This list was a fun one to make, and my hope is that the names below provoke a mixed emotional reaction for you.
For one, I'm hoping to create an "oh yeah, that guy" feeling of nostalgia, a feeling that only baseball, for me, can provide in terms of sports history. Though the same effect is there for other sports leagues -- 'oh yeah, Peyton Hills!' or, 'I forgot about Brandon Roy,' for instance -- even the most insignificant MLB names can evoke as strong a reaction from many devoted fans.
For the most part, this nostalgia should be good. Remembering these guys who provided a completely unexpected and phenomenal year for your favorite team should be a happy memory.
But I'm also hoping that there's some frustration. Why the heck was this guy so good for one year, and then so mediocre the rest of the way? Why did we pay that guy after one showing? Why didn't he bring the franchise through a prominent stretch after teasing us like that?
Whatever the case, this list certainly isn't like most lists you'll see on sports sites. These aren't your everyday names, your stars that soak up so much of the media attention. These are the obscurities, the anomalies of recent baseball history (I only chose names from the past 50 seasons, if you can call that recent) that many fans have pushed to the backs of their memory banks. It's time to bring them back to the front.
All stats retrieved from Baseball Reference. Bolded stats indicate league leader.
Baltimore: Brady Anderson (1996)
6.9 WAR, 172 hits, 50 HR, 117 runs, 110 RBI, .297/.396/.637
Anderson was a three-time All-Star, but every baseball trivia fan knows of this speedy outfielder's 50 home run season, which came after he clubbed only 72 home runs over his first seven seasons. The years following his completely anomalous 1996 campaign saw his power totals fall once again: he never hit more than 25 after that. He was never caught using steroids, though that's an assumption that many baseball fans have made in reaction to this wild power surge.
Boston: Sam Horn (1987)
0.9 WAR, 44 hits, 14 HR, 31 runs, 34 RBI, .278/.356/.589
Rico Petrocelli's 1969 season was absolutely ridiculous. His 10.0 WAR was by far his career-high -- he never again exceeded a WAR of 5 -- but he was a consistent threat in the Red Sox lineup for years, thus lessening his argument as a one-season wonder. Sam Horn, on the other hand, was more like a two-month wonder. His stat line above was completed in 46 games, meaning his 162-game pace comes out to 50 home runs and 120 RBI. However, his success didn't last long, and he was out of Boston by 1990.
New York (AL): Kevin Maas (1990)
1.2 WAR, 64 hits, 21 HR, 42 runs, 41 RBI, .252/.367/.535
There are a few good candidates here, including Melido Perez (2.87 ERA in 1992, compared to career 4.17 ERA), Joba Chamberlain (0.38 ERA in rookie season, compared to career 3.81 ERA) and Shane Spencer (10 HR, .373/.411/.910 in 27 games as rookie). But Maas's emergence as a rookie, with a better sample size than Chamberlain and Spencer, made it seem like the Yankees had found their next Gehrig, their next Mattingly. Maas compiled these numbers in just half of a season, but followed up with a full season of 23 HR and a .220/.333/.390 slash line.
Tampa Bay: Jason Bartlett (2009)
6.2 WAR, 160 hits, 14 HR, 90 runs, 66 RBI, .320/.389/.490
Bartlett's lone All-Star season was the only time he ever hit more than five home runs in a season -- he hit a single home run in 2008 and then went down to just four in 2010 -- so his offensive surge in 2009 was certainly unexpected. He recorded his career high in practically every offensive category but didn't build upon that potential breakout year afterward.
Toronto Blue Jays: Mark Eichhorn (1986)
7.3 WAR, 14 W, 6 L, 1.72 ERA, 166 K
That looks like a starter's stat line, but Eichhorn pitched 157 innings of relief in 1986 and was utterly dominant. The Blue Jays upped his appearances from 69 to 89 the following season, but he couldn't bring back the same success and never recorded a WAR of 3.0 or higher ever again.
Chicago (AL): Esteban Loiaza (2003)
7.2 WAR, 21 W, 9 L, 2.90 ERA, 207 K
Esteban Loiaza's personal and legal problems have completely tarnished his reputation, but in 2003, his reputation was sky-high in the baseball community. He finished second in the AL Cy Young vote after posting 21 wins and leading the league in strikeouts. Prior to that season, his career record was 69-73 and he had never won more than a dozen games. After that 2003 year, the same is true.
Cleveland: Fausto Carmona (2007)
6.2 WAR, 19 W, 8 L, 3.06 ERA, 137 K
Joe Charboneau would be many people's pick for this title. The 1980 Rookie of the Year -- who was out of baseball after the 1982 season -- clubbed 23 of his 29 career home runs and slashed .289/.358/.488 before fading into oblivion. But Fausto Carmona is a name that will cause many baseball fans to say, 'oh yeah, that guy,' given his randomly brilliant 2007 campaign. Carmona quite literally faded into oblivion after the 2011 season, as he went by Roberto Hernandez for the remainder of his career. For a career 71-99, 4.60 ERA pitcher, Carmona's 2007 was certainly an unexpected outlier.
Detroit: Mark Fidrych (1976)
9.6 WAR, 19 W, 9 L, 2.34 ERA, 97 K
If not for the injury bug, Fidrych may have put up similarly stellar numbers throughout his career. These numbers, after all, were from his rookie season, in which he won the Rookie of the Year award, was an All-Star, was the runner-up for the AL Cy Young and was just outside the top 10 in AL MVP voting. His tragic death in 2009 was especially sad for Tigers fans and the MLB community, as The Bird's quirky and colorful personality captured the hearts of Detroit.
Kansas City: Al Cowens (1977)
5.3 WAR, 189 hits, 23 HR, 98 runs, 112 RBI, .312/.361/.525
More than a third of Cowens' career WAR of 15.2, which was compiled over the course of 13 seasons, came in 1977. In only his fourth season in the bigs, Cowens was the runner-up in the AL MVP vote and a Gold Glove award winner to go along with a phenomenal offensive season. He never appeared on another MVP ballot, was never named an All-Star, and never won another Gold Glove after '77.
Minnesota: Joe Mays (2001)
6.6 WAR, 17 W, 13 L, 3.16 ERA, 123 K (led league in ERA+ w/ 143)
Joe Mays, objectively, did not have a good Major League career. His career record stands at 48-70. His career ERA of 5.05 makes you wonder how he even made it for seven years. In fact, after just his first two seasons, in which he went 13-28 with a 4.94 ERA, you wonder what made the Twins give him another go. But in his third year, he was stellar, making it to the AL All-Star roster with an 11-5 record at the break. That success didn't go beyond 2001, as he never had another winning season or posted an ERA below 5.00.
Los Angeles (AL): Darin Erstad (2000)
8.3 WAR, 240 hits, 25 HR, 121 runs, 100 RBI, .355/.409/.541
Peter Bourjos is a solid pick here -- he had double-digit doubles (26), triples (a league-leading 11), home runs (12) and stolen bases (22) -- but I can't help but go with Erstad. Even though Erstad was good for a number of years, including an All-Star campaign in 1998, he became a completely different ballplayer in 2000. He's one of only 15 players in MLB history with a 240-hit season, and he just doesn't really fit in with the company. Ichiro, Ty Cobb, Wade Boggs and Rogers Hornsby, among others... and then Darin Erstad? Erstad never hit over .300 again, nor did he ever get over 20 home runs, nor did he ever score or drive in 100 runs, and the list goes on.
Houston: Richard Hidalgo (2000)
6.3 WAR, 175 hits, 44 HR, 118 runs, 122 RBI, .314/.391/.636
If there was a Stump the Schwab-style quiz of all the 40 home run hitters in MLB history, Richard Hidalgo may be the player that would take the longest to get to. Seriously, who (outside of Astros fans) remembers that Hidalgo, who hit 15 home runs in 1999 and 19 in 2001, suddenly erupted for 44 in the heart of the steroid era? His 2003 was also a solid season (28 HR, .309/.385/.572), but it was nothing compared to what we saw in 2000.
Oakland: Mike Norris (1980)
5.9 WAR, 22 W, 9 L, 2.53 ERA, 180 K
On today's episode of random baseball players from the 2010s, we have Daric Barton, who actually led the league in walks for the A's in 2010 and was close to nabbing the spot for this list. However, Mike Norris's breakout campaign in 1980, the only season where he broke a dozen wins, had an ERA lower than 3.00 and recorded triple-digit strikeouts, takes the cake. He was the runner-up for the Cy Young that year, too, but narrowly (and perhaps undeservedly) lost to Steve Stone of the Orioles.
Seattle: Dave Fleming (1992)
5.1 WAR, 17 W, 10 L, 3.39 ERA, 112 K
A favorite for the 1992 Rookie of the Year award, though he finished behind Kenny Lofton and winner Pat Listach, Fleming's career unfortunately followed the trajectory of Listach's and not of Lofton's. Fleming finished his career after the 1995 season -- Listach hung 'em up in 1997 -- with a 4.67 ERA.
Texas Rangers: Gary Matthews (2006)
5.2 WAR, 194 hits, 19 HR, 102 runs, 79 RBI, .313./.371/.495
Surrounded by a pack of mediocre years for six other teams, Matthews' 2006 season with the Rangers was an anomaly. His hit total was 60 more than he ever had in another season, and his career batting average of .257 is a far cry from what he achieved in his lone All-Star campaign. He even tallied an MVP vote that year, too.
Atlanta: Davey Johnson (1973)
4.4 WAR, 151 hits, 43 HR, 84 runs, 99 RBI, .270/.370/.546
Johnson was a four-time All-Star, so maybe it's harsh to call him a one-season wonder. But whereas you may expect his numbers in the three other All-Star years to be similar to those listed above, his home run total in those seasons combined is 26. So when he clobbered 43 in 1973, setting the record for most in a season by a second baseman that still stands today, it caught the Braves by surprise. In 1974 he hit only 15, and by the time he retired after the 1978 season, he had only tacked on 12 more.
Miami: Henderson Alvarez III (2014)
4.7 WAR, 12 W, 7 L, 2.65 ERA, 111 K
Alvarez was an All-Star in 2014, the only time throughout his six-year career he was awarded with the honor. His league-leading three shutouts led to a 2.65 ERA that is a full point below his career number of 3.82. Three shutouts, which led the league, may have helped him in doing so.
New York (NL): Bernard Gilkey (1996)
8.1 WAR, 181 hits, 30 HR, 108 runs, 117 RBI, .317/.393/.562
Lance Johnson (a league-leading 227 hits and 21 triples to go along with a .333/.362/.479 slash line in 1996) was someone I considered, but he was a very good player for the White Sox before coming to New York. But Gilkey, who similarly enjoyed his breakout year as soon as he joined the Mets, was a monster that same year despite a lack of prior power-hitting success that would suggest a breakout. At 29, Gilkey led the Mets with a .955 OPS (over Johnson's .841 and Todd Hundley's .906), over 100 points higher than in any other season to that point. He never broke the 20 home run, 100 run, or 100 RBI mark again in his career.
Philadelphia: Domonic Brown (2013)
3.2 WAR, 135 hits, 27 HR, 65 runs, 83 RBI, .272/.324/.494
There was a time when the Phillies thought Domonic Brown would lead the charge in a rebuilding effort following the downfall of the late-2000s/early-2010s dynasty. That time was when Domonic Brown, who had long been an exciting prospect in the farm system, finally broke out in 2013 and was selected to the All-Star team after an awesome first half (23 home runs, .273/.320/.535). The second half wasn't as friendly -- he hit just four home runs -- and the rest of his career followed suit.
Washington: Brad Wilkerson (2004)
5.1 WAR, 146 hits, 32 HR, 112 runs, 67 RBI, .255/.374/.498
One of the founding members of the Nats enjoyed his best year in the last season of the Expos. He had suggested some solid power previously (20 home runs in 2002, 19 in 2003), but his 32 home run breakout seemed he had finally developed into a power-hitting threat. However, he never again exceeded 20 in his career. Fun fact: his 67 RBI is tied for the tenth-fewest in a 30 home run season in MLB history. Kyle Schwarber, who drove in just 59 runs after hitting 30 home runs in 2017, is tied for first along with Jedd Gyorko and Curtis Granderson.
Chicago (NL): Rick Wilkins (1993)
6.6 WAR, 135 hits, 30 HR, 78 runs, 73 RBI, .303/.376/.561
There are Derrek Lee (199 hits, 46 HR, 107 RBI, .335/.418/.662 in 2005), Mark Prior (18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 K in 2003) and Bryan LaHair (2012 All-Star), but Lee and Prior had more than one good season, and LaHair's All-Star bid is downgraded by a pretty awful second half. But Rick Wilkins, whose next best season consisted of 14 HR and a .243/.344/.399 slash line, was randomly really, really good in 1993. His 6.6 WAR is the best a Cubs catcher has ever had, even ahead of every season in Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett's career.
Cincinnati: Devin Mesoraco (2014)
4.9 WAR, 105 hits, 25 HR, 54 runs, 80 RBI, .273/.359/.534
Though Mesoraco is not like Wilkins in that there's a guy named Johnny Bench who holds most of the Reds' catcher records, Mesoraco is the only catcher in the top-10 Cincinnati WAR seasons at the position outside of Bench since 1960. His next best season in Cincy in terms of WAR? 2017, with 0.2.
Milwaukee: Bill Hall (2006)
5.8 WAR, 145 hits, 35 HR, 101 runs, 85 RBI, .270/.345/.553
Hall only hit more than 20 home runs once in his career, and it came in a breakout 2006 that was in no way an indication of what was to come. After an eight-year run in Milwaukee -- the random 35 home run season was smack-dab in the middle -- he spent parts of four seasons with the Mariners, Red Sox, Astros, Giants and Orioles before retiring.
Pittsburgh: Jack Wilson (2004)
4.8 WAR, 201 hits, 11 HR, 12 3B, 82 runs, 59 RBI, .308/.335/.459
Warren Morris looked like he could have been a rookie sensation that blossomed into an All-Star after a good 1999 campaign, but it wasn't as good as Jack Wilson's 2004. It was the only year in which the shortstop was named to an All-Star team, the only season he ever hit over .300 and was certainly the only season that was anything other than a solid, unexceptional performance.
St. Louis: Ryan Ludwick (2008)
5.5 WAR, 161 hits, 37 HR, 104 runs, 113 RBI, .299/.375/.591
The duo of Albert Pujols (37 HR, .357/.462/.653) and Ludwick in 2008 was a lethal one, though the Cardinals' 86-76 record was only good for fourth in the NL Central. However, that display of offensive prowess was an outlier compared to the rest of Ludwick's career. While he was solid the following season, driving in 97 runs, his OPS only stood at .775 and he hit 15 fewer dingers. And while he did have a 26 home run season in 2012 with the Reds, his OPS there was nearly 100 points lower.
Arizona: Ian Kennedy (2011)
4.8 WAR, 21 W, 4 L, 2.88 ERA, 198 K
Kennedy's career isn't over yet, but his conversion to a relief pitcher last year in Kansas City signals that he'll never again have a season like he did in 2011. Not that anyone expected him to, anyway, seeing as it's his only sub-3.00 ERA season and his only appearance ever on the Cy Young leaderboards (coming in behind Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee).
Colorado: Ellis Burks (1996)
7.9 WAR, 211 hits, 40 HR, 142 runs, 128 RBI, .344/.408/.639
The Coors Field effect hits some people harder than others. Take Burks, for example, who was a fine ballplayer -- he did have over 2,000 hits and 350 career home runs, after all -- but his insane 1996 season saw him record his career highs, many by a large margin, in pretty much every statistical category.
Los Angeles (NL): Billy Grabarkewitz (1970)
6.5 WAR, 153 hits, 17 HR, 92 runs, 84 RBI, .289/.399/.454
Grabarkewitz -- nicknamed Grabs to avoid that mouthful -- was an All-Star in 1970, his first full season in the bigs. But the rest of his career didn't follow the path that was suggested by the 24-year-old's breakout season, as he never again played a full season, reached 100 hits, hit double-digit home runs, or exceeded even a 1.0 WAR.
San Diego: Chase Headley (2012)
6.4 WAR, 173 hits, 31 HR, 95 runs, 115 RBI, .286/.376/.498
Cito Gaston is perhaps the guy to go with here. His 1970 All-Star season (186 hits, 29 HR, 92 runs, 93 RBI, .318/.364/.543) was unlike any other year in his career. But I'm going with Chase Headley for this one -- perhaps because I had him on my fantasy team -- for many reasons. He won a Gold Glove, the only one of his career. He won a Silver Slugger, the only one of his career. He led the league in RBI, for crying out loud. He was fifth in MVP voting, despite never having appeared on a ballot before or after that season. Everything clicked for Headley in 2006, and in 2006 alone.
San Francisco: Rich Aurilia (2001)
6.7 WAR, 206 hits, 37 HR, 114 runs, 97 RBI, .324/.369/.572
Kevin Mitchell's unexpected MVP campaign in 1989 (47 HR, 125 RBI, 1.023 OPS) was almost enough for me to give him this honor, but then I realized he was good the following year (35 HR, 93 RBI, .904 OPS) and had another brilliant showing in the shortened 1994 season. Rich Aurilia, on the other hand, never had a year like his long All-Star season in 2001. His 206 hits, which is over 50 more than his second-highest season total, led the NL. His 37 home runs is completely different from the rest of his career. And his 6.7 WAR is more than one-third of his career WAR, despite a long 15-year stint in the Majors.