If one isn’t a consistent follower of the Philadelphia Phillies, then Darren Daulton probably isn’t thought of very much. Certainly, the beginning of the three-time All-Star’s career wasn’t anything to write. Year after year, knee injuries and inconsistent offense plagued the young catcher. Hence, his inclusion in our unlikely season series. For Darren Daulton, simply staying at the big league level was an accomplishment. Playing at a level comparable to the best catchers in the league was another story. Yet, in 1992, Daulton rose from nowhere to have one of the biggest breakout years ever.
Sadly, Daulton’s story ended when he died from cancer in 2017. Yet, his legacy lives on, especially in retellings of this particular season. It was a year in which the Phillies began putting the pieces together for their somewhat improbable World Series run of 1993. New faces began making an impact. Despite the team’s mediocre result, there were cracks in the fog surrounding the franchise since their first World Title in 1980. “Dutch” was one of those cracks. It’s the story of how a catcher who hit .196 the year prior came to be one of the most valuable pieces on a big league ball club.
Darren Daulton: A Career Going Nowhere
Daulton was a 25th-round selection of the 1980 MLB Draft out of Arkansas City High School in Arkansas City, Kansas. His minor league performance wasn’t exactly something to write home about. In 358 games over three-and-a-half seasons, he hit a modest .241 with 34 homers and 166 RBI.
His best showing came in 1983 with the Double-A Reading Phillies. He slashed .262/.425/.486 with a .911 OPS, 19 homers, 83 RBI, and 95 hits in 113 games. This showing was good enough to get him a call straight to the show. Unfortunately, this was where his knee problems began. He spent 1984 and part of ’85 in the minors before returning to the big leagues midway through the season.
1992 Philadelphia Phillies
In terms of teams, the 1992 Phillies weren’t exactly the most dominant ever. They finished the year in the basement in the National League East, 26 games behind the division champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Aside from Daulton, their most valuable offensive pieces were third baseman Dave Hollins, who hit 27 home runs with a 136 OPS+. First baseman John Kruk hit for a .323 batting average with a 150 OPS+. As a whole, the offense wasn’t terrible. They finished seventh in team average and swatted the third-most homers in the league.
The pitching, on the other hand, was a massive letdown. An ERA of 4.11 planted them twelfth in the league. Staff ace Terry Mulholland did manage 13 wins and a respectable 3.81 ERA. However, he also had an ERA+ below league average (82). Kyle Abbott and Tommy Greene were also disappointments. The star of the show was a young pitcher in his first year with the Phillies. His name was Curt Schilling. He won 14 games with a sparkling 2.35 ERA and a 150 ERA+. Other than this shining star, the rest of the Phillies hurlers were pretty forgettable.
Darren Daulton’s Rough Stretch
By the time 1992 began, Darren Daulton had managed to establish himself on the Phillies’ roster. 1991 had been abysmal (.196 AVG, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 89 G), marred by an injury sustained in a car accident. Yet 1992 saw Daulton finally play to his full potential. Through the course of the year, he set career highs in average (.270), homers (27), RBI (109), and OPS+ (156). He finished the season sixth in National League MVP voting. His WAR of 6.9 was fifth among major league position players and ninth among all players. In short, this catcher, who had previously been fighting to remain in the big leagues, had suddenly turned into one of the best players in the game.
One Explosive Month
Much as we have seen with others in this series, Daulton’s season began slowly. He only hit .227 for the entire month of April. Yet, by the end of the month, he was beginning to show signs of what was to come. During May, he exploded, slashing a mind-boggling .412/.524/.677 with an OPS of 1.200. He hit .500 on balls put in play for the month and pounded 28 hits in 21 games. His power was limited, though he did manage nine doubles and three homers. Still, this was one of the greatest monthly stretches in big league history.
Regarding advanced statistics, Darren Daulton’s May is even more baffling. He put up a wOBA of .520 and a wRC+ of 239. Putting that into perspective, during April, he had a .328 wOBA and a 107 wRC+. Now, these are both very respectable numbers. However, they are nowhere close to where he wound up. He also managed to lower his strikeout rate from 22.2% in April to 17.9% in May. That number is still high, but he counteracted it with an identical walk rate. The icing on the cake is a weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA) of 12.9. His mark in April: was a paltry 0.7.
Summer Heat, Daulton Retreats
Summer moved forward. Unfortunately, Darren Daulton took a bit of a step backward. Between June and July, he slashed .258/.372/.545 with an OPS of .917. Daulton had 46 hits in 49 games with seven doubles and 25 runs scored. Luck turned against him a tad more, dropping him to a .250 BABIP. He shone during this period in his power (14 homers) and productivity (44 RBI). His strikeouts were a bit high (39), but, once more, he balanced that against a respectable walk total (32). Again, while he didn’t have quite the same astounding stretch as in May, he was more than respectable and continued to help the team.
The Rest of the Season
The rest of Daulton’s season was not exactly special. Over August and September, he slashed .243/.361/.491 with an OPS of .852. His BABIP held steady at .248. He had 42 hits and 31 runs scored in 51 games. Yet, as in the earlier summer months, his power was where his value lay. He had nine homers and 14 doubles over that same stretch. Despite this, the Phillies as a whole were going nowhere. They went 21-30 over this stretch, tumbling to a final record of 63-82. Darren Daulton stood as a lone star from this particular club and easily their most valuable player.
Though the 1992 Phillies may not have had much to celebrate, Darren Daulton’s spectacular year is worth remembering. This 30-year-old catcher, once seen as the definitive future of Philadelphia catching, finally had his moment in the sun. Saying that Daulton found his stroke is almost putting it lightly. He didn’t just find it; he set it alight with flames of determination, grit, and raw offensive power.
In one year, he’d undergone a massive transformation. From questionable big league future to household name, Darren Daulton was a marvel of rapid adaptation. If ever one month defined a man’s entire season, it was Daulton’s May of 1992.
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