In this installment of the Players You Forgot Were Astros series, we look at pitcher Darren Oliver.
The casual baseball fan may not remember Darren Oliver, but if you follow the sport closely, you’ll probably remember him from his later years in the game. Oliver was one of the game’s most effective left-handed relievers for several years, and he spent a brief time with the Astros before that happened.
Oliver first broke into the big leagues with the Rangers in 1992 at age 22. He became a full-time member of the starting rotation in 1996 and remained that way through 2001, but the results weren’t ideal. He continued to pitch out of the rotation or in long relief for several teams through 2004, but could never find enough success to stick.
He was included in a couple of notable trades along the way. At the 1998 trade deadline, the Rangers sent Oliver and Fernando Tatis to St. Louis in exchange for Royce Clayton and Todd Stottlemyre. He re-signed with the Rangers as a free agent prior to the 2000 season, and then they traded him to the Red Sox less than two years later for former Astros outfielder Carl Everett.
Oliver signed with the Marlins prior to the 2004 season but worked to a 6.44 ERA in 58.2 innings spanning eight starts and 10 relief appearances. That was the fifth time in six seasons that he’d posted an ERA north of 5.00. But in July 2004, the Astros purchased the 33-year-old from Florida.
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He made two starts and seven relief appearances for Houston and actually wasn’t bad. He posted a 3.86 ERA in 14 innings with a 115 ERA+ and 2.98 FIP, indicating that he was indeed effective even though it was a small sample size. He did not pitch in the postseason and left as a free agent after the season.
Oliver didn’t pitch in the majors at all in 2005, as he was signed and subsequently cut by both the Diamondbacks and Cubs. But he latched on with the Mets for 2006 and put up a 3.44 ERA in 45 appearances, all in relief. He signed with the Angels prior to 2007 and then really saw things take off.
In three seasons with the Angels, he went 15-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 178 appearances. He followed that up with two successful seasons with the Rangers and two more with the Blue Jays. He posted ERAs below 3.00 every year from 2008-2012, culminating in a career-best 2.06 mark at age 41 in 2012.
After posting ERAs above 4.00 in every season from 1995-2004, he turned that around and posted sub-4.00 ERAs every year from 2006 to his final year in 2013. You can see the difference in roles. As a starter, he posted a career 5.13 ERA, but only had a 3.19 ERA in relief.
He ended up playing in 20 major league seasons, with 10 of those coming with the Rangers in three separate stints. The Rangers also drafted him in the third round in 1988. Oliver ended up having one of the more interesting careers of the past 30 years, and a very small part of that came with the Astros.