Glittering fragments

Ambling along the shore, at ease in the tonic of roaring surf and salty breeze, one contemplates beige-gray wet sand beneath bare feet. Clumps of damp brown seaweed lie about. Shiny bits in the sand, millions of flecks of stone and seashell, glint in the slanting afternoon light. Some of the pieces of shell are larger, a few nearly complete, exposed for an instant and then obscured again by the rushing carpet of foaming wave.

And there—see? over there—a piece of glass. It’s about the size and shape of a child’s palm, slightly curved, and green. A deep, rich green; perhaps it was once part of a wine bottle. Pick it up, feel it with your fingertips: it isn’t sharp; long tumbled in sea and sand, its edges are worn to a delicately frosted polish. Glistening wet, it catches the sunshine and brilliantly sparkles. It’s dazzling.

One person’s trash may be the next person’s “found object.” What might be dismissed as trite and worthless also can be perceived as uniquely fascinating and beautiful: a prized collectible.

One might peruse the pages of The Baseball Encyclopedia as though strolling a beach. No hurry, no destination, nothing better to do than savor the moment, taking delight in whatever random factoid might present itself. The fine rows and columns of black ink on the thin white page form a field of modest gray, but you know there can be gold in that meek, silent drabness. You just have to be alert for it.

The bold-studded heroics of a familiar superstar? Sure, that’s always fine, but it’s known. More fun in such a leisurely mood to allow oneself to be surprised, to discover something fresh. Turn the page.

Scan the lines for partial seasons, “cups of coffee.” Are these sample sizes less than robust, these rate stats less than conclusive? Of course. Don’t worry about that. Relax and examine the mini-seasons. See beyond their puny size, their insignificance in the sea of important achievements. Perceive instead their intrinsic beauty. Wonder about how they came to be.

Behold the glittering fragments.

The brightest

Statistical fragments may be found in any variety of shape and form, of course. “Splits,” for example, are obviously nothing but fragments, and can be a whole lot of fun to examine.

But for our purposes here I’d like to limit our consideration to the purest sort of fragment: the complete performance of a player for a given team in a given season, yet one that was cut far short of a full season’s opportunity, for whatever reason. We won’t just look at how a guy hit against left-handed pitching or when batting with two outs or anything like that, we’ll look at how the guy did in total for a particular team—just a very small total.

And we’ll limit ourselves to batters this time, not pitchers. There’s nothing wrong with the glittering fragments of pitcher-seasons, but there’s only so much space in our little curio cabinet. Pitchers, maybe another day. Today we content ourselves with hitters.

And how about one final limitation. We could include limited-play performers of all sorts, and thus have pinch-hitting specialists involved. But—well, pinch-hitting specialists, or any other role player whose usage pattern is strictly controlled, produces a stat line that’s akin to a “split:” it’s intentionally distorted, understood as being a different shape of performance (whether better or worse) than the hitter would likely produce if in the lineup all day every day, facing all manner of pitching. We’ll filter partial-game peformers out of the picture, and include only those players with at least 3.5 plate appearances per game. These guys were playing regularly, for the entire game or very close to it, in the limited window of opportunity they had with the given team.

Why might their season have been truncated? Well, in that regard we won’t be selective: The fragment we see here might have been produced by any reason at all. The player might have gotten injured, or he might have been in the military for most of the season, or he might have been traded or sold in midseason, or he might have been a late-season call-up from the minors. Or any combination of the above.

So, to summarize our criteria:

{exp:list_maker}a non-pitcher
with at least 3.5 plate appearances per game
for one team
in a limited number of games
since 1893 (the beginning of the 60-foot-6-inch pitching distance){/exp:list_maker}We’ll consider three categories of fragment size: 25-34 games (or approximately one-fifth of a full season), 35-44 games (or approximately a quarter of a season), and 45-54 games (or approximately a third of a season).

Why don’t we find out what the very most dazzling little pieces have looked like?

25-34 games: Honorable mentions

Rank Year Player          Team  Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 25  1894 Fred Tenney      BSN  22     27   86   23   34    7    1    2   21   12    9 .395 .469 .570  138
 24  1908 Bob Bescher      CIN  24     32  114   16   31    5    5    0   17    9    ? .272 .336 .404  139
 22T 1911 Olaf Henriksen   BOS  23     27   93   17   34    2    1    0    8   14    ? .366 .449 .409  141
 22T 1914 Braggo Roth      CHW  21     34  126   14   37    4    6    1   10    8   25 .294 .355 .444  141
 18T 1893 Steve Brodie     BLN  24     25   97   18   35    7    2    0   19   12    2 .361 .446 .474  142
 18T 1912 Babe Borton      CHW  23     31  105   15   39    3    1    0   17    8    ? .371 .416 .419  142
 18T 1928 John Stone       DET  22     26  113   20   40   10    3    2   21    5    8 .354 .387 .549  142
 18T 1971 Greg Luzinski    PHI  20     28  100   13   30    8    0    3   15   12   32 .300 .386 .470  142
 17  1939 Bob Elliott      PIT  22     32  129   18   43   10    3    3   19    9    4 .333 .377 .527  143
 16  1978 Willie Horton    OAK  35     32  102   11   32    8    0    3   19    9   15 .314 .369 .480  144
 14T 1918 Charlie Pick     CHC  30     29   89   13   29    4    1    0   12   14    4 .326 .417 .393  145
 14T 2003 Brian Giles      SDP  32     29  104   23   31    4    2    4   18   20   10 .298 .414 .490  145
 12T 1918 Jack Fournier    NYY  28     27  100    9   35    6    1    0   12    7    7 .350 .393 .430  146
 12T 1945 Whitey Lockman   NYG  18     32  129   16   44    9    0    3   18   13   10 .341 .410 .481  146
 11  1985 Bill Madlock     LAD  34     34  114   20   41    4    0    2   15   10   11 .360 .422 .447  147

This rambunctious group is dominated by very young guys, mostly late-season call-ups.

Well, not all late-season call-ups, exactly: The youngest of the bunch, the 18-year-old Whitey Lockman, was actually a mid-season call-up, joining the Giants in early July of 1945, hitting up a storm for a month, and then being drafted into the Navy for the next year and a half.

Despite these sensational break-ins, none of the youngsters went on to the Hall of Fame. But several became big stars, including Fred Tenney, Greg Luzinski and Bob Elliott. And another, Braggo Roth—well, he didn’t quite become a truly big star, but—oh, heck, we’re going to be encountering him again today. And again.

The most modern guys on this list were all involved in midseason trades: Willie Horton, hitting a ton for a midsummer month (and then being traded for another guy we’ll be seeing below), and Brian Giles and Bill Madlock, both roaring to the finish line as late-season acquisitions.

But how about the shiniest in this category …

Top 10 brightest fragments, 25-34 games

10. Mickey Rivers, 1973 California Angels

This wasn’t Mick the Quick’s rookie year; he’d been up a couple of times before but hadn’t been able to stick. But after this sizzling September, he was in the big leagues to stay.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 24       CF29         30  129   26   45    6    4    0   16    8   11 .349 .391 .457  148
Projection            162  697  140  243   32   22    0   86   43   59 .349 .391 .457  148

9. Bob Montgomery, 1973 Boston Red Sox

Now, this one was strange. This wasn’t a partial season for Montgomery; he was on the active roster all season long. Why, might you ask, didn’t they find a way to get this kind of offensive production into more than 34 games? Well, because he was the backup to Carlton Fisk, that’s why.

Montgomery just filled in on Fisk’s rare days off; on only four occasions all season did Montgomery play on back-to-back days. But when he played, he delivered the scorching power, big time. It was a fluke, of course, but a delightful one.

Age    G by Pos         G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 29        C33         34  128   18   41    6    2    7   25    7   36 .320 .353 .563  149
Projection            162  610   86  195   29   10   33  119   33  172 .320 .353 .563  149

8. Todd Hollandsworth, 2001 Colorado Rockies

Hollandsworth was a journeyman through most of his career, but was off to a blazing start in 2001 before being felled by a season-ending right shin injury. Even factoring in the Coors Field effect, this was some kind of hitting. Check out that 162-game projection: 74 doubles. Yowza.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 28  LF25, CF12, RF5   33  117   21   43   15    1    6   19    8   20 .368 .408 .667  150
Projection            162  574  103  211   74    5   29   93   39   98 .368 .408 .667  150

7. Walter Holke, 1916 New York Giants

This fellow can’t take full credit for it, but it is the case that after he was installed as the Giants’ starting first baseman in September of 1916, the team, which had been slogging along below .500, suddenly busted out an all-time record 26-game winning streak. Holke would never hit like this again.

Age    G by Pos         G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 23       1B34         34  111   16   39    4    2    0   13    6   16 .351 .390 .423  155
Projection            162  529   76  186   19   10    0   62   29   76 .351 .390 .423  155

5T. Jimmy Barrett, 1899 Cincinnati Reds

Barrett would be a good hitter for the next several years, but by no means as good as in this phenomenal September debut: a .477 OBP and 30 runs scored in 26 games.

Age    G by Pos         G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 24     RF23, LF3      26   92   30   34    2    4    0   10   18    ? .370 .477 .478  160
Projection            162  573  187  212   12   25    0   62  112    ? .370 .477 .478  160

5T. Chris Dickerson, 2008 Cincinnati Reds

More than a century later, and another Reds outfielder breaks in with an imposing 160 OPS+ late-season performance. Consider me skeptical that Dickerson can keep this up; he’s 26, he never hit all that well in the minors, and there’s no way he sustains that kind of batting average alongside that kind of strikeout rate.

Age    G by Pos         G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 26     LF28, CF7      31  102   20   31    9    2    6   15   17   35 .304 .413 .608  160
Projection            162  533  105  162   47   10   31   78   89  183 .304 .413 .608  160

4. Art Griggs, 1918 Detroit Tigers

Not a youngster, and not even a veteran star, Griggs was a marginal big leaguer, almost a Quad-A guy. But he got one last shot at the show at age 33, and made those 28 games count big time.

Age    G by Pos         G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 33       1B25         28   99   11   36    8    0    0   16   10    5 .364 .422 .444  166
Projection            162  573   64  208   46    0    0   93   58   29 .364 .422 .444  166

3. Buck Freeman, 1898 Washington Senators

An interesting case. Freeman was a compact (5-foot-9, 170) left-handed hitter who’d spent nearly all of the 1890s in the minors before finally making this splash in late 1898 at the age of 26. And it turned out not to be a fluke: He wouldn’t quite match these rate stats in his full seasons, but he’d come darn close; this guy could really hit.

He’d wind down by his mid-30s, rendering Freeman’s major league career rather short, certainly too short to merit serious Hall of Fame/Hall of Merit consideration. But he is for sure one of the best hitters no one has ever heard of.

Age    G by Pos         G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 26       RF29         29  107   19   39    2    3    3   21    7    ? .364 .424 .523  171
Projection            162  598  106  218   11   17   17  117   39    ? .364 .424 .523  171

2. Gregg Jefferies, 1988 New York Mets

That’s right, he blistered major league pitchers to this degree down the stretch of his age-20 season, after a minor league career in which he’d been named Appalachian League Player of the Year, Carolina League MVP and Texas League MVP. We can be forgiven for being 100 percent certain that Jefferies was going to be a huge star.

Age    G by Pos         G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 20    3B20, 2B10      29  109   19   35    8    2    6   17    8   10 .321 .364 .596  178
Projection            162  609  106  196   45   11   34   95   45   56 .321 .364 .596  178

1. Mark McGwire, 1993 Oakland Athletics

At the age of 29, McGwire had certainly been a star, but his career nonetheless held the whiff of disappointment, as he hadn’t been able to live up to the expectations set by his monumental rookie-year performance. Then in 1993 he was off to the stupendous start we see here—and his season was effectively ended with a foot injury.

Suffice to say the story wasn’t over. And just as fans then would be seeing more from Big Mac, so will we.

Age    G by Pos         G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 29       1B25         27   84   16   28    6    0    9   24   21   19 .333 .467 .726  225
Projection            162  504   96  168   36    0   54  144  126  114 .333 .467 .726  225

35-44 games: Honorable mentions

Rank Year Player          Team  Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 24T 1902 Joe Kelley       CIN  30     40  156   24   50    9    2    1   12   15    ? .321 .380 .423  139
 24T 1926 Billy Southworth NYG  33     36  116   23   38    6    1    5   30    7    1 .328 .366 .526  139
 24T 1998 Gary Sheffield   FLA  29     40  136   21   37   11    1    6   28   26   16 .272 .392 .500  139
 23  1906 Joe Ward         PHI  21     35  129   12   38    8    6    0   11    5    ? .295 .321 .450  140
 22  2004 Larry Walker     STL  37     44  150   29   42    7    1   11   27   24   34 .280 .393 .560  143
 20T 1903 Ed Delahanty     WSH  35     42  156   22   52   11    1    1   21   12    ? .333 .388 .436  145
 20T 1912 Danny Murphy     PHA  35     36  130   27   42    6    2    2   20   16    ? .323 .401 .446  145
 19  2000 Charles Johnson  CHW  28     44  135   24   44    8    0   10   36   20   37 .326 .411 .607  152
 18  1994 Ellis Burks      COL  29     42  149   33   48    8    3   13   24   16   39 .322 .388 .678  154
 16T 1903 Kid Elberfield   DET  28     35  132   29   45    5    3    0   19   11    ? .341 .412 .424  156
 16T 1912 Jack Lelivelt    NYY  26     36  149   12   54    6    7    2   23    4    ? .362 .383 .537  156
 15  1945 Les Fleming      CLE  29     42  140   18   46   10    2    3   22   11    5 .329 .382 .493  157
 14  2008 Rafael Furcal    LAD  30     36  143   34   51   12    2    5   16   20   17 .357 .439 .573  160
 13  1927 Doc Farrell      NYG  25     42  142   13   55   10    1    3   34   12   11 .387 .442 .535  161
 11T 1952 Vic Wertz        SLB  27     37  130   22   45    5    0    6   19   23   20 .346 .444 .523  165
 11T 1978 Rico Carty       OAK  38     41  141   19   39    5    1   11   31   21   16 .277 .368 .560  165

Given that this is more than a one-month fragment, we aren’t seeing many late-season call-ups here. These are mostly midseason trade situations, with a few injuries in the mix as well. Rafael Furcal was off to quite a start before getting hurt this year, wasn’t he?

The case of Ed Delahanty is a most interesting one: It was a season-ending injury of the most severe sort, a fatal plunge off a railroad trestle into Niagara Falls. No one else can match that one for drama.

Remember we saw Willie Horton above, traded by the Oakland A’s in August of 1978? Well, the guy he was traded for was none other than fellow veteran DH Rico Carty. Horton and Carty in 1978 thus become the only matched-pair same-season same-team set of glittering fragments.

Top 10 brightest fragments, 35-44 games

10. Larry Walker, 2004 Colorado Rockies

Well, how about Mr. Walker? We see him above on the honorable mentions list, and we see him here—in the same season! At age 37, he missed almost all of the first half with a groin injury, then spent a month-and-a-half with the Rockies hitting almost as well as he ever had. In early August he was traded to the Cardinals, where hit doggone well the rest of the way (and would continue his red-hot production all through three rounds of postseason play).

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 37     RF34, DH1      38  108   22   35    9    3    6   20   25   23 .323 .464 .630  166
Projection            162  460   94  149   38   13   26   85  107   98 .323 .464 .630  166

9. Milton Bradley, 2007 San Diego Padres

One of the most fragile ballplayers of this or any other era (as well as one of the most mercurial personalities), Bradley has also been a doggone fine hitter; staying in the lineup has always been the issue.

Here he was acquired by the Padres at midseason, and managed to remain more or less healthy over the second half (while hitting tremendously well) before seeing his season come to a premature end on Sept. 23 in perhaps the most bizarre injury in history: Bradley tore an ACL while being restrained by his first base coach from going after an umpire who, all indications are, had instigated (or at least egged on) the argument. Wow.

  Age    G by Pos       G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 29     LF40, RF1      42  144   31   45    5    1   11   30   23   27 .313 .414 .590  167
Projection            162  555  120  174   19    4   42  116   89  104 .313 .414 .590  167

8. Kevin Mitchell, 1996 Cincinnati Reds

Speaking of guys with a chronic inability to remain healthy … in this season Mitchell was acquired in a trade at the end of July, and terrorized pitchers in his customary fashion until breaking down in early September. And he went out with a Mitchellian fluorish, going 13-for-his-final-25, with three homers and 12 RBI.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 34     LF31, 1B3      37  114   18   37   11    0    6   26   26   16 .325 .447 .579  168
Projection            162  499   79  162   48    0   26  114  114   70 .325 .447 .579  168

7. Braggo Roth, 1915 Cleveland Indians

We saw this character earlier, and now here he is the very next year. And we’ll see him below in yet another season of his highly singular career.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 22       CF39         39  144   23   43    4    7    4   20   22   22 .299 .399 .507  169
Projection            162  598   96  179   17   29   17   83   91   91 .299 .399 .507  169

6. Jeff Heath, 1949 Boston Braves

An outfielder with a thunderous bat, but plagued by injuries … am I sensing a theme here? These were the final 36 games of Heath’s major league career, in a season in which he was struggling in vain to overcome the effects of a severely broken ankle suffered the year before. Clearly the painful hobbling did little to inhibit his capacity to hit.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 34     LF26, RF5      36  111   17   34    7    0    9   23   15   26 .306 .389 .613  170
Projection            162  500   77  153   32    0   41  104   68  117 .306 .389 .613  170

5. Glenallen Hill, 2000 New York Yankees

Young fans who saw Hill only in the late phase of his career may have a hard time believing it, but as a young player he was a nicely well-rounded talent, running the bases well and holding his own as a defensive outfielder. Into his mid-30s, however, Hill was hugely bulked up, nearly immobile, and a significant defensive liability. But, ye gods, could he hit.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 35    DH24, LF12      40  132   22   44    5    0   16   29    9   33 .333 .378 .735  175
Projection            162  535   89  178   20    0   65  117   36  134 .333 .378 .735  175

4. Charlie Keller, 1945 New York Yankees

A phenomenal talent whose career was somewhat star-crossed; here he spent most of the season serving in the U.S. Merchant Marine. We’ll be meeting him again.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 28       LF44         44  163   26   49    7    4   10   34   31   21 .301 .412 .577  180
Projection            162  600   96  180   26   15   37  125  114   77 .301 .412 .577  180

3. Possum Whitted, 1919 Pittsburgh Pirates

A versatile defensive player with a generally league-average bat, upon being acquired in a trade by the Pirates in August 1919 this colorfully named journeyman suddenly let loose with an offensive barrage. Consider the context: In the extremely low-scoring National League of that season, the batting champ hit .321, and the highest slugging average among qualifiers was .436.

The next year Whitted would revert to his workaday mode of production.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 29  1B33, 3B2, LF1    35  131   15   51    7    7    0   21    6    4 .389 .420 .550  186
Projection            162  606   69  236   32   32    0   97   28   19 .389 .420 .550  186

2. Bob “Hurricane” Hazle, 1957 Milwaukee Braves

Perhaps the most celebrated glittering fragment of all time, for a combination of reasons.

Hazle was an obscure grade-B minor leaguer for whom expectations were nonexistent. Deployed as a stopgap late-summer injury replacement (subbing for Milwaukee center fielder Bill Bruton, as regular right fielder Hank Aaron shifted over to center), Hazle’s stunningly ferocious hitting (which earned him his nickname, after the storm that had catastrophically pounded the Carribean and North America in 1954) was the key to transforming a tight race into a Braves runaway pennant, their first in Milwaukee, before ecstatic league-record-attendance crowds.

And then Hazle’s immediate subsequent return to mediocrity and oblivion completed the magic-spell tale.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 26     RF40, LF1      41  134   26   54   12    0    7   27   18   15 .403 .477 .649  209
Projection            162  529  103  213   47    0   28  107   71   59 .403 .477 .649  209

1. Oscar Gamble, 1979 New York Yankees

He had his limitations, to be sure: Gamble was an injury-prone, rather streaky platoon hitter without defensive prowess. But what a hitter: He had a way of getting “locked in” for a period of time and being nearly impossibe to retire.

Here the Yankees picked him up in a trade on Aug. 1 (at which point Gamble had been merely hitting .335/.458/.522, a 166 OPS+, in 201 PAs). Over the two-and-a-half-week span from Aug. 10 through Aug. 27, for one reason or another, Gamble appeared in only seven games for the Yankees, but in those seven games he went 15-for-24 with two doubles, three home runs and nine RBI. A month later, playing every day over the season’s final week, Gamble would be at it again: 16-for-31, with two doubles, a triple, five homers and 14 RBI.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 29     LF27, DH6      36  113   21   44    4    1   11   32   13   13 .389 .452 .735  218
Projection            162  509   95  198   18    5   50  144   59   59 .389 .452 .735  218

45-54 games: Honorable mentions

Rank Year Player          Team  Age     G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 25  1899 Hughie Jennings  BRO  30     51  175   35   57    3    8    0   34   13    ? .326 .424 .434  134
 24  1894 Jack Clements    PHI  29     45  159   26   55    6    5    3   36   24    7 .346 .455 .503  135
 23  2002 Karim Garcia     CLE  26     51  197   29   59    8    0   16   52    6   40 .299 .317 .584  136
 22  1994 Mark McGwire     OAK  30     47  135   26   34    3    0    9   25   37   40 .252 .413 .474  138
 21  1984 Jeff Stone       PHI  23     51  185   27   67    4    6    1   15    9   26 .362 .394 .465  139
 20  1898 Tom McCreery     PIT  23     53  190   33   59    5    7    2   20   26    ? .311 .394 .442  141
 19  2002 Cliff Floyd      BOS  29     47  171   30   54   21    0    7   18   15   28 .316 .374 .561  142
 17T 1917 Del Gainer       BOS  30     52  172   28   53   10    2    2   19   15   21 .308 .374 .424  144
 17T 1967 Doug Rader       HOU  22     47  162   24   54   10    4    2   26    7   31 .333 .360 .481  144
 14T 1928 Beauty McGowan   SLB  26     47  168   35   61   13    4    2   18   16   15 .363 .425 .524  145
 14T 2001 Fred McGriff     CHC  37     49  170   27   48    7    2   12   41   26   37 .282 .383 .559  145
 14T 2003 Ken Griffey, Jr. CIN  33     53  166   34   41   12    1   13   26   27   44 .247 .370 .566  145
 13  1946 Jeff Heath       WSH  31     48  166   23   47   12    3    4   27   36   36 .283 .411 .464  150
 12  1938 Earle Brucker    PHA  37     53  171   26   64   21    1    3   35   19   16 .374 .437 .561  151
 11  1999 Erubiel Durazo   ARI  25     52  155   31   51    4    2   11   30   26   43 .329 .429 .594  153

Mostly these are midseason trade situations, but there are midseason call-ups and injuries too. There are a couple of guys we’ve encountered before: McGwire, in his second consecutive injury-marred season in which he nonetheless hit a ton, and Heath, who was traded despite hitting a ton.

Another interesting case is Erubiel Durazo, who debuted in this impressive manner, yet even though he continued to hit very well for the next three years, the Diamondbacks never would figure out a way to get him into the regular lineup.

And perhaps most interesting is Earle Brucker, who was the 1930s version of Bob Montgomery: a full-season backup catcher to a young star (in this case Frankie Hayes), who hit ridiculously well.

Top 10 brightest fragments, 45-54 games

10. Braggo Roth, 1919 Philadelphia Athletics

And here we see him for the third time.

Roth wasn’t a major star; he was a short and stocky (5-foot-7, 170) good-hitting journeyman who got traded around the American League so much that his other nickname was “Globetrotter.” But if he’d managed to hit over full seasons the way he hit in these three partial seasons, he’d had been a megastar.

His major league career ended in 1921, when he was just 28; I don’t know why, and assume it must have been a serious injury. He strikes me as a guy who’d have really thrived under live-ball conditions: He wasn’t at all the put-it-in-play style of hitter one associates with the deadball era, but instead walked a lot, struck out a lot, and delivered (as we see) significant extra-base power, at least intermittently. As it was, there have been many better careers, but few more unusual.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 26       RF48         48  195   33   63   13    8    5   29   15   21 .323 .377 .549  157
Projection            162  658  111  213   44   27   17   98   51   71 .323 .377 .549  157

9. Carlton Fisk, 1974 Boston Red Sox

So, the season following the Bob Montgomery performance we saw above, the first-stringer Fisk was having this great year before he was knocked out in late June with a knee injury. No problem, right? Just let Montgomery take over. Alas, given a career-high 277 plate appearances, Montgomery would deliver an OPS+ of just 74.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 26     C50, DH2       52  187   36   56   12    1   11   26   24   23 .299 .383 .551  158
Projection            162  583  112  174   37    3   34   81   75   72 .299 .383 .551  158

8. Mark Teixeira, 2007 Atlanta Braves

Acquired by the Braves in a midseason deadline trade, Teixeira assuredly punished National League pitchers over the final couple of months. And, as we’ll see below, he would treat their AL counterparts even more rudely upon his subsequent return.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 27       1B54         54  208   38   66    9    1   17   56   27   46 .317 .404 .615  163
Projection            162  624  114  198   27    3   51  168   81  138 .317 .404 .615  163

7. Charlie Keller, 1947 New York Yankees

“King Kong” isn’t in the Hall of Fame for several reasons:

{exp:list_maker}His career was interrupted at its peak by service in World War II (as we saw above).
His career was prematurely ended by the onset of a severe back condition (here we see it sidelining him at the age of 30).
His offensive profile, in which the one thing he did less than superbly was hit for average (never more dramatically than in this season), caused him to be underrated at the time. {/exp:list_maker}Note that lack of ability is not among the reasons; Keller was bona fide Cooperstown-grade in that regard. The Hall of Merit saw fit to induct him.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 30       LF43         45  151   36   36    6    1   13   36   41   18 .238 .404 .550  165
Projection            162  544  130  130   22    4   47  130  148   65 .238 .404 .550  165

6. Will Clark, 2000 St. Louis Cardinals

Here’s how we previously described this extraordinary finale:

In this final act of his career, Clark stepped into McGwire’s massive first base/cleanup hitter shoes and played like a man reborn: he hit .394/.468/.766 in the month of August, with nine doubles and eight homers in 94 at-bats. That very nearly tied his career high for home runs in a month (he had hit nine way back in August of 1987), and it was the best month for slugging percentage of his entire career. His performance led the Cardinals to a 17-11 month, with which they pretty much wrapped up the NL Central division title. Clark cooled off to .267 with three homers in September, but in the postseason, with McGwire available only for pinch-hitting duty, Clark was again tremendous: .345, with two doubles and two homers in 29 at-bats. At the end of the line, Will the Thrill achieved a large measure of redemption upon what had turned out to be something of a frustrating career.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 36       1B50         51  171   29   59   15    1   12   42   22   24 .345 .426 .655  166
Projection            162  543   92  187   48    3   38  133   70   76 .345 .426 .655  166

5. Bill Joyce, 1896 New York Giants

His major league career was quite brief, just eight seasons. But it made up in quality what it lacked in quantity: Joyce never posted an OPS+ below 100, and had career rate of 143. So this white-hot run over August/September of 1896, after having been traded to the Giants, wasn’t too inaccurate a representation of just how good he was. Yes, he’s obscure today, but this was one terrific hitter.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 30       3B49         49  165   36   61    9    2    5   43   34   14 .370 .500 .539  177
Projection            162  546  119  202   30    7   17  142  112   46 .370 .500 .539  177

4. Mark McGwire, 1997 St. Louis Cardinals

As we’ve seen, McGwire’s career was chock-full of glittering fragments, none more stunning than this one. This home run rate (10.7 percent of his plate appearances resulting in a tater) was the highest of any segment Big Mac ever produced, including the record-setting 70-bomb season immediately to follow. It was an hilariously emphatic Three-True-Outcomes statement: McGwire homered, walked or struck out 57 percent of the time, while singling or doubling 8.9 percent of the time.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 33       1B50         51  174   38   44    3    0   24   42   43   61 .253 .411 .684  182
Projection            162  553  121  140   10    0   76  133  137  194 .253 .411 .684  182

3. Mark Teixeira, 2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Ah yes, here’s Mr. Teixeira following a deadline deal in a second consecutive season making his new team very, very happy. For his career now, Teixeira has hit .277/.366/.511 in the first half, and .303/.390/.574 in the second, including .309/.392/.605 in September/October If he’s ever on the deadline-trade market again, I’d advise the team holding Teixeira to drive an extremely hard bargain.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 28     1B51, DH3      54  193   39   69   14    0   13   43   32   23 .358 .449 .632  183
Projection            162  579  117  207   42    0   39  129   96   69 .358 .449 .632  183

2. Willie McCovey, 1959 San Francisco Giants

In hardcore San Francisco Giants’ fandom, McCovey’s electrifying arrival on July 30, 1959 is among the most treasured nuggets of franchise lore. The rookie debuted with two singles and two booming triples, all off future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Although attendance at Seals Stadium that day was barely over 10,000, over the decades it’s often seemed easy to find many times that number of Giants fans who swear they were there. Through the end of the ’59 season, McCovey would scarely cool off.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 21       1B51         52  192   32   68    9    5   13   38   22   35 .354 .429 .656  187
Projection            162  598  100  212   28   16   41  118   69  109 .354 .429 .656  187

1. Manny Ramirez, 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers

If it seemed to you that Manny’s hitting after his acquisition by the Dodgers this year wasn’t just your ordinary hot streak, but was instead something quite a bit more, then you were absolutely right. Ramirez’s hitting after his acquisition by the Dodgers was in fact a hot streak of historic proportion: He was surface-of-the-sun hot. This was a truly great hitter producing at maximum capacity, consistently and relentlessly, for eight straight weeks. It was an astounding performance.

As if that weren’t enough, in his eight additional games of postseason play all Manny did was go 13-for-25, with 11 walks, two doubles, and four homers, scoring nine runs and driving in 10. Solid granite melts to flowing magma when exposed to such heat.

 Age    G by Pos        G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 36       LF53         53  187   36   74   14    0   17   53   35   38 .396 .489 .743  213
Projection            162  572  110  226   43    0   52  162  107  116 .396 .489 .743  213
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