Remembering Seven of the Most Wasted MLB Player Seasons

Jason Keidel
July 03, 2020 - 9:00 am

Yankees fans flung their arms in the air in joy when the club traded for Giancarlo Stanton, giving the Marlins little more than a MetroCard in return. What the Marlins really wanted, and got, was Stanton's mogul money off their books, and the Yanks were happy to oblige.  

But as a Yankee, Stanton hasn't come close to matching the Ruthian numbers he put up in Florida. In his last year with Miami (2017), Stanton led both leagues with 59 homers and 132 RBI, and led the National League in slugging (.631) and OPS+ (169). For those monstrous deeds, Stanton was voted an All-Star, won the Silver Slugger, and was named NL MVP...but he did it all on a team going nowhere, whereas at least the Yankees have two straight playoff berths in Stanton's two seasons in pinstripes.

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That remembrance makes you wonder who else put up some of the best, but most wasted, seasons over the last 40 years – and in honor of Mickey Mantle, we’ve chosen seven to highlight.

The rules, as always, are that the player can't be a pitcher, and must have played on a team with a losing record.

Dale Murphy, 1985
After winning two MVP awards as a Brave, Murphy’s last truly great year in Atlanta came in ’85, when he led the National League with 37 homers, 118 runs scored, and 90 walks. He also drove in 111 runs and batted exactly .300. Murphy was voted to his fifth All-Star Game, won his fourth Gold Glove, and nabbed his fourth Silver Slugger award, but was only good for seventh in the NL MVP vote. A perfect prime year, but the Braves failed to help the 29-year-old Murphy on the diamond, finishing 30 games under .500 (66-96) and fifth in the NL West. 

Frank Thomas, 1995
Thomas had won the AL MVP in 1993 and '94, and in both seasons, the White Sox were kings, winning the AL Central and reaching the ALCS in the former and leading the division when the strike wiped out the latter. But those disappointments didn't deter "The Big Hurt" in 1995, as he hit .308 with 40 homers and 111 RBI and led the AL in walks (136) and intentional walks (29). Thomas made his third straight All-Star team and this time finished eighth in the AL MVP voting, behind names like Mo Vaughn, Jay Buhner and - excuse me? - Tim Salmon, but folks forgot to tell the White Sox how great Thomas was, as they went 68-75, good for third place in the AL Central and a wasted great year from a Hall of Famer. 

Andre Dawson, 1987
Dawson was a machine for the lowly Cubs, leading both leagues in homers (49) and RBI (137) and leading the NL with 353 total bases. He won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards, as well as the MVP, making a strong impression in his first year in Chicago after years in Montreal. Dawson also got branded with one of the better handles, "The Hawk," for his keen eye at the plate, and he showed he was far from done at 32 years old. It’s just a shame his MVP season came on a 76-85 club that was sixth in the old NL East. 

Ken Griffey, Jr., 1998

Ken Griffey Jr.'s Hall of Fame Induction
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Fresh off his MVP season in 1997, Junior put up similarly absurd stats in '98. In his ninth straight year as an All-Star, Griffey tied his career-high by bashing 56 homers and notched 146 RBI, just one fewer than the year before. It was almost a carbon copy of his MVP season, except his batting average dipped to .284 from .304. Still, he won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and finished fourth in the MVP vote behind Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciapara, and winner Juan Gonzalez, even though Junior had a better season than any of them. Perhaps, though, that happened because Seattle dropped from a 92-70 division winner in ’97 to a 76-85 third place team in ’98.

Jim Rice, 1983
Rice led the American League with 39 homers, 126 RBI, and 344 total bases in 1983 but was curiously fourth in the MVP race despite that prodigious production. Sure, it’s no secret that Rice was unpopular among sportswriters, back when they had much more clout and newspapers were king, but he did enough talking on the field to build a reputation as a hitting machine, winning an MVP in 1977. Perhaps, though, this slight came because Boston went 78-84 and finished in sixth place in the AL East, and watched the rival Orioles win the World Series. 

Mike Trout, 2019

USA Today Images

Trout won his third AL MVP award last year at age 27, and he should have more, because the New Jersey native is just comically better than anyone in baseball today. What makes last year so luminous - 45 homers, 104 RBI, 110 runs scored, 110 walks, AL-high totals in on-base percentage (.438), slugging (.645), OPS(1.083), OPS+ (185), and intentional walks (14) - was he did it all in just 134 games. He also made his eighth All-Star team in nine MLB seasons, and won his seventh Silver Slugger. He absolutely was the MVP, because one has to wonder how much worse the fourth-place, 72-90 Halos would’ve been without him. Right now they are wasting a truly transcendent career. 

Alex Rodriguez, 2002
And finally, we come to the king of all impossible seasons in A-Rod, who hit exactly .300 with a titanic 57 dingers and 142 RBI in his penultimate campaign in Texas. He somehow didn't win the MVP in 2002, though, despite notching better numbers than during his MVP season in 2003. In 2002, A-Rod had more runs scored, hits, homers, and RBI, and had a higher batting average (.300), slugging percentage (,623), and OPS (1.015) to boot. He also led both leagues with 389 total bases, but alas, he finished second in the MVP race.

We could’ve chosen both seasons here, as the Rangers finished fourth in the AL West with 72 and 71 wins, respectively, but we’ll take the one with the better stats over the actual trophy. 

Follow Jason Keidel on Twitter: @JasonKeidel

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