Worst pitcher: Edgar Gonzalez (2004) + Brian Bruney (2005), -1.5 WAR
Gonzalez had debuted the year before, but his 2004 season was epic, and I imagine he wouldn’t have got 10 starts on a team which didn’t lose 111 games. Only five pitchers in NL history have made double-digit starts and allowed more earned runs than they had innings pitched. Gonzalez had 48 in 46.1 innings for a 9.32 ERA. Bruney managed to rack up his deficit in about the same innings, and was even D-backs closer for a while, notching 12 saves, until a Hudson-esque meltdown. In the month beginning July 20, he allowed 17 earned runs in just 9.2 innings, before being optioned to Tucson. He pitched once thereafter, ending with a 7.43 ERA in 47 appearances.
Post-rookie careers. Gonzalez stayed in AZ through 2008, and pitched in the majors as recently as 2013. He was exactly replacement level over 303.1 subsequent IP. After being released by AZ, Bruney rebounded, having four solid seasons with the Yankees, and pitched through 2012. He was worth 2.5 WAR in those 182.1 innings.
Worst position player: Karim Garcia (1998), -1.5 WAR
This was Garcia’s fourth season in the majors, but he had accumulated only 67 PAs over the previous three combined for Los Angeles, so his rookie status was still intact when the D-backs chose him with the ninth pick in the expansion draft. Our debut campaign took care of that rookieness, as Karim appeared 113 times for Arizona, the only year where he reached triple-digits. Unfortunately, they weren’t very good games: he batted .222 with a 66 OPS+ and was in negative territory defensively as well. Getting a player with a pulse in exchange would have been a steal. Of course, we actually got a four-time All-Star, who delivered a walk-off hit in Game 7 of the World Series.
Post-rookie career. Bounced around six teams from 1999-2004, totaling -0.7 WAR, his most memorable moment being getting plunked in the 2003 NLCS, which led to Pedro Martinez throwing Don Zimmer down. He then went abroad, including Japan, Korean and most recently Mexico, where he played last season.
=4 Wade Miley, 2012, 3.5 WAR
After making seven starts in 2011, Miley blossomed the following year, even though he didn’t start in the rotation. Wade got his chance after Daniel Hudson - more on him later! - hit the DL with a right shoulder issue, and made the most of it. In seven starts while Huddy was out, Miley went 5-1 with a 2.27 ERA and it was Patrick Corbin who was bumped instead. Wade’s season peaked with four consecutive starts in June allowing one run, with a K:BB of 28:2 over 30.2 innings. But he ran out of gas, with a 5.40 September ERA, and that may have cost Wade, who lost a close Rookie of the Year contest, 112-105, to some guy called Bryce Harper. Whatever happened to him?
Post-rookie career. Still ongoing, and in the four seasons since, between Boston, Seattle and Baltimore, Miley has been worth 4.7 WAR, albeit at steadily increasing cost.
=4. A.J. Pollock, 2013, 3.5 WAR
He retained his rookie status despite 31 games played in 2012, and became a regular part of the D-backs, starting 98 times in center as he carried out the difficult task of taking over from long-time incumbent Chris Young, and appearing in 137 games all told. His value was almost evenly split between his bat and his glove. The former was decent, rather than remarkable, with A.J. batting .269 with eight home-runs and an OPS+ of 100. But Pollock’s defense was great, his UZR ranking fourth among all NL outfielders, boosting his value tremendously and foreshadowing the Gold Glove he would win there, two years later.
Post-rookie career. Bedeviled by injury, Pollock has missed about half of the three seasons since then. But he has still put up an MVP caliber season in 2015, and 11.8 WAR.
3. Ender Inciarte, 2014, 3.7 WAR
The most recent player to be mentioned here, and a season that was even more dependent on defense than Pollock. For Inciarte’s bat was worth only 1.1 offensive WAR, a result of his 89 OPS+. But again, his glove made up the gap, with the second-best UZR/150 among all qualified major-league outfielders. And in perhaps an indication of changing times, unlike Pollock he was not entirely ignored by the Rookie of the Year voters, coming in fifth. Though you could make a good case that was still an under-appreciation of Inciarte’s worth that year, for his WAR was higher than everyone else who got votes, including the eventual winner Jacob DeGrom.
Post-rookie career. Two seasons. 9.1 WAR. [Sobs gently]
2. Daniel Hudson, 2010, 3.8 WAR
What’s spectacular about this season, is that Huddy managed it in only one-third of a campaign, making only 11 starts for the D-backs. He was traded from the White Sox for Edwin Jackson at the trade deadline, having been mostly a minor-leaguer in Chicago. He had made three unimpressive starts, with a 6.32 ERA. But over the last two months of the season, he was unstoppable for Arizona, going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA. All 11 games were quality starts, and he ran the streak to 13 before it finally ended; Randy Johnson (14 in 1999) and Curt Schilling (16 in 2002) are our only pitchers with longer streaks of quality starts, and no D-back in the past decade has matched it.
Post-rookie career. The following season was the only one Hudson was a full-time starter, as two Tommy John ops and a move to the bullpen followed. It was also the only time he has put up positive value, and is sitting at -0.3 WAR over six years.
1. Brandon Webb, 2003, 6.2 WAR
Brandon Webb was robbed. He should have been Rookie of the Year, given a WAR figure that was the third-best by an NL rookie since the mound was lowered after 1968 - he’s the only one in the top five who didn’t win. It could have been higher too, since Brandon didn’t make his first start until Arizona’s 24th game of the season. Webb not only lost to Dontrelle Willis (3.9 WAR), he didn’t even get second, which went to Scott Podsednik (3.6 WAR). Like Hudson, his first 13 starts for Arizona were quality ones, but he allowed 16 runs over his last two games. Although seven were unearned, his ERA rose from 2.50 to 2.84, and perhaps cost Webb the crown.
Post-rookie career. Injury meant Webb lasted barely five more seasons, putting up 18.2 WAR. That included a Cy Young win in 2006 and two runners-up spots, but we can only wonder what might have been...
fWAR vs. bWAR
The above are all based on Baseball-Reference.com WAR, but I figured it might be worth a look to see what Fangraphs’ WAR had to say on the topic. I was a bit concerned, because they have on occasion differed with regard to who “counts” as a rookie. But in the end, the top five seasons turned out to be very similar:
- Brandon Webb, 2003 - 4.3 fWAR
- Wade Miley, 2012 - 4.1 fWAR
- A.J. Pollock, 2013 - 3.6 fWAR
- Ender Inciarte, 2014 - 2.7 fWAR
- Josh Collmenter, 2011 - 2.3 fWAR
The only change is Collmenter coming in at fifth, replacing Hudson, whose season drops to seventh overall by fWAR. At the other end of the scale, Garcia’s 1998 is still the worst season by a rookie position player, at -1.5 fWAR. But the worst pitched season is now Lance Cormier’s 2004, at -0.9 fWAR. Cormier had an 8.14 ERA in 45.1 innings. That just edged out Gonzalez the same year, which finished at -0.7.