Baltimore television and radio personality Mark Viviano posed an interesting question after Nelson Cruz hit his 17th home run of the season on Tuesday in Milwaukee.
Pondering Nelson Cruz 17 HR, 46 RBI. IF he's 1-&-done w O's could he be best 1-&-done ever for O's? Reggie 27 HR, 91 RBI in '76. Any better?— Mark Viviano (@MarkWJZ) May 28, 2014
Cruz has (as of Thursday) produced over 2 bWAR for the Orioles thanks to his MLB leading 19 home runs. He could well be on his way to a 5+ WAR season. It is likely that this will be his only season in Baltimore, as he will almost assuredly land the big dollar, multi-year deal he hoped to land this past off-season. So I figured I'd comb through the Baseball Reference archives in search of an answer to Viviano's question. The results were quite interesting and somewhat surprising.
Reggie Jackson (1976)
Viviano's assumption was correct. Reggie Jackson put up a pretty darn good season during his one year as an Oriole. After holding out over contract demands resulted in him missing the first 16 games of the season, Jackson would go on to produce 5.3 bWAR in just 134 games. He hit 27 home runs, good for a tie for 2nd in the AL, and led the AL in SLG% (.502) and OPS+ (155). As an added bonus, he stole a career high 28 bases, his 80% success rate ranking 5th in the AL that year. But his efforts would not be enough to help an Orioles squad in transition catch the AL East champion Yankees, as the Birds finished a distant 2nd with an 88-74 record. Jackson would, of course, go on to sign a lucrative free agent contract with those Yankees the following off-season, and win two World Series rings during his 5 years in the Bronx.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jackson is the only significant positional player to produce a very good '1 and Done' season for the Orioles. Center fielder Chris Singleton produced a 1.8 bWAR season for the O's in 2002 before being granted free agency after the season. And 3B Danny Valencia was worth 0.9 bWAR over his 170 plate appearances with the 2013 Orioles.
Kevin Brown (1995)
Following 6 modestly successful season with the Rangers, Brown signed a 1-year contract with the Orioles after the ending of the 1994 player's strike. He looked to be the perfect complement to young starters Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald in the Baltimore rotation, and he produced to that effect. 172.1 innings pitched over 26 starts resulted in a 4.3 bWAR thanks to a 3.60 ERA (3.49 FIP) and a 133 ERA+. But much like Reggie Jackson's lone season in Charm City, the club was in a transition phase. Johnny Oates had been fired following a 2nd place finish in '94 and replaced by Cleveland Pitching Coach Phil Regan. The pitching staff flourished, allowing a 2nd best 4.44 runs/game, but the offense floundered, scouring a well below average of 4.89 runs/game.
Brown would sign a multi-year contract with the Florida Marlins during the off-season and transform into one of the most dominant pitchers in the game over the following two seasons. He led the NL in ERA (.,89) and ERA+ (255) in 1996, and helped the Marlins win their first World Series in 1997. He actually took a near $1 million pay cut from his 1995 salary with the O's to his 1996 salary with the Marlins. Oh, what could have been if he had remained with the O's during the '96 & '97 season...
David Wells (1996)
With the departure of Brown the Orioles needed to fill a large hole in their rotation. Who better to fill such a spot than David Wells! In the final year of his contract with Detroit, Wells was shipped to Baltimore for a couple of young outfield prospects. Wells didn't pitch well, putting up a 5.14 ERA and 97 ERA+. But he did eat innings; 224.1 over 34 starts to be exact. And those innings resulted in his compiling 2.9 bWAR. Combined with the contributions of Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson, Wells helped propel the Birds to the playoffs for the first time since 1983. Wells earned the win in the O's only victory during that tainted ALCS of 1996.
Like Reggie Jackson 20 years prior, Wells would head up to Gotham following his one season with Baltimore and experience numerous career highlights, including pitching a Perfect Game and winning a World Series ring in 1998.
Mike Torrez (1975)
Torrez was involved in one of the better trades in Orioles history, coming from Montreal along with Ken Singleton in exchange for a soon to be out of baseball Dave McNally, young outfielder Rich Coggins, and a minor leaguer. A year later Torrez would be part of the package sent to Oakland in exchange for one Reggie Jackson. In between, he put up 3.5 bWAR over his 36 starts and 270.2 IP. In spite of a league leading 133 walks he managed to pitch to a 3.06 ERA and complied a 20-9 Win-Loss record. He would go on to have an even better '76 season with Oakland, thanks in large part to cutting his walk rate significantly. Early in the '77 season he would join Jackson in the Bronx via a trade, and would go on to earn two Wins in the World Series.
Mark Eichhorn (1994)
Easily the most surprising name here. Eichhorn was a 33 year old middle reliever who had spent the bulk of his career with either Toronto or the Angels. The Orioles signed him to a 2 year deal prior to the '94 season, and he pitched exceptionally well during the strike-shortened season. 2.6 bWAR produced in just 71.0 innings pitched over 43 games is pretty impressive stuff. Particularly when he only struck out 35 in that span. Keeping the ball in the yard was his skill, and allowing just 1 home run allowed him to keep his ERA at a sparkling 2.15 for the season. He would have been a strong part of the O's 'pen in '95 but missed the entire season due to injury, thus a 1 and Done career with the Orioles for Eichhorn.
Not Orioles related, but Eichhorn's 1986 season is rather bananas. A 25 year old with Toronto, he put up 7.4 bWAR in 157.0 IP with a 14-6 record, 1.72 ERA, and 166 Ks. What is remarkable is that he did all of this without starting a single game! 7.4 WAR strictly pitching long relief in 69 games. Mind boggling.