Baseball’s Greatest One-Hit Wonder Seasons of All-Time

These guys were good for a year. Less good in others.

Chris Shelton is one of my favorite baseball players of my lifetime. In 2005, the Detroit Tigers first baseman turned in a solid year. A 2.5 fWAR, .360 on-base, and a 132 wRC+. A good season, to be sure. When the following season started, though, Chris Shelton became the best baseball player on the planet. For two weeks. From April 3rd to April 17th, his slash included a .471 average and a .500 OBP, along with .745 ISO. His wRC+ over that stretch was a hilarious 331. He absolutely mashed. Chris Shelton represents the ultimate one-hit wonder, even in the shortest of spans.

Baseball isn’t unique in its one-hit wonders. But it’s one of the things I love about baseball. For a certain period of time, a player offers a glimpse of their upside. Because of our impatience as a society, a 162-game season is long. No matter the sample within that 162, it has the power to shift perception. The nature of the sport (BABIP, other preposterous things of that nature) lends itself to such outlandish stretches as Chris Shelton.

We’ve seen recent late bloomers like Frank Schwindel or Joey Menseses carry out a good stretch and grab onto a role, albeit on rebuilding squads. And while Shelton had a fine 2006, he (obviously) never replicated his output over those two weeks in April. His star faded quickly and he was out of the league by 2009.

There are some, though, that carry such an outlier over the course of a full season. Such exploits certainly earn you more runway in a future role, and due to the seasons featured on this list, the names mentioned likely latched onto a role in a much longer-term capacity than they otherwise would have.

A couple of caveats with this list, however. One is that “all-time” in terms of the one-hit wonders is doing a little bit of heavy lifting. In matters of sports, I tend to focus only on the players that I have personally seen. While there’s a lot of objectivity when it comes to a one-hit wonder, that same recency bias hit me here. There are a couple that precedes my age-32 self, but, alas, much of the list is of more recent vintage. The other is that this list is inexhaustive and in no particular order. How do you organize a list such as this? Chronologically, probably. But I’m going to keep you guessing.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at some guys who were good for a year and decidedly…not for the rest of their careers.

 

Brady Anderson (Baltimore Orioles)

 

Anytime you see a list like this, Anderson’s on it. Which is somewhat interesting. The poster child for the one-hit wonder concept is sort of a misnomer for Anderson. He did have some really solid years during his lengthy time in Baltimore, including a pair of 5+ fWAR seasons. But it’s his 50-homer campaign in 1996 that really tends to land him on these types of lists. That year, Anderson hit .296, reached base at a clip near .400, and posted an obscene ISO of .340. His wRC+ came in at 155. He was an absolute maniac, offensively.

Again, it wasn’t his only good offensive year. But with respect to the power game, it was something that Anderson was never able to remotely replicate. His next-best ISO mark came in 1999, at .195, which included 24 home runs. That would stand as his second-best offensive year and nowhere near that ’96 output. There are, quite obviously, some suspicions surrounding Anderson’s association with PEDs because of it, but as the gap between 1996 and literally anything else he did during his career, he finds himself here.

 

Bryan LaHair (Chicago Cubs)

 

The inverse of Brady Anderson as it relates to this list, Bryan LaHair spent all of three seasons in Major League Baseball. He maxed out at 380 plate appearances in 2012. But on a roster that featured Tony Campana, Darwin Barney, and the late Luis Valbuena getting regular PAs, LaHair was the Chicago Cubs’ lone representative in the 2012 All-Star Game.

It’s the All-Star appearance that lands him on this list because the output really wasn’t that great over his sub-400 PAs. In the first half of 2012, though, he hit .286, ISO’d .234, and landed in Kansas City as an All-Star. Sure, he was supplanted by Anthony Rizzo by year’s end, was jettisoned off to Japan and some subsequent years in unaffiliated ball, but he’ll always have that stretch in 2012 for a rebuilding Cubs squad that sorely needed some excitement. What’s that guy up to now?

(He’s a minor league manager in the Cincinnati Reds organization.)

 

Bobby Crosby (Oakland Athletics)

 

I mentioned in the lede that there are guys who run these stretches that warp your perception of them as a player. Bobby Crosby’s 2004 rookie campaign absolutely did that. Crosby turned in big power (22 home runs, .187 ISO) and some really nice defense as he appeared the perfect heir to Miguel Tejada at shortstop.

Of course, Crosby never repeated the power. His bat fell off completely by 2006, and the defense eventually went along with it. But for Oakland that meant he was affordable, and he held onto a regular gig in varying capacities until 2009.

 

Fernando Tatis, Sr. (St. Louis Cardinals)

 

Fernando Tatis, Sr. is wrapped up in my own nostalgia (not unlike the honorable mention at the bottom of this post). Living in the Philadelphia area for many of my formative years, I’m not sure there’s a player I saw live more than Tatis. My parents seemingly always picked the Phillies games against St. Louis and Montreal. It’s a season with the former that really cements Tatis’ one-hit-wonder status.

In 1999, Tatis slashed .298/.404/.553/.957. His ISO came in at .255 as he cruised to a 34-HR season. His wRC+ came in at 141. The numbers, though, pale in comparison to the marquee moment of the year for him. In April of ’99, Tatis hit two grand slams in one inning at Dodger Stadium, the only player to accomplish the feat. While Tatis remained an interesting enough offensive player with decent on-base skills for the rest of his career, he never came close to anything he turned in during the ’99 season.

 

Esteban Loaiza (Chicago White Sox)

 

The first pitcher on this list, Loaiza’s 2003 season was astonishing by basically any measure. He was something of a journeyman having been with three separate organizations before signing a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox. That 2003 season was Loaiza’s year, though. He struck out 207 hitters, the best mark in the league, and won 21 games, only one off of Roy Halladay’s 22. His 8.23 K/9, 2.23 BB/9, and 6.9 fWAR were all elite marks.

As sudden as the success was, the fall was seemingly faster. Loaiza was enjoying a strong second year in Chicago (2.21 ERA, a second consecutive All-Star appearance), but was sent to the Bronx at the 2004 trade deadline. From there, Loaiza struggled on four different teams in four years, eventually circling back to the White Sox in a short stint that would be his last in Major League ball.

 

Bill Hall (Milwaukee Brewers)

 

Like many of the hitters on this list, Hall’s presence is due to one outlandish season of power surrounded by a lot of…not power. Hall’s 2006 season of 35 homers is basically double any other power output that he turned in throughout his career. But he also walked at the best rate of his career (10.4), reached base at the best rate of his career (.345), and played the best defense of his career (13 DRS, 7.6 UZR) in what was really his only full(ish) season at shortstop.

Hall carved out a nice career as a guy who could play anywhere and hit just a little bit (my favorite baseball archetype). But he never came close to mashing in the way that he did in ’06.

 

Óliver Pérez (Pittsburgh Pirates)

 

It feels weird putting a guy on this list who had such an extensive Major League career. Pérez was, after all, in the business from 2002 until just this past season. That’s wild. But I’m old enough to remember offline fantasy drafts in which Pérez and Mark Prior were coveted arms. For the former, we have 2004 to thank for that. Pérez ended up in Pittsburgh by virtue of the trade that sent Jason Bay to the Steel City in exchange for Brian Giles (there are some throwback names, in case the list itself wasn’t doing it for you).

Armed with big strikeout totals and even larger walk ones, Pérez turned in his top year in his first full season in Pittsburgh. He struck out nearly 11 hitters per nine (10.97), walked 3.72 (his best mark as a starter), and posted a 2.98 ERA (3.45 FIP). His K rate sat atop the league, and virtually everything else he turned in had him sitting among the league’s elite arms. From there, he battled injuries and command issues and was eventually converted to a full-time reliever. But, again, essentially 20 years in the big leagues. Hard to be upset about it.

 

Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays)

 

Romero is an interesting addition to this list because his star was white hot almost immediately. Starting 29 games as a rookie in 2009, Romero’s best year came in 2011. He struck out 7.12 hitters per nine, walked 3.20 per nine, and posted a 2.92 ERA. The second half of that year was particularly strong. His ERA sat 2.72, opposing hitters went for just a .189 average against him, and he posted a WHIP of just 1.02.

But after that dominant finish to 2011, and a good stretch to open 2012, injuries essentially derailed the rest of his career. A decade later, the fanfare over Romero’s 2nd half of 2011 is now one of those you-had-to-be-there things.

 

Cito Gaston (San Diego Padres)

 

The only player on this list that I didn’t watch personally (because…32), Gaston had only two seasons where he was above average by way of wRC+: 1970 and 1976. But the two seasons could not have been more different. Ever the theme here, while that ’76 campaign was high on OBP and low on strikeouts, it was the power in 1970 that cemented Gaston’s place as a one-hit-wonder.

In 1970, Gaston hit 29 homers and went for a .224 ISO. He only hit double-digit homers twice beyond that in a decade at the Major League level, and his ISO was never again above .115. The .318 average he posted that year was a Padres record at the time. Of course, Tony Gwynn arrived just a few years later, erasing essentially anything any offensive player had done in San Diego prior.

 

Jake Lamb (Arizona Diamondbacks)

 

If I can find a way to work Jake Lamb into the conversation, I’m going to do it. So while Lamb might be a two-hit wonder, his short stay as an upper tier big leaguer earns him a place on this list.  Lamb’s 2016 and 2017 featured home run totals of 29 and 30, respectively. His ISO averaged about .250. He walked a combined 12.3 percent of the time.

As it stands right now, they were the only two seasons where Lamb was an above-average hitter. Health issues plagued him in the subsequent years with the Snakes and catapulted him into journeyman status to date.He’s been on six teams in three years.

 

Photos by Justin Lafferty (Crosby), Johnmaxmena2 (Lamb), Wknight94 (Tatis Sr.) and A.Currell (Anderson) | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. A former high school English teacher, Randy now works in the corporate world and resides in Arizona.

4 responses to “Baseball’s Greatest One-Hit Wonder Seasons of All-Time”

  1. I remember looking at this using FantasyWayback.com a couple of years ago. This is a good list, which I might put into three groups:

    Quintessential One-Hit Wonders: Tatis and Loaiza
    They played for 14 and 15 years and were worthless basically every season. Except one season they were awesome. Loaiza even managed to put up a 5.00 ERA the year before AND the year after.

    Romero is the next best fit, IMO. He’s interesting because he improved in every category from ’09 to ’10 to ’11. After that great ’11, he was done.

    Two-Hit Wonders: Hall, Anderson, Lamb and Perez.
    Brady Anderson had the 50-21 season that everyone remembers for the power spike, but his 21-53 in ’92 was just as valuable. Bill Hall is similar, with another season with good SB and less power. He did 17-18-.291 the year before his 35-8-.270.

    You mentioned it, but Lamb’s ’16 and ’17 were really similar.

    Perez had a pretty good ’07 in addition to his amazing ’04. Like Loaiza, he managed to sandwich that awesome year between two 5.00 ERA / 1.60 WHIP dumpster fires. And he was still playing in 2022!

    Never that good: Crosby, LaHair

  2. Rickey Henderson says:

    Will Middlebrooks? Aaron Small?

  3. Powdered Toast Man says:

    Nick Esasky with the Red Sox.

  4. Jack says:

    Billy Grabarkewitz, ’70 Dodgers. Selected to the All Star Game that year.

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