Sharma: Baseball’s greatest one-hit wonder, Joe Black

From SABR member Sahadev Sharma at Baseball Prospectus on February 6, 2015:

There has been much excitement since it was announced that Harper Lee would finally be releasing a second book. Who wouldn’t be pumped to read more adventures with Scout, Atticus Finch, that one dude, and that other person? Ah, I love To Kill a Mockingbird. The way they just [clenches fist] kill all those mockingbirds. Okay, truth time, I haven’t actually read To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s on my to-do list, I swear, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. By all accounts, it’s quite wonderful, I’m sure I’ll love it when I finally get to it. I have fond memories of my brother doing pretty much every single book report he ever did as a child on that book. I mean, he bestowed the middle name Atticus upon one of his children, so yeah, he’s a fan.

Still, when I heard the news, my mind, as it tends to do no matter the subject, went to baseball. Is there a Harper Lee in the baseball world?

To figure this out we need a player who came into the league and immediately became award worthy. There are only three rookies who were good enough to win either an MVP or Cy Young: Fred Lynn, Ichiro Suzuki, and Fernando Valenzuela. All three played at a pretty high level for the rest of their careers (of course, Ichiro’s is still going, if only for a few more years), so they don’t really fit the profile for Lee.

What we’re looking for here is a player who was great in his first season, then never really matched that output. It isn’t a perfect fit for Lee, who essentially retired after a Hall of Fame-worthy rookie campaign, but that’s a high bar to clear in the baseball world.

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Originally published: February 6, 2015. Last Updated: February 6, 2015.