For some, there is pomp and circumstance. A major news conference. Breaking news feeds on ESPN, Twitter timelines, and the topic creeping into the conversation of baseball fans everywhere. For most, it happens as a footnote. Carl Pavano retired from baseball earlier this week, leaving behind an incomplete career. There wasn't much celebration - other than a faint cheer still leftover from the Bronx to see the oft-injured right-hander finally duck out of the game, as he too often did from the lineup.
Carl Pavano's career follows an unusual arc. He didn't find success immediately, and when he did, he found it to be fleeting. Injuries softened his impact. A nickname will follow his legacy. The American Idle who helped beat the Yankees in the World Series, and pitched better than most of their starters after he left the team, couldn't find a way to stay healthy while pitching for them. Only when he left the Yankees did he find success again. All in all, the American half of his nickname rings the most true. Baseball fans, and Americans, alike, love stories of comebacks.
What is interesting about Carl Pavano is that it took nearly six seasons for his career to finally take off. He found sparing success early on in his career, but it wasn't until 2003, in a Marlins uniform, that he took the big step towards becoming a high quality starter. His showcase a World Series showdown with Roger Clemens in which he pitched eight innings of one-run baseball in Game 4 of the 2003 Fall Classic. Pavano joined an exclusive list of starters who made dominating performances against the wild card era Yankees in the World Series.
World Series Performance by a Starter since 1996 vs Yankees (sorted by GameScore)
|1||Randy Johnson||10/28/2001||WS||2||ARI||NYY||W 4-0||9||3||0||1||11||91|
|2||Josh Beckett||10/25/2003||WS||6||FLA||NYY||W 2-0||9||5||0||2||9||84|
|3||Cliff Lee||10/28/2009||WS||1||PHI||NYY||W 6-1||9||6||0||0||10||83|
|4||John Smoltz||10/24/1996||WS||5||ATL||NYY||L 0-1||8||4||0||3||10||79|
|5||Curt Schilling||10/31/2001||WS||4||ARI||NYY||L 3-4||7||3||1||1||9||75|
|6||Curt Schilling||10/27/2001||WS||1||ARI||NYY||W 9-1||7||3||1||1||8||74|
|7||Greg Maddux||10/21/1996||WS||2||ATL||NYY||W 4-0||8||6||0||0||2||72|
|8||Josh Beckett||10/21/2003||WS||3||FLA||NYY||L 1-6||7.1||3||2||3||10||71|
|9||Miguel Batista||11/1/2001||WS||5||ARI||NYY||L 2-3||7.2||5||0||5||6||70|
|10||Carl Pavano||10/22/2003||WS||4||FLA||NYY||W 4-3||8||7||1||0||4||68|
Following his impressive outing to help beat the Yankees, 2004 was Pavano's best season as a pro. He pitched to a ERA+ of 137 - seventh best in the National League, and did so, while making enough starts to land sixth on the league leaders list for innings pitched.
Cashing in big on the free agent market is a lot about timing. With his 2003 World Series performance still fresh in their minds and coming off a stellar 2004 campaign, the Yankees invested $39.95MM to bring the local Connecticut product to the Bronx. Little did they know that a career which appeared on the upswing was about to take many twists and turns that would leave him with the nickname "American Idle" by the New York media.
Pavano managed to hurt his right shoulder, injure his buttocks in a spring training game, break two ribs in a car accident, undergo Tommy John surgery, and find various other ailments to land an almost permanent spot on the disabled list. Only after leaving New York would he find himself back as a regular starter, able to take the ball every fifth day.
When Pavano left the Yankees, nobody believed that he would stay healthy enough to contribute to another team. He signed a $1.5MM contract with Cleveland, heavily incentive-based, in hopes he could pitch a full season. Ironically, once he removed the pinstripes, his injury woes were alleviated as well. He would end up being traded to the Twins, who he would pitch for against the Yankees in the ALDS - a solid start over seven innings of two-run baseball.
Carl Pavano followed the classic American story of finding success, losing it, and then coming back to find it again. A statistic that will surely bother Yankee fans, in Pavano's three seasons between Cleveland and Minnesota after he left the Bronx, his individual season fWAR would have been good for three of the top nine pitching seasons for any Yankee during that same span. In fact, C.C. Sabathia is the only Yankee between 2009-2011 to have a stronger fWAR season than Carl Pavano did during his split time for the Indians and Twins in 2009.
Top fWAR seasons for Yankees (and Carl Pavano) between 2009-2011
Carl Pavano's career will always be linked to the New York Yankees. The Connecticut born right-hander found success beginning with a World Series performance against the Bronx Bombers, but then earned the nickname American Idle after numerous injuries prevented him from living up to a $40MM contract he signed to play in New York. It was then in his next three seasons after trading in the pinstripes that the real American story took place. After years of struggle, he would regain his form to find success in Cleveland and Minnesota to close out his career.
. . .