Top 20 second-half flops: nos. 11-20by Bryan Donovan
August 17, 2009
I have always had an interest in baseball players who had terrific seasons that just went south on them after the All-Star break. I had poked around the internet for the last couple of years looking for someone who had written a piece on this topic but could never come up with anything. So I decided that I might as well do the research myself and write the piece up. First of all, I am not a baseball writer by trade nor I am I necessarily some Bill James True-Believer. On the other hand I am not completely old-school either as I do believe that pure statistics show the baseline of a player’s contribution to a team. I have issues with the concepts of Win Shares but I feel that a combination of statistics that show, in this case, a hitter’s productivity over a decent period of time is a valid way of assessing his positive or negative influence on a team’s success.
I settled on the 40-year time period of the Divisional Era to study. I also chose, at this point, only to evaluate hitters. I entered with the assumption that there would be many, many individuals who went from top of the heap to the bottom, so I came up with some criteria to limit the number down to a Top 20 sort of list. The criteria I chose are as follows:
In the first half of the season a minimum of 200 plate appearances was required. I didn’t want guys who were likely to be fill-ins who managed 105 plate appearances and had somehow done really well and then just gone back to being who they were in the second half. I was looking for regular starters or guys who, through the virtue of their productivity, had become regulars in the line-up. Likewise I wanted guys who had at least 100 plate appearances in the second half. I chose a lesser number to account for injuries, lessened playing time due to lack of production and the fact that most seasons have shorter second halves than first halves.
I wanted real hardcore style crashes. I wasn’t interested in, for example, Wayne Garrett in 1969 who turned in these first- versus second-half numbers:
First half: .261/.339/.315 1 HR, 23 RBIs
Second half: .163/.228/.208 0 HRs, 16 RBIs
Clearly Mr. Garrett had a terrible second half, but it’s not as if he was going to the All-Star Game on the merits of his first-half effort. The drops had to be greater in scope and more historical in nature.
Ideally there would be some noticeable impact to the individual’s team’s record during the second half. While baseball is a team sport and a team wins or loses based on the effort of all 25 players, there is no doubt that a significantly decreased effort from a key individual can and will have an impact on a team’s success. While not every player listed here had teams that went completely south, the farther up the list they are the more likely that there lack of production and the team’s fortunes seem to be intertwined.
I attempted to account for lack of production purely due to injury as much as possible. This was sometimes evident simply by the players' games played, but it was not always as clear in every case, and, especially in the case of more minor players from long ago seasons, gathering information was not always easy or even really possible.
There were about 40 incidents that stuck out. In a couple of cases guys seemed to be tied together in some sort of way so they were included as one entry. It wasn’t necessarily easy to pare the list down to these 20, so if I missed something from your childhood such as Claudell Washington’s disappearing act in 1984, Jack Clark’s injury-ravaged second half of 1987 or Dwight Evans’ about-face in 1978 (I just couldn’t blame him for the whole mess), don’t think they weren’t considered.
No. 20: 1979 Bob Boone, Philadelphia Phillies and Ted Simmons, St. Louis Cardinals
Boone first half: .321/.403/.500, 7 HRs, 44 RBIs
Boone second half: .226/.302/.288, 2 HRs, 14 RBIs
Simmons first half: .321/.412/.633, 18 HRs, 52 RBIs
Simmons second half: .247/.323/.383, 8 HRs, 35 RBIs
You knew there had to be a catcher or two on the list, right? Found it somewhat ironic that these two NL East catchers nosedived in the year of the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates who were, seemingly, a team of destiny. Boone entered the break as the starting All-Star catcher, and in the 15 games of July leading up to the break he was a ridiculous .519/.574/.808 as the Phillies went 11-4, moving to 50-41 just three games out. Coming out of the break he crashed back to earth, going .185/.281/.444 as the Phillies went 4-4. August saw the breaking of them as they went 12-18 with Boone going .235/.295/.259 with 0 HRs and 7 RBIs while the Pirates ran away in a 20-9 month. By September 13 the Phils were 13.5 out and Boone got hurt, missing the rest of the year.
Simmons played for the seemingly less potent St. Louis Cardinals, yet on June 11 the Cards were in a tie for first. Then a 2-7 streak during which Simmons was a decent (if less than his results to that point in the season) .324/.375/.541 led up to an injury that cost him a month of playing time during which the Cards sagged to an 11-17 mark. When Simmons returned he was no longer the player of the first half, hitting only .230/.296/.310 and .239/.317/.432 in August and September respectively as the Cards finished 12 games back.
No. 19: 1988 Carney Lansford, Oakland A’s; Chris Sabo, Cincinnati Reds
Lansford first half: .331/.376/.427, 5 HRs, 40 RBIs
Lansford second half: .185/.242/.240, 2 HRs, 17 RBIs
Sabo first half: .312/.352/.524, 10 HRs, 35 RBIs
Sabo second half: .216/.261/.264, 1 HR, 9 RBIs
Lansford and Sabo both played for teams in 1988 that finished second to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The A’s went 104-58 and, obviously, lost to the Kirk Gibson HR/Orel Herscheiser-led Dodgers in the World Series. Sabo’s Reds went 87-74 to finish second in the NL West to the Dodgers. At the Hot Corner both these teams saw ridiculously drastic second-half dropoffs. For the Bash Brother-led A’s Lansford’s disappearance hardly mattered as they were loaded at other positions and had Dave Stewart, Bob Welch and Storm Davis in the rotation with Dennis Eckersly to (oops) close games out. Lansford’s offense was icing on that particular cake, but this dropoff across the board is fairly incredible for a hitter of his caliber.
Sabo, on the other hand, was a mere rookie who, despite a second half of essentially non-production somehow won the Rookie of the Year with total numbers of .271/.314/.414, 11 HRs, 44 RBIs) over No. 2 Mark Grace (.296/.371/.403, 7 HRs, 57 RBIs) and No. 3 Tim Belcher (12-6, 2.91 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and only 8 HRs in 179 innings). Sabo, much like Lansford, played for a team with significant other players (Eric Davis, Barry Larkin, 23-8 Danny Jackson and 18-5 Tom Brown) and falling off the cliff meant little to his team’s success as the Reds went 37-22 in August and September despite his personal failings.
No. 18: 2005 Brian Roberts. Baltimore Orioles
First half: .345/.416/.591, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 18 SBs
Second half: .274/.351/.419, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs, 9 SBs
It may seem unfair to put Roberts into this category as it is likely that the Orioles were not going to win the AL East with the more talented Yankees and Red Sox in the same division. However, in 2005 the Orioles stormed out of the gate while the Yankees lurched to a horrid 13-23 start. Roberts keyed the Orioles offense and on June 11 the Orioles were 36-25 and up four games. On June 23 they were 42-30 and held their last lead of the season at half a game. They would go 11-15 into the break and never sniff the division leaders again, finishing 74-88. It is unlikely Roberts could have kept up his torrid pace as he had never hit close to .300 before (and has not since) nor keep up the power (his career high in home runs other than 2005 is 12); however his sharp demise assured the Orioles' descent into fourth place.
No. 17: 1983 George Brett, Kansas City Royals and Doug DeCinces, California Angels
Brett first half: .364/.447/.701, 14 HRs, 47 RBIs, 29 BBs (184 at-bats)
Brett second half: .275/.342/.471, 11 HRs, 46 RBIs, 28 BBs (280 at-bats)
DeCinces first half: .312/.363/.588, 15 HRs, 46 RBIs
DeCinces second half: .223/.273/.323, 3 HRs, 19 RBIs
Brett had an injury-plagued 1983 that must have contributed to his dropoff. However, after coming back from injuries in June and September he hit just as well or better than he had before he got hurt. Brett also got off to an historic April that saw him hitting .460/.528/.921 with five home runs and 20 RBIs, and the Royals were 10-7. This was not a good team though with a staff of Larry Gura (35 years old), Paul Splitorff (36), Steve Renko (38), Vida Blue (33 but more like 40) and Gaylord Perry (44) that started over 100 games. They went 69-76 the rest of the way with Brett’s return to human stature, finishing 20 games out of first. DeCinces also made the All-Star team.
The Angels were 37-32 on June 24, half a game out of first when he went down with an injury. He missed two months and the Angels went 20-31 in his absence, falling nine games out. His return did nothing to bolster an older squad of Carew, Jackson, Grich, Boone, Lynn, John, etc. that no doubt saw the writing on the wall and didn’t have the grit or youth to pull things together. The Angels would finish 29 games out.
No. 16: 1986 Wally Joyner, California Angels and Jose Canseco, Oakland A’s
Joyner first half: .313/.361/.543, 20 HRs, 72 RBIs
Joyner second half: .253/.330/.335, 2 HRs, 28 RBIs
Canseco first half: .274/.359/.526, 23 HRs, 78 RBIs
Canseco second half: .199/.265/.371, 10 HRs, 39 RBIs
This may not be the most significant second-half dropoff, but this may be one of the most compelling stories. These were the two star rookies in the AL in ’86 that played in the same division. Joyner was the sweet-swinging All-American boy first baseman and Canseco was, well, Jose Canseco: brash, cocky, incredibly gifted and a pain in the ass in general. They were connected at the hip from the perspective of who was going to be the Rookie of the Year (Canseco ultimately won this 110-98). Joyner played for the far superior team and pretty much everyone liked Wally World a lot more than they liked Jose. The Angels ran away with the division going 92-70 with a well-rounded team of primarily hard-nosed veterans and a good rotation led by Mike Witt and a bullpen led by the (ultimately tragic) Donnie Moore. As they both stumbled down the stretch Joyner’s collapse in August and September was so spectacular (.235/.313/.310, 1 HR, 26 RBIs) that Canseco’s equally awful (yet more power- and smacktalk-laden) .198/.239/.406, 10 HRs, 34 RBIs was good enough to give him the honor.
An interesting story that few people remember from 1986 was that Wally pulled it together in the ALCS. Through three games (with the Angels leading 2-1) he was hitting .455/.538/.909 with a home run and two RBIs when he went down with a staph infection in his shin. The Angels went with George Hendrick and Bobby Grich in his place over the next four games who turned in a combined .125/.313/.222. The Angels blew a three games to one lead.
No. 15: 2001 Marquis Grissom, Los Angeles Dodgers
First half: .263/.271/.513, 15 HRs, 43 RBIs
Second half: .175/.228/.283 6 HRs, 17 RBIs
The Dodgers brought Grissom in to man center field for a fairly talented offensive team that included Gary Sheffield, Sean Green and Paul Lo Duca. Grissom responded with a terrific first half and the Dodgers were 48-40, 3.5 games back. Unfortunately for the Dodgers their staff was led by Chan Ho Park who, if you recall, grooved a fastball to Cal Ripken, Jr. in the third inning of the All-Star Game for the “Feelgood Home Run” of the year. Park took the loss in the game and immediately went into the tank thereafter, going 5-7 with a 4.83 ERA.
The Dodgers, however, went 17-11 out of the break to find themselves up half a game on August 10. This despite Grissom turning in a woeful .130/.172/.259 during the stretch. Twenty-one short days later, the Dodgers were five games out and Grissom victimized them again going .206/.296/.317. The Dodgers would finish six games behind the more pitching-heavy, World Series-winning Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers performance speaks more toward their lack of pitching, yet the wisdom of stationing a free-swinging (16 BBs in 448 PAs), 34-year-old in center field has to be questioned as well.
No. 14: 1991 Juan Samuel, Los Angeles Dodgers
First half: .313/.359/.447 9 HRs, 43 RBIs
Second half: .227/.297/.327 3 HRs, 15 RBIs (278 at-bats)
This was the precursor to the Marquis Grissom debacle 10 years later showing that the Dodgers were perhaps not capable of learning the lesson of not relying heavily on players like, well, Juan Samuel and Marquis Grissom. The Dodgers were a hefty 49-31 at the break and held a five-game lead in the NL West. The Dodgers lost the first seven out of the break but still were up four and a half at the end of July. Both Samuel and the team would unravel in August with Samuel going .209/.308/.264 as the team dropped 16 of 29 and were down one to the Giants. In mid-August Samuel was dropped to sixth in the order, and while the team righted the ship, Samuel continued his second-half slide with a .241/.309/.393 September and into October.
With three games to go the Dodgers were tied with the Giants for the division lead and played the Giants in what amounted to a three-game playoff. The Dodgers lost the first two games 4-1 and 4-0. Samuel went 1-8, and the Dodgers missed the playoffs. The wisdom of having a mercurial, free-swinging (133 whiffs), poor fielding second baseman (17 errors and only 73 double plays turned) be the no. 2 hitter and one of your supposed two or three best offensive players was shown again to be, perhaps, not so wise.
No. 13: 1987 Eric Davis, Cincinnati Reds
First half: .321/.473/.694, 27 HRs, 68 RBIs, 33 SBs
Second half: .256/.381/.458, 10 HRs, 32 RBIs, 17 SBs
Davis was one of the most talented players of the era and a defining player for a few years. He was also somewhat fragile. That this was his historic season (the first 30 home run/50 stolen base season ever) and yet is also a season marred by a terribly mediocre second half is somewhat awesome and incredible. The 1987 Reds were up two-and-a-half games at the break despite a mediocre 47-41 record. Davis was having an historic year as he was amongst the leaders or leading in several individual categories. But the Reds were built around him, a 36-year-old Dave Parker and 35-year-old Buddy Bell.
No one in the Reds’ starting rotation won more than 10 games that year, and when Davis hit a cold patch in August and went .250/.363/.462 the team went from three games up on August 1 to a 9-20 month and saw themselves six down to the Giants at the end of the month. Davis missed about half of the final month of the season with an injury, and when he did play he was a shadow of his earlier self. The Reds finished six games out.
No. 12: 1980 Tom Paciorek, Seattle Mariners
First half: .351/.377/.572, 10 HRs, 32 RBIs (194 at-bats)
Second half: .205/.235/.308, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs (224 at-bats)
The 1980 Seattle Mariners stunk. They went 59-103, making them one of the worst teams in the past 30 years. They were, however, a less uniquely terrible 35-45 at the break. Paciorek started the year as a role player coming off the bench. However, his offensive contribution was such that on a team lacking warm bodies he eventually became a starter during mid-May when a five-game .588/.588/.941, 2 HRs, 6 RBIs stretch raised his average from .241 to .370. A week later he was hitting .400. Then he became what he had been his whole career. He was 33 and on his third team as a role player (he would actually go on to hit over .300 the next three seasons), and while he was a decent hitter he wasn’t exactly Wade Boggs. Reality and perhaps the heaviest workload of his career caught up with him. He bottomed out after the break and was toast in September hitting .224/.233/.241 as the Mariners won rarely with no contribution from him.
No. 11 1982 Rupert Jones, San Diego Padres
First half: .312/.416/.488, 11 HRs, 50 RBIs, 51 BBs
Second half: .223/.278/.295, 1 HR, 11 RBIs, 11 BBs
Rupert Jones story is only a bit different than Tom Paciorek. He had bounced around Seattle and New York (AL) as a decent if not particularly spectacular player. The 1982 Padres were a good team and were actually 50-36 at the break, just behind the 51-33 Atlanta Braves. Jones was an All-Star. The team rotated around Jones, catcher Terry Kennedy and Sixto Lezcano.
On July 28 Jones was injured. The Padres went 11-12 in his absence, yet somehow made up 5.5 games in the standings while Jones was sidelined to the point where they were only three-and-a-half games down upon his return. He clearly was not the same guy though. Until a season-ending injury in mid-September Jones managed only a paltry .220/.288/.290 with no home runs and six RBIs in 27 games, as the Padres sank out of playoff contention again nine games out at the time of his departure.