Los Angeles Angels: Who is the greatest one-year wonder?

Peter Bourjos, Los Angeles Angels, (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Peter Bourjos, Los Angeles Angels, (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Searching for Los Angeles Angels players who had one great season before coming back down to earth.

Bleacher Report recently made a list of each team’s most memorable one-year wonder, choosing Peter Bourjos for the Angels. While at first glance, this seems like a reasonable choice, I thought it would be interesting to look at the contenders for this dubious distinction.

Before we get into the particular players, it is important to define what we mean by one-year wonder. In basic terms, a one-year wonder is no different than a one-hit wonder in music. It’s when everyone knows a band’s hit song, but can’t remember or hasn’t heard of any of their other tunes. Following this analogy presents a tricky issue for sports. Once a player has a breakout season, fans usually don’t forget about that player. Instead, they track their progress, casting a shadow of disappointment over the rest of their career if they don’t live up to the heightened expectations that a breakout season creates.

Forgotten or not, the most logical approach for identifying one-year wonders in baseball is to search for players who had one superlative season that sticks out from the rest of the seasons in their career.

To do this, I took two approaches.

First, I created a metric I will call Wonder Season Percentile (I am terrible at naming things). This metric measures each season in terms of its percentage of a player’s total Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) over their career. Put simply, if a player produces an fWAR of 4.5 over a given season, and they have a career fWAR of 9.0, their Wonder Season Percentile would be 50%. I am looking for players who produced the majority of their career value over just one season. I exclude present-day players with less than two years on their resumes, since they deserve more time to show whether their early results are anomalies or not.

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The Angels player with the highest Wonder Season Percentile is Alex Johnson in 1970. His 4.1 fWAR represents 48.9% of his career fWAR. Second to Johnson? Bleacher Report got it, Peter Bourjos. His 2011 sophomore campaign produced 4.3 fWAR (48.3% of his career total).

The problem I found with using Wonder Season Percentile is that really bad seasons can offset really good seasons. There could be a player with three seasons of fWAR greater than four wins, but their career fWAR is deflated by multiple seasons of negative fWAR. Alex Johnson had two solid seasons in Cincinnati before being traded to the Angels. Those seasons are lost because of his poor production to start and end his career.

My second approach to identifying one-year wonders was to search for players who had one great season (fWAR >= 4 wins) and never produced a season close to that again (no additional seasons with an fWAR > 2). Using this approach, once again, Bleacher Report hit the nail on the head. Peter Bourjos’ 2011 season was a true anomaly relative to the rest of his career. After hitting above league average that season (wRC+ of 114), he only got within 15 points of league average once more before hanging up his cleats for good. He is one of only twenty-two players since 1961 to have one season with an fWAR of at least four wins and never another season with an fWAR greater than two wins.

If we broaden the criteria to search for players who had one great season (fWAR >= 4 wins) and never another season worth more than three wins, we find three Angels players: David Eckstein (2002), Peter Bourjos (2011), and Alex Johnson (1970).

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The player who gets lost between the two approaches is Darin Erstad. While he was a solid player for several seasons with the Angels, the height of his career is an anomaly worth pointing out. He is one of only two Major League players since the Angels have been in existence to produce an 8+ win season without recording another season with more than four wins.