2015 saw the departures of five once-prominent starters and two relief pitchers. Players such as Torii Hunter receive a much ballyhooed departure from the game, and going into 2016 David Ortiz will receive a Derek Jeter-esque retirement tour. As we prepare to welcome players back to their spring training campuses, a number of pitchers fans have become accustomed to seeing will be missing. Below is a brief look at the careers of seven pitchers who called it quits after 2015. Though none will make the Hall of Fame, they have a legacy worth reviewing nonetheless.
When Burnett signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh, he made it clear that 2015 would likely be his last. The Mets drafted the journeyman pitcher in 1995, although he never pitched one inning for them. In 17 seasons, Burnett played for four franchises and posted nearly 43 fWAR.
Burnett's legacy will most certainly depend on what fanbase is asked. Though he is revered by most Pirates fans for his clubhouse presence, he managed to post a 3.70 RA9 and an earned run average 12 percent above league average in his three seasons in PIttsburgh. Yankee fans likely have a different take, considering in three seasons New York paid him $49.5 million for a 4.79 earned run average and 4.63 FIP.
Burnett had a strong end to his career and made his first All-Star Game last summer. Having amassed nearly $150 million, Burnett decided to call it quits to spend more time with his family and coach his two sons' baseball teams.
In Jeff Francis' 11 years, he tossed nearly 1300 innings, though he posted only 16 fWAR. The Rockies drafted Francis ninth overall in the 2002 draft, and he spent nearly his entire career at Coors.
Francis threw over 1000 of his innings in a Rockies uniform and served as their ace during their improbable 2007 World Series run. He is the third-most valuable pitcher to ever put on a Colorado uniform (behind Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook).
Francis phased out over the past couple years. In 2014 and 2015 he threw only a combined 42 innings after suffering from shoulder troubles. Francis will not be making the Hall of Fame, and his departure from the game came with limited fanfare, but even so his mark on Rockies history will remain.
Dan Haren pitched for eight teams over the course of his 14 seasons. Early in his career, he was a workhorse, throwing over 200 innings in seven consecutive seasons for the Athletics, Diamondbacks, and Angels. Haren learned how to deal with diminishing stuff as he aged and never posted an fWAR below 0.9 in any full season in which he pitched. His @IThrow88 twitter moniker pokes fun at the fact that his fastball declined steadily as he aged, though his value and presence never wavered as he threw just about 170 innings or more even in the twilight of his career.
It's hard to view Haren as a quintessential pitcher for the [insert team here] as we do with Jeff Francis. A true journeyman, he never pitched for the same club for more than three years and split his time nearly evenly between the American and National Leagues.
Haren's peak came in his last year in Oakland, his years in Arizona, and his first year in Anaheim. Despite success in numerous locales, Haren always seemed to be plagued by the long ball, which only got worse later in his career thanks to a diminished fastball.
Haren's legacy will likely fade away unless his Twitter account has anything to say about it, as there isn't a fanbase that will celebrate him, nor is there an iconic year or event that personifies him. He was a pitcher with a solid peak who could be counted on to eat innings.
Tim Hudson pitched until his age-39 season, and although he was barely above replacement level in 2015, he served as a two-win pitcher or more nearly every season of his 17-year career. Despite playing only six of those seasons in Oakland, Hudson made his mark on the Athletics. He finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1999, second in Cy Young in 2000, and was a main cog in the early 2000s Billy Beane A's that put out competitive teams year after year but could never break through.
Hudson finished his career throwing over 3,000 innings and generating an earned run average 20 percent better than league average. He made four All-Star teams (two with the A's, one each with the Braves and Giants, though 2014 was probably more of a parting gift than anything else).
Hudson has a connection with three distinct fan bases, two of which are separated by a bay and the league in which they play. Hudson likely will never make it to Cooperstown, but it would be surprising if he did not get at least some down-ballot votes in his first year on the ballot.
Barry Zito's start is similar to Hudson's in terms of time and place. As a rookie in 2000, he formed a trio with Hudson and Mark Mulder to create a strong starting rotation for the Oakland A's. From there however, he and Hudson's careers could not have turned out more differently. Zito peaked early, posting four wins each season between 2001 and 2003. He won the Cy Young award in 2002, and he tossed at least 213 innings each season from 2001 to 2006. Zito rode his consistency and effectiveness to a long-term contract from the San Francisco Giants in 2007, and his career was never quite the same.
In seven years with San Francisco, Zito never posted more than 2.1 Wins (per FanGraphs) despite 2.1 being his least productive year (a half-season, really, as he did not pitch until July that year) across the bay in Oakland. His value plummeted in 2011 when he was worth negative fWAR, despite pitching only 53 innings. He never harnessed his tools with the Giants, and his bloated contract was viewed as an albatross.
The Kansas City Royals drafted southpaw Jeremy Affeldt in 1997, and over the course of a 14-year career, he pitched for four teams. Affeldt barely amassed a 6 fWAR in a decade and a half on the hill, though he most notably made his mark recently with the Giants. His 2015 was pretty much a disaster; in 35.1 innings, he allowed 23 earned runs, six home runs, and cost the Giants nearly an entire win. It was hardly the swan-song Giants management expected when they inked him to a three-year deal going into 2013. In those three years, he posted fWARs of -0.5, 0.5, and -0.8, respectively.
Despite Affeldt's lack of success in recent regular seasons, he did help solidify the San Francisco bullpen during their three World Series runs (on top of pitching five innings for the Rockies on their way to the 2007 NL pennant). In 26 postseason innings for the Giants, he gave up only two earned runs, struck out 16 batters, and posted a 0.69 earned run average. He allowed opposing hitters to hit a meager .133 during his time on the hill and did not allow one home run.
Richard Nixon was President when LaTroy Hawkins was born, and Roberto Clemente died in a tragic plane crash a week after Hawkins was born ------- this is a baseball career worth celebrating. For many years Hawkins served as one of the game's longest-tenured relievers, and his presence on rosters conjured up images of Jesse Orosco, Julio Franco, Darren Oliver, and other players who seemed immortal to the game of baseball.
The Minnesota Twins drafted him in 1991, and over the course of a 21-year career, he pitched for 11 (!!) teams. For three years the Twins put him in their rotation, though he eventually became a full time reliever after leading the league in earned runs in 1999. Hawkins' last season in Minnesota in 2003 was his best year, where he threw 77.1 innings over the course of 74 appearances. He put up a career-best 1.86 ERA and amassed a 2.6 fWAR out of the ‘pen.
2016 will be the first year since the 1994 strike that LaTroy Hawkins does not pitch, and for that, we should celebrate his longevity. A small piece of baseball nostalgia is walking away from the hill with his departure.