Things can change quickly in Major League Baseball. Players' peaks come and go, and there is always another generation of stars ready to take the reins.
Because of that, great single-season performances occasionally are forgotten way too quickly. So let's take a moment to reflect on some of the special seasons we’ve seen in this still-young century.
Here are nine underrated ones:
1) Luis Gonzalez, D-backs, 2001
57 HR, 36 2B, 7 3B, 100 BB, 1.117 OPS
So the man puts together one of the great offensive seasons of all-time, and all anyone wants to talk to him about is a bloop single that just cleared the infield. On the other hand, that little bloop single did win Game 7 of the World Series. Take a look at the totality of Gonzalez's season, including 100 extra-base hits. It will stand the test of time.
2) José Bautista, Blue Jays, 2011
43 HR, 132 BB, 24 IBB, 1.056 OPS, 182 OPS+
Like Gonzalez, Bautista didn’t break out as an offensive force until his late 20s. His first huge year came in 2010, at age 29, after landing with his fifth Major League franchise, but even though he hit 54 homers that year, Bautista's '11 campaign was arguably better, as he improved his on-base percentage by almost 70 points, from .378 to .447.
3) James Shields, Rays, 2011
249 1/3 IP, 11 CG, 4 SHO, 2.82 ERA, 1.043 WHIP
"Big Game James" had a reputation as a great clubhouse leader and mentor, and also as a guy who was at his best when the stakes were the highest. In reality -- as evidenced by his career 5.46 postseason ERA -- his true value was his durability and occasional dominance. He finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2011, and those 11 complete games look like a relic from a bygone era: No pitcher has had more than six in a season since.
4) Roy Oswalt, Astros, 2005
20-12, 2.94 ERA, 241 2/3 IP
Oswalt led the Majors with 35 starts, went at least seven innings 21 times, and allowed two earned runs or fewer 23 times, while leading the Astros to their first pennant in club history, and their only one while still in the National League. Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens combined for 100 starts and 675 1/3 innings that year and each finished in the top five in the NL Cy Young Award voting.
5) Curtis Granderson, Tigers, 2007
23 3B, 38 2B, 23 HR, 26 SB, .913 OPS
Grandy retired after the 2019 season after a 16-year career in which he established himself as one of the game’s great ambassadors, beloved and respected by virtually everyone. He is one of just four members of the 20-20-20-20 club (doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases), with Jimmy Rollings ('07), Willie Mays (1957) and Frank Schulte (1911). We should not forget that Granderson's playing career was unique, evolving from a remarkable speed-first player with the Tigers to a pair of 40-plus homer seasons for the Yankees.
6) Edwin Díaz, Mariners, 2018
57 saves, 73 games, 1.96 ERA, 0.791 WHIP, 15.2 K/9, 208 ERA+
This performance was overshadowed by Díaz's disappointing Mets debut in 2019 after that huge offseason trade, but this was one of the great seasons any reliever has ever had. His 27 one-run saves were a single-season MLB record, and the Mariners were 30-0 when he entered with a one-run lead. He successfully converted 28 straight save chances from June 2 to Aug. 15, and his 57 saves remain second-most in MLB history.
• How Edwin Díaz came to be an elite closer
7) Johnny Cueto, Reds, 2014
243 2/3 IP, 242 K, 2.25 ERA, 0.960 WHIP
Cueto led the NL in innings and was tied for the NL lead in strikeouts, finishing second to Clayton Kershaw in the NL Cy Young Award voting despite throwing 45 more innings. Cueto was only the third Cincinnati pitcher since 1900 to lead the NL in both innings and strikeouts in the same season.
• The best to never win a Cy Young Award
8) Derrek Lee, Cubs, 2005
50 2B, 46 HR, 1.080 OPS, 174 OPS+
Lee finished behind Albert Pujols and Andruw Jones in NL MVP Award voting despite one of the great seasons (he won a Gold Glove Award as well) any Cub has ever had. Lee led the Majors in slugging (.661), OPS (1,080), OPS+ (174) and hits (199); led the NL in doubles (50); and hit in 122 of 158 games. He also reached base in 10 straight plate appearances in June.
9) José Reyes, Mets, 2008
56 SB, 37 2B, 19 3B, 16 HR, .833 OPS
Reyes was once the classic definition of a leadoff hitter. The Mets were 63-21 when he scored, and he led the NL with 204 hits and the Majors with 64 multi-hit games. He also had 52 first-inning hits, a Mets record. He reached base safely in 41 straight games from April 22 to June 8.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.