#Hot Corner

Rick Ankiel's singular career

Steve Mitchell

I'm wondering if you have the same reaction to this that I did:

My reaction? Why, that must be a typo. It's definitely been more than six years since Ankiel got back to the majors, right.

Nope. Six years on the nose. On the 9th of August in 2007, he played right field against the Padres and hit a home run. Two days later, he hit two homers against the Dodgers. He was back. Which shocked me, as I'd written a year or two earlier that the odds were exceptionally high against such a comeback. After all, how many men in their mid-to-late 20s are talented enough to pitch and hit in the major leagues?

Well, we don't really know because so few of them really try. Ankiel did really try, and he was talented enough.

The switch probably did come too late, though. Ankiel was not a great hitter. He was a good hitter and -- as most good hitters do -- he peaked in his late 20s, and went downhill pretty quickly from there. From 2007 through 2013, he posted a 95 OPS+, which is worse than major-league average and significantly worse for a corner outfielder. He was, over his seven seasons as an outfielder, better than replacement-level ... but by just a little.

In his first two seasons, though -- 47 games in 2007, and another 120 in '08 -- he was actually quite good, with a .270/.334/.515 batting line. That's really good! Just a normal aging curve would have kept Ankiel in the majors for quite a while, or at least longer than four more seasons. But after 2008, he just stopped hitting. Not the way he stopped throwing strikes, which ended his pitching career so prematurely. But he did stop. Which makes one of history's more unlikely careers all the more unlikely.

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