April 5, 2011
Worst .270+ Hitter Ever?
When I first started collecting, my statistical analysis was this:
Players batting over .250 or over 100 home runs total – good.
Players under 4.00 ERA – good.
All others – bad.
Then I got the Baseball Encyclopedia, and the normal stats on the back of the card seemed limited and slight. Combine my obsessive devouring of the encyclopedia and the Bill James Abstracts, and I was on the way to being my stathead self.
And with that knowledge, I currently hate one type of player – the slappy. And not just any slappy – the slappies like Tony Womack and Juan Pierre, the ones that some managers STILL put at the top of the lineup because they’re fast and steal bases. I guess they didn’t learn from Omar Moreno.
Womack’s been out of the league for some time, mainly because when you lose your speed like he did, and have no other secondary skills, a low OBP and no power makes you a total millstone. In fact, Womack (who the Diamondbacks used in RIGHT FIELD, for cripes sake), had just a 1.2 WAR for his career. His best season was in 2004, when he drank the leftover LaRussa / Duncan illusion juice for a 3.2 WAR. The next year, he rewarded the Yankees with a -1.7 WAR after playing mostly in LEFT FIELD! (Yikes! He was barely adequate as a middle infielder.)
So, here’s what I did. I looked in Baseball Reference’s play index, with these parameters.
1,250 career games played.
.270 career batting average.
Yeah, it’s arbitrary, kinda, but .270 is normally looked at as a pretty good hitter.
Womack’s not the worst, but he’s #5. And the list of the Top 25 is surprising.
25. David Segui (The most surprising at .291, but he had no defensive value, no speed, not much power, and played in an era where a lot of runs were scored.)
24. Mel Hall
23. Enos Cabell
22. Luis Polonia
21. Ethan Allen
20. Russ Snyder
19. Tommy Griffith
18. Doc Cramer
17. Bill Hallman
16. Dave Philley
15. Juan Encarnacion
14. Jose Guillen (And you wonder why the Royals suck…)
13. Jose Vizcaino
12. Joe Dugan
11. Joe Orsulak
The Top 10:
10. Bernie Friberg. Yes, he hit .281, but he played the bulk of his career for the Phillies, who played in the Baker Bowl. Because of the era, and the park, his .808 OPS in 1929 had an OPS+ of 95.
9. Eric McNair. The name sounds like a more modern player – but McNair was the shortstop the straddled the last great Mack teams for the Athletics with the dregs of the late 30’s. He later played with the Sox of Both Colors for a time, and won MVP votes for each team he played with. He had some power, but was not a plus baserunner, and his average (.274) was more a product of the time he played in (and the parks in Philly and Boston).
8. Walt Dropo. Every serious baseball fans knows about Dropo’s 1950 season, and his subsequent fall off the face of the earth, so it’s not surprising to see him here. He was a minus defender as first, which really hurts him. His 3.6 offensive WAR in 1950 resulted in a WAR of 2.5 for his career, thanks to defense and his regression.
7. Keith Moreland. I am not surprised. He didn’t really have much power, was a hack at defense, and was only famous because he was a Cub. His 1985, where he had MVP votes and 100+ RBI, was ruined by a -1.6 WAR on defense in right field.
6. Dante Bichette. People who criticize Todd Helton and Larry Walker for Coors field are missing the point that they would be great hitters anywhere. Bichette was a total Coors field hitter. How bad can a .300 hitter be? A 2.0 career WAR. He was second in the MVP race in 1995, and that season had a 0.3 WAR thanks to a -1.9 WAR on defense. Horrific! He lost 80 OPS+ (not just OPS, OPS+) between home and road in 1995.
5. Tony Womack. Our hero. Per 162 games, he’d draw just 38 walks. And you want to be my leadoff hitter?
4. Lou Finney. How many players moved from the Athletics to the Red Sox during the course of the 30’s? Finney was an extreme contact hitter (no whiffs but didn’t walk) who didn’t run well and had limited power. He also played first and right field as a minus defender. His .287 average wound up just a 0.5 WAR despite a .287 average.
3. Willie Montanez. Really? Yes, really. In 1971, he was a rookie center fielder that hit 30 home runs for the Phillies. (Yes, Montanez in center…he had a -1.6 WAR but defense wasn’t his only issue.) In 1974, he was a first baseman that despite hitting .307, had just seven home runs and scored only 55 runs. His 1979 was ghastly for the Mets. His 1980 was awful for the Padres. You can’t win with a first baseman that slugs only .350.
2. Jesus Alou. The three Alou brothers were a nice story, and had some value, but because of their nice story they were overvalued. Alou was an extreme contact hitter with no power or speed, and a defensive liability in left field. He hit .280, yes, but was a negative WAR offensively.
1. Tommy Dowd. “Buttermilk Tommy” had a -8.4 WAR. He hit .271. How can you reconcile these? Well, he played in the late 1890’s where offense ruled. Dowd was known as a gentleman, and a scholar, and had a good eye for talent. He also played for some of the worst teams in history (the 1890’s Browns and the infamous 1899 Spiders). Since he was regarded as one of the better players, he got lots of chances to fail. How bad were Dowd’s teams?
1891 – Washington AA – 44-91
1892 – Washington NL – 58-93
1893 – St. Louis NL -57-75
1894 – St. Louis NL -56-76
1895 – St. Louis NL -39-92
1896 – St. Louis NL -40-90
1897 – St. Louis NL – 6-28
1897 – Philadelphia NL -38-60
1898 – St. Louis NL – 39-111
1899 – Cleveland NL – 20-134
1901 – Boston AL – 79-57
Except for 1901, that’s some bad baseball teams Dowd played for. And I don’t think it was a total coincidence.