Today’s Random Player From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is Frank Viola. Viola was first drafted in the 16th round by the Kansas City Royals in 1978, but opted instead to attend St. John’s. Three years later the Twins took him in the second round. After just 25 minor league games (155 innings) he was in the big leagues, starting for a team that would 102 games that season. Five years into his major league career he was considered an average pitcher (98 ERA+, for those who like the old stats, 63-64 record), but by 1986 he had raised his strikeout rate to 7.0 per nine innings. He repeated that in 1987 as he led and average Twins team to the 1987 World Series title, winning the series MVP basically because someone had to*.
*-I’ll give him credit for going eight innings twice and allowing three runs in those two games, but in between those two he went only 3.1 innings, allowing five runs and the first game was a 10-1 Twins victory, so he hardly had to be great in that game. Besides, Kirby Puckett hit .357 with an .884 OPS, Steve Lombardozzi put up a 1.121 OPS in six games, and Tim Laudner posted a .944 OPS. Any of them were more worthy of winning the award.
In 1988 Viola was every bit as good as he was in 1987 (8.1 bWAR in 1987, 7.7 in 1988), but because his record was 24-7 instead of 17-10 he won the Cy Young Award as he collected 27 of the 28 first place votes (Mark Gubicza, whose 7.7 bWAR matched Viola’s, didn’t receive even one first place vote). Viola had become one of the big name pitchers in all of baseball.
In 1989 his strikeout rate remained strong (7.3 K/9), but on July 31 – with the Twins sitting at fifth place, 12 ½ games out – he was traded to the Mets for four pitchers and a player to be named later. Two of the pitchers (Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera) would help the Twins two years later capture their second World Series title.
In 1990 Viola rebounded record-wise to 20-12, and though his strikeout rate dropped Shea Stadium helped keep his homerun down. The following year he made his second straight All-Star team (third overall), but he – like the Mets – collapsed. His ERA doubled and in the end of the year the Mets opted out of his contract.
He signed with the Red Sox for the 1992 season and during his three years in Boston he had the dreaded Tommy John surgery (well, it was at the time). He pitched with the Reds and Blue Jays for a season each and his career was over.
It’s funny what can constitute a Hall of Fame career. By my evaluations he falls short (HOFR of 54.46), and there never was any serious consideration for him (he received two votes in 2002). He did, however, have a peak that rivaled Justin Verlander’s (20.0 five year WS average, 5.8 bWAR, 5.1 fWAR, 6.5 WARP, 44.4 JAWS). The peak wasn’t good enough, but he was damn good for a time.