Right-handed reliever Derrick Turnbow made what's likely to be his final career move as a professional baseball player on Wednesday, announcing that his attempted comeback with the Florida Marlins was coming to an end.
Now, Turnbow had a pretty unspectacular career, accumulating just 2.0 WAR in the "FanGraphs Era" of 2002 to the present. Even the majority of that value came within a single season: 2005. During that year, he posted a 1.74 ERA with 39 saves in 43 opportunities with Milwaukee. Even the metrics agreed that he was pretty good: 3.20 FIP, 3.27 xFIP, 3.86 tERA.
But, rather, I'd like to talk about Turnbow's 2007 season, which he spent as the Brewers' set-up man after losing the Closer role the previous year. Just looking at his numbers, you wouldn't think that it was anything special. He posted a 4.63 ERA in 68 innings with the big league club, although FIP (3.65) and tERA (3.09) indicated that he did pitch better than his ERA indicates.
Now, a 3.65 FIP isn't really anything special for a reliever. But it's significantly more interesting when it comes from a reliever who walked 46 batters in 68 innings. For those incapable of doing simple math or looking up stats on FanGraphs or Baseball Reference, that's 6.09 walks per nine innings. To put things simply, that's an absolutely horrid walk rate.
Over the past three seasons, 16 pitchers have posted a higher walk rate over 50 innings within a single season. The lowest FIP of the bunch, excluding Turnbow? A 4.19 mark posted by Brandon Morrow in 2007. Over the past decade, no pitcher has posted an FIP as low as Turnbow's while walking the same number or more guys than Turnbow walked.
The only guy to even come close was Jeff Nelson in 2001, but his walk rate was a few points less than that of Turnbow. Turnbow and Nelson both figured out the one way to get away with that kind of [lack of] command: lots of strikeouts and a low HR/FB rate. Turnbow's 11.12 strikeout rate was among the best in the league, and a 6.3% HR/FB helped to keep his HR rate down to just a 0.53 mark. Unfortunately, 2007 would be the end of Turnbow's run as a productive major league reliever. He would spent 2008 and 2009 between Milwaukee and the Triple-A affiliates for the Brewers and the Rangers. He walked 63 in 30.2 innings (that's not a typo) and has apparently called it a career.
So while Turnbow's career will never really be noteworthy for anything particularly impressive, we can at least point to his 2007 season and say that few relievers in recent memory have been as successful while churning out free passes at such a high clip.