Pictured above is Scott Williamson. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 1997 Draft and 22 months later he threw a scoreless inning on Opening Day. Three months after that he was named to his first All-Star Game with a sparkling 1.66 ERA in 25 relief appearances.
Over the 1999 season, Williamson dominated in a stopper role, splitting closer duties with Danny Graves. His freshman ERA would’ve been well under 2.00 if not for three uncharacteristic outings in late September. Nonetheless, his stat line was impressive – a 2.41 ERA over 93.1 innings and 107 strikeouts – and it was enough to net him the NL Rookie of the Year award.
His 2000 season was also quite productive, with a 3.29 ERA in 112 innings. The Reds experimented with him as a starter 10 times, but his three-pitch mix was better suited to relief work. In 2001, Scott became a patient of Dr. James Andrews – and Tommy John surgery knocked him out for the whole year.
He rebounded though, with 74 quality innings in 2002, and put together a nice first half of 2003. That’s when a Cinncinati fire sale began. Essentially any player that had marginal value outside of Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr. was dealt at the deadline. Jose Guillen was traded to the A’s, Aaron Boone was shipped to the Yankees and Williamson went to the Red Sox. That move marked the start of his decline.
In Boston, despite pitching well (2.93 FIP) his ERA ballooned to 6.20 in the second half. He never really earned the trust of manager Grady Little, although he did close out three ALCS games against the Yankees. His Game 4 outing ended in especially filthy fashion, as is displayed below.
Where did the ball go? The same question could be asked about Scott Williamson. To find this video on YouTube, it’s better to specify “Scott Williamson Baseball.” Omitting the third word prioritizes videos from a little known drummer.
On the field, injuries continued. He stayed in professional baseball until 2011 but never recorded a full season. From 2006-2009, Scott was signed and released by seven organizations, who were hoping to recapture a lights out reliever. Then he retired, leaving behind only a BaseballReference page. But in the 1:19 above, it’s easy to see why Mr. Williamson had baseball’s attention – if only for a short time.
Alfonso Soriano did not know where the ball went. Not because he wasn’t a good hitter. After a rookie season in 2001 where he established his potential as a Yankee starter, Soriano broke out, falling homer shy of 40-40 with a .300 average.
In 2003 he did much of the same, going 38-35 with a 5.4 bWAR. Truthfully, he should be regarded as one of the best players in the game during his prime. From 2001-2008, he averaged 33 HR, 31 SB and a .850 OPS.
However, modern analytics scoff at Soriano’s career. Despite racking up 2095 hits, 412 homers, and 289 stolen bases, his career bWAR is only 28.6. He narrowly missed the exclusive 300/300 club, and isn’t even a borderline Hall of Famer. His faults were plate discipline and defense.
Alfonso couldn’t lay off many pitches, much less that looney tunes splitter in the ALCS. Over his 14 years, his walk rate was a measly 5.9 percent, resulting in a .319 OBP.
In the field, his career dWAR is -10.1. As a younger man and at 2B, his athleticism was never in question, but his fundamentals were weak. Later as a left fielder, his bad routes and declining speed canceled out his solid offense. Although he was great at doubling runners off from the outfield.
Soriano also had a big presence in MLB’s transaction history. Obviously, he was the chip (along with Joaquin Arias) that was sent to Texas in exchange for Alex Rodriguez in 2004. But under two years later, he was shipped off to Washington for three young players.
The first was Terrmel Sledge, who owns the distinction of knocking the last Expos hit, and hitting the first Nationals dinger. Unfortunately, he didn’t drop the hammer on many occasions, finishing with a 0.5 career bWAR.
The next was Brad Wilkerson, another star rookie who liked playing in Montreal (9.7 bWAR over 3 years) but not really anywhere else (2.1 bWAR over parts of 5 seasons).
The last was Armando Galarraga, a 24-year-old starting pitcher who only threw 8.2 innings in Texas before being traded to Detroit. He quickly broke out in 2008 with a 3.73 ERA, finishing fourth in ROY voting.
Galarraga had a rough 2009 and 2010 though, and his major league prospects were fading. By June of 2010, he had been pitching well in AAA, but had given up six earned runs in 12 MLB innings.
Then it happened.
There was no reason for it past one man’s ambition to return to rookie form, and the Indians’ offense that finished 25th in runs/game. Like Dallas Braden‘s or Philip Humber‘s perfectos, he didn’t overpower – striking out only three. He threw mainly sinkers and sliders, inducing weak grounders. The small crowd at Comerica Park only rose to its feet with two outs in the 8th. It was all so calm until this play.
There’s another gear speedy outfielders seem to have when a potential first hit comes their way. Dewayne Wise, Gregor Blanco, Robin Yount, Steven Souza Jr., and sadly Mike Baxter. The list goes on. When the ball went up, they found a way to make sure it never came down.
Then a groundout and another chopper to Miguel Cabrera by Jason Donald ended the ballgame in style. Armando was mobbed by first base, embracing Alex Avila before getting doused with water bottles and a Gatorade cooler. Donald made it close at first but turned around as he was called out, offering light applause to Galarraga before returning to the Indians’ dugout. 27 outs.
There were 28 outs required on June 2, 2010.
Watching the video of the apparent last out is like watching a glass of milk get knocked off a table. Every good intention and movement can be made to reach for the glass, to cushion its fall. A prayer can be thrown heavenward. All the denial and agony won’t reverse anything – the fact is that there is currently a rapidly expanding puddle of milk on your floor. So you smile… and let out a little giggle.
Looking back on these three rookies, it’s now apparent why two didn’t develop into consistent stars. Williamson, despite his good strikeout ability, had an absurd career walk rate of 5.0 per nine innings. All those extra pitches and high-stress outings, along with an unorthodox delivery, contributed to his injuries.
Even Galarraga’s rookie year, which appeared to be the foundation for a middle-of-the-rotation career, was a facade. His 3.73 ERA was backed up by a 4.88 FIP. When his ERA began to match his FIP, the wheels fell off.
But there’s a certain aura that follows these types of players. It’s a blind expectation. Even presented with evidence of weak peripherals in their young players, organizations will continue to hope that they “figure it out.” Some do. Some aren’t able to develop. But every once in a while, just when they seem down for the count, star rookies remind fans of who they once were.
Featured Image Courtesy of Cincinnati Reds
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