This Day in Transaction History: Orioles sign Kevin Brown

Kevin Brown
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As a recurring column idea, Bill will expound upon one interesting transaction that occurred on a particular day in baseball history. It won’t always be the most exciting or most impactful transaction, but always something interesting. Feel free to share which transactions stand out to you in the comments.

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On this day in 1995, the Baltimore Orioles signed free agent starter Kevin Brown to a one year deal after he spent the previous seven years with the Rangers. It was a forgettable year for the 30-year-old as he went 10-9 with a 3.60 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 172 1/3 innings of work. After the season, Brown inked a three-year, $12.6 million contract with the Florida Marlins.

Brown’s first year with the Marlins was incredible: He went 17-11 with a 1.89 ERA and a 159/33 K/BB ratio in 233 innings. Along with making the NL All-Star team, he finished 22nd in MVP balloting and was a runner-up to John Smoltz in Cy Young voting. His career was finally taking off.

There has been some laughably bad awards voting, especially before Sabermetrics became popular. Many cite the 2005 AL Cy Young vote as a premium example, as Bartolo Colon won the award simply because he won 21 games. His 3.48 ERA trailed other starters like Johan Santana, Mark Buehrle, and Kevin Millwood. By Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference, Santana was the clear best candidate at 7.2 ahead of Buehrle’s 4.8 and Colon’s 4.0.

The 1996 NL Cy Young vote wasn’t quite as bad, but it was still bad. Smoltz won the award on the back of a 24-8 record despite having an ERA more than a full run higher than Brown’s. Smoltz registered many more strikeouts (276 to 159) and pitched 20 2/3 more innings. Brown had an adjusted ERA – which is to say, ERA adjusted for league and park effects set such that 100 is average – of 215, much better than Smoltz’s 149. In fact, Brown’s 215 ERA+ ranks as the 27th-best pitching season in baseball history among all starters who accrued enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Brown’s 1996 performance is sandwiched between Hall of Famer Walter Johnson’s 1918 and ’19 performances.

In 1997, the year he helped the Marlins win the World Series, Brown authored a no-hitter against the Giants on June 10. He walked none and struck out seven on 98 pitches. The lone blemish was a Marvin Bernard hit by pitch with two outs in the eighth inning. Interestingly, it’s one of 15 no-hitters done on fewer than 100 pitches.

A common theme of my “This Day in Transaction History” posts is underappreciated players and that is certainly the case for Brown, as the 1996 NL Cy Young voting showed. Some of that was warranted as Brown was named in the Mitchell Report for having bought human growth hormone and Deca-Durabolin, though that was believed to have occurred in the early 2000’s. Brown was also cantankerous, exemplified by two incidents: one in which he broke his hand in anger by punching a wall in 2004 with the Yankees, and another in 2006 when he allegedly brandished a firearm at his neighbor during an argument.

Brown retired with 211 wins in his career along with 2,397 strikeouts and a 3.28 ERA over 3,256 1/3 innings. He was a six-time All-Star who twice won the ERA title. He also racked up 68.2 WAR, per Baseball Reference. Among the 75 Hall of Fame pitchers who logged at least 1,000 career innings, Brown’s WAR would rank 29th, just behind Don Sutton and ahead of pitchers like Jim Palmer, Smoltz, and Bob Feller.

The selectively moralistic Baseball Writers Association of America gave Brown only 2.1 percent of the vote when he became eligible in 2011, dropping off the ballot immediately. Andy Pettitte, by comparison, was also linked to performance-enhancing drugs and has similar career numbers to Brown yet received 11.3 percent of the vote in the last election, up from 9.9 percent in 2019, his first year on the ballot. Brown, like Pettitte, wasn’t the most likeable guy on the planet, but he certainly deserved the 1996 NL Cy Young Award and he deserved better than one-and-done for the Hall of Fame.