3 HR/9, and set a career best with just two walks per nine innings. He earned the Phils’ only win in that year’s World Series, beating the Orioles in Game One.
Denny’s monster season wasn’t entirely out of the blue. The 30-year-old had shown flashes of serious ability throughout a theretofore injury-marred and inconsistent career: a league-best 2.52 ERA for the Cardinals in 1976 at age 23, 11 complete games for St. Louis two years later, 14 shutouts in his career including three straight in August and September 1981. His biggest problem had been staying healthy, however; injuries limited Denny to 60 total starts in the three seasons before his Cy Young year.
He pitched well again in 1984, but made just 22 starts. By 1987, Denny was out of baseball. Even so, his ’83 performance was among the biggest reasons the veteran Phillies enjoyed one last hurrah before starting their long slide toward the depths of the NL.
For more Phillies coverage, please visit SB Nation's The Good Phight.
At a quick glance, one might not realize that in spite of his career-high 13 wins, team-leading 161 strikeouts, and the fact that the Braves won 65% of his starts, 2012 was without question the worst season of Tommy Hanson’s career.
Braves fans could point their fingers at several rational explanations for such an uncharacteristically poor season from one of the team’s most reliable starters since arriving in 2009 — for example, nagging shoulder woes to a supposed over-tinkering of mechanics from the organization’s coaching — but the fact is that the end results don’t lie. Name a statistic, and there’s a high probability it was worse for Hanson in 2012 than the year prior and/or his career averages.
Throughout the season, Hanson’s velocity diminished, and he was far too hittable, with many of those hits leaving the ballpark at a career-worst rate (1.39 HR/9). If the objective of this exercise was to look for dramatic statistical spikes, Hanson’s forfeited home runs jumped up ten dingers, going to 27 from 17 in 2011, and almost double from the last time he made 30+ starts (14 home runs allowed in 2010 over 34 starts).
Yet, in spite of how poorly Hanson pitched throughout 2012, the Braves were miracle workers in bailing him out of abysmal performances, for example:
May 2: 3.2 IP, 4 ER, 2 BB, Game Score: 30. Braves win!
Jul 14: 5.1 IP, 6 ER, 2 BB, Game Score: 29. Braves win!
Jul 20: 4.0 IP, 8 ER, 4 BB, Game Score: 15. Braves win!
Overall, the Braves went 21-10 in Tommy Hanson’s starts despite the fact that Hanson only made ten “quality” starts, which was more a testament to the Braves’ offense and resiliency than it was to Hanson’s pitching performance in 2012. While 2012 was uncharacteristically bad for Tommy Hanson, he won't get an opportunity to redeem himself to the Braves — or their fans — in 2013, as he was traded to the Angels for reliever Jordan Walden.
For more Braves coverage, please visit SB Nation's Talking Chop.
The 2003 Florida Marlins had a number of things bounce their way on the way to a magical run to the World Series. One of the most important aspects of that team was the starting rotation, and one of the most surprising rotation members of that team was Mark Redman. Before 2003, Redman had pitched 425 innings in the majors and accumulated a 4.57 ERA and 4.16 FIP. These were fairly decent numbers, but they indicated that Redman was at best an average pitcher by the time he came to the Marlins. Then he put up the best season of his career, with a 3.59 ERA, 3.58 FIP, and nearly a four-win (WAR-wise, that is) campaign that helped lead a young Marlins rotation to the playoffs.
Heading in to the postseason, Redman appeared to be one of the team's best pitchers, at least by single-season standards. He certainly looked like he would get the nod over Carl Pavano or Brad Penny. During the playoffs however, Redman's wheels already began falling off. He had only four starts with a 6.50 ERA, and the Fish skipped his turn during the series win over the New York Yankees. The Marlins traded him away that winter for spare parts.
And what follows is what ultimately made Redman's 2003 season so out-of-character: After that 2003 year, Redman threw 623 innings with a 5.43 ERA, a 4.81 FIP, and an ERA+ of 83, and he did so for five different teams before retiring. Before coming to the Marlins, Mark Redman was exactly who you thought Mark Redman would be: an average soft-tossing lefty with not much going for him. After he left the Marlins, he was exactly who you thought Mark Redman would be: an aging soft-tossing lefty with not much going for him.
But in that one year with the Marlins, Redman became the perfect addition to a budding rotation in need of all the balance it could get. For just that one season, Mark Redman was the very best version of himself, and for his services, he earned a ring with the Marlins. One would like to see a clear ascent and decline for Redman's career, but it really turns out to be his 2003 season, at the peak age of 28, standing tall above an average start and an uneventful, replacement-level finish for a guy who would become the definition of "journeyman."
For more Marlins coverage, please visit SB Nation's Fish Stripes.
Washington Nationals — Roger Bernadina (And Others!)
The Washington Nationals played their first game in 2005 so there isn't a long franchise history to sort through, and to go back into the Expos years tends to anger fans from the nation's capital who have no connection to the franchise that relocated from Montreal, Quebec, Canada following the 2004 season. In the Nats' short time in Washington, D.C. there are a few seasons that stand out as out-of-character for one reason or another, however. Dmitri Young was released by the Detroit Tigers during a .250/.293/.407 2006 campaign filled with on- and off-field issues which derailed the career of the hard-hitting 32-year-old first baseman.
Given an opportunity by Nats' GM Jim Bowden, Young bounced back with a .320/.378/.491 line, 38 doubles, and 13 home runs in 2007, a season in which he was an All-Star, had career highs in doubles, AVG, OBP and BABIP (.356), won MLB's Comeback Player of the Year Award, and earned himself a two-year/$10 million extension. Young would lose the starting job at first to Nick Johnson the next spring and have his season end early after just 50 games when issues with diabetes forced him from the lineup. A torn quadriceps in 2008 ended an attempt at another comeback and he never returned to the majors again. Young could always hit, but just when it looked like his career might end prematurely he had one more solid season in D.C. in 2006.
Nyjer Morgan impressed in 157 games over three seasons following his major league debut in 2007, but for a 49-game stretch following a trade from Pittsburgh in 2009, Morgan made Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo look like a genius. Though he came from the Pirates' organization with a .286/.351/.376 line over three seasons in the majors, Morgan reached another level for a stretch upon relocating to the NL East, with a .351/.396/.435 line over 212 plate appearances with the Nationals before a broken wrist ended his 2009 campaign in late August. Morgan would play a career-high 136 games and make a career-high 577 plate appearances in 2010, but he put up a .253/.319/.314 line and played his way out of Washington before the 2011 season started.
Perhaps the most out-of-character season of all from a National, however, came this past year from a player who finally settled in to what is probably the right role for him after several years and several opportunities to lay claim to a starting spot in Washington's outfield. Roger Bernadina entered the 2012 season with a .242/.304/.364 line over 254 games and 889 plate appearances in four seasons in the majors with the Nationals.
With Michael Morse and Jayson Werth missing significant time last year, Bernadina played an important role in the Nats' outfield thoughout the season, filling in where necessary and often entering the game late as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement. In 129 games and 261 plate appearances in 2012, the 28-year-old outfielder signed by the Montreal Expos as an amateur free agent out of Curacao in 2001 had a .291/.372/.405 line. In the last two months of the year, Bernadina, affectionately known as "The Shark," had a .308/.384/.431 line as the Nationals locked down the NL East. At times, he also played amazing defense in what ended up being a breakout season which all-but-guaranteed he'll be a fourth outfielder behind Bryce Harper, Denard Span, and Jayson Werth in 2013.
For more Nationals coverage, please visit SB Nation's Federal Baseball.