Baseball fans often take greatness for granted. Players are so good year in and year out that we wonder what’s wrong with them when their production is solid but not spectacular.
With that in mind, we were curious what the biggest outlier or “worst” season looks like for some established stars who have at least 6 “qualifying” seasons, defined here as at least 400 at-bats or 20 starts for pitchers (injury-shortened seasons shouldn’t count). Take a look.
Joey Votto: Cincinnati Reds, 2008 (7 qualifying seasons)
In his 7 qualifying seasons, the 2010 NL MVP has been worth an average of 5.64 WAR. (In a non-qualifying season in 2012 he still delivered 5.9.) The eagle-eyed lefty has led the NL in on-base percentage five times and boasts a career OBP of .424. So, looking at his entire body of work, Votto’s worst came in his rookie season in '08 when he slashed just .297/.368/.506. That’s a career year for most players.
USA TODAY SportsDavid Kohl
Hanley Ramirez: Boston Red Sox, 2015 (9 qualifying seasons)
His '15 was pretty rough by HanRam standards. That was his first season in Boston when he played outfield (poorly) for the first time in his career. He slashed just .249/.291/.426. That’s the only time he’s registered a negative WAR (-1.3), not exactly what a team expects from a guy banking $20 million a season.
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Miguel Cabrera: Detroit Tigers, 2008 (13 qualifying seasons)
Trying to find Miggy’s worst season is like identifying the least attractive Victoria’s Secret model. He’s only batted under .300 twice -- in 2008 when he led the AL in home runs (37) and total bases (331) and 2004 when, as a 21-year-old, he clubbed 33 homers, recorded 101 runs and 112 RBI and slashed .294/.366/.512. This is truly an impossible task.
Miggy has never had a bad season. I suppose we’ll go with 2008 when he batted a mere .292 and his OPS+ dipped to 130 -- 25 points below his career average of 155. To conclude, Cabrera led the AL in home runs and total bases in his worst qualifying season.
Rick OsentoskiRick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Adam Jones: Baltimore Orioles, 2008 (9 qualifying seasons)
Jones has been incredibly consistent in his 9 consecutive qualifying seasons in Baltimore, never batting lower than .265 or higher than .287. That said, his power stroke didn’t develop until his first All-Star season in ‘09. The year before he hit only 9 home runs and slashed .270/.311/.400. Perfectly respectable but a far cry from his career .458 slugging mark.
Getty ImagesG Fiume
Evan Longoria: Tampa Bay Rays, 2014 (8 qualifying seasons)
Longoria’s worst season occurred in the only year that he played in all 162 games. Perhaps the guy just needed a few days off? Mainly he just didn’t hit for the power he had conditioned us to expect with 22 homers in 624 at-bats and a career-low ISO of .151 (a two-year trend that he snapped in ‘16). He was still good for 3.4 WAR, so not exactly a drag.
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Robinson Cano: New York Yankees, 2008 (12 qualifying seasons)
The longtime Yankee, now a Mariner, of course, bottomed out in ‘08 when he batted .271 and got on base at a .305 clip. Both marks were well below his career averages of .306 and .355.
Getty ImagesJeff Zelevansky
Ryan Braun: Milwaukee Brewers, 2014 (9 qualifying seasons)
The 6-time All-Star suffered his biggest slump in the season that followed his 65-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy in ‘13. That year he missed from late July until the end of the season. The Hebrew Hammer’s ‘15 season wasn’t typical Braun caliber, either, but ‘14 marked career lows across the board for batting average (.266), OBP (.324) and SLG (.453).
Getty ImagesJustin K. Aller
Justin Verlander: Detroit Tigers, 2008 (11 qualifying seasons)
Remember when everyone thought Verlander’s arm was shot in ‘14 when his velocity dipped a bit after nearly a decade of workhorse innings? Well, he’s fine. His rockiest season actually came in his age-25 season in ‘08 when he registered career lows in ERA (4.84) and K/BB (1.87) and lost 17 games.
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Clayton Kershaw: Los Angeles Dodgers, 2010 (9 qualifying seasons)
If you remove Kershaw’s age-20 season when he began harnessing his superpowers, the resulting career “worst” is comical. That came in '10 when he hurled a 2.91 ERA with 212 strikeouts over 204 innings. Then he led the league in ERA in four consecutive seasons, winning three NL Cy Young Awards.
Max Scherzer: Detroit Tigers, 2011 (8 qualifying seasons)
Scherzer struggled with the longball in a NL Cy Young season last year but did so in ‘11 as well with less overall success. The dominant rightly saw his lowest career K-rate that season (8 K/9), allowed 29 homers in 195 innings (1.3/9), which translated to a career-worst 4.43 ERA.
Cole Hamels: Philadelphia Phillies, 2009 (11 qualifying seasons)
The shine has worn off a bit since his move to the Lone Star state but for a long time in Philly, Hamels was one of the best lefties in the game (and the ‘08 World Series MVP). In Hamels’ least impressive regular season campaign, he logged a 4.32 ERA (3.72 FIP) and 1.29 WHIP. Still, his control was excellent as he whiffed 3.9 per batter walked and threw two shutouts.
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Madison Bumgarner: San Francisco Giants, 2012 (6 qualifying seasons)
MadBum has saved his best for the playoffs, specifically the World Series. His regular seasons have been very good but not quite Cy Young caliber as the highest he’s finished in the voting is fourth (‘14, ‘16).
He’s been incredibly consistent from Aprils to Septembers, ranging between a 2.74 ERA and 3.37, which represents his worst in ‘12 when he put in 208 innings (including two complete games and one shutout) and struck out 191. He won’t earn another qualifying season this year, but that’s another story.