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August 16, 2004

Doctoring The Numbers

Chasing Ron Herbel

by Rany Jazayerli

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If you write about sports long enough, at some point you'll start rooting for the story. When you haven't written for a while, and you're struggling to come up with a topic, issues like who wins and who loses move to the periphery of your attention while you search for a hook apart from the final score.

At times like these, it's always nice to be able to rely on an old standby. If songs and movies can be re-made, why not articles?

So never mind the fact that the article you're about to read has been written before. Or even that I was the author of that article. It's been more than five years since we last looked at the best-hitting pitchers in the majors, plenty of time for the cast of characters to change.

Before we get to the men who inspire sportscasters everywhere to utter the phrase "helps his own cause," let's embarrass some of their brethren first. Here, exposed to the public for the first time, are the five worst-hitting pitchers in the game today:

5. Sterling Hitchcock


 AB   H  D  T HR  R  RBI  BB   K  SB CS   AVG  OBP  SLG
207  19  0  0  0 14    5   5  81   0  1  .092 .121 .092
He may be Sterling, but his bat is awfully rusty, presumably from not taking a professional at-bat until he was 26 years old. Hitchcock's lifetime .092 batting average is bad enough, but the coup de grace is that all 19 of his career hits are singles. Hitchcock is one of just 12 pitchers in history to bat at least 200 times with nary an extra-base hit. (Jim Deshaies holds the record with 373 at-bats with neither a gapper nor a gopher. I wonder - was that mentioned in the media notes during his campaign to garner a Hall of Fame vote?)

4. Zach Day


 AB   H  D  T HR  R  RBI  BB   K  SB CS   AVG  OBP  SLG
 82   4  0  0  1  4    3   2  43   0  0  .049 .071 .085
Day, who has yet to garner three hits in a season, is 1-for-29 this year to lower his career average to .049 with a pair of walks. Day would rank a slot or two higher if his hit this season wasn't a homer, the first extra-base hit of his career. Even so, his 156 career OPS ranks 2nd-worst among all active pitchers with at least 75 plate appearances.

3. Ben Sheets


 AB   H  D  T HR  R  RBI  BB   K  SB CS   AVG  OBP  SLG
219  17  1  0  0  8    7  12 115   0  0  .078 .126 .082
Sheets may be having a breakout season on the mound, but at the plate it's business as usual: slow. Sheets is 3-for-43 this season, lowering his career average to .078 with one lonely double. He does have 12 career walks, raising his career OBP to a lofty .126, but his .082 slugging average is the fourth-lowest of all-time for players with 200 at-bats. In a Cy Young race that has been tight all season--at least until Jason Schmidt started pulling away recently--Sheets' offensive woes have to be factored into the equation. Over the course of a full season, the difference between Sheets and an average-hitting pitcher at the plate is worth five to ten runs, or close to a full win.

2. Ryan Dempster


 AB   H  D  T HR  R  RBI  BB   K  SB CS   AVG  OBP  SLG
296  23  5  1  0 12    7   6 131   0  0  .078 .096 .101
The only road block to Dempster's inclusion on this list was whether he'd be regarded as an active pitcher. Now that the Cubs have activated him from the DL, his spot here is a no-brainer. Dempster's lifetime .078 average isn't just bad; it's historic. Only one player with as many career plate appearances has a lifetime batting average lower than Dempster's: Dean Chance, who was a lifetime .066 hitter in 662 at-bats. However, even Chance had 30 walks in his career, for a .113 OBP. Dempster, with just six career walks, has a lifetime OBP of .096. No one in baseball history with at least 300 plate appearances has an OBP within 15 points of Dempster.

1. Mark Redman


 AB   H  D  T HR  R  RBI  BB   K  SB CS   AVG  OBP  SLG
 75   2  0  0  0  1    1   1  37   0  0  .027 .039 .027
It's a good thing this man is back in the American League where he belongs. During his season with the Florida Marlins, Redman was an unfathomable 1-for-61; only once in major-league history (Bob Buhl's legendary 0-for-70 in 1962) has a player batted more than 61 times in a season without managing at least two hits. Counting Redman's 0-for-5 performance with the A's this year, he now has two singles and a walk interspersed among 73 hitless at-bats. When you factor in that he rapped into a pair of double plays in that span, it turns out that Redman has added just a single baserunner to his team's offensive ledger, at the cost (counting sac hits) of 80 outs. That 066 OPS is the lowest in major-league history for anyone with 70 or more plate appearances.

Honorable Mention: Mike Thurman


 AB   H  D  T HR  R  RBI  BB   K  SB CS   AVG  OBP  SLG
131   4  0  0  0  6    0   7  93   0  1  .031 .086 .031
While Thurman is technically not an active pitcher, having thrown his last major-league pitch in 2002, we would be remiss not to humiliate him for an almost unprecedented record of futility. Thurman pitched for six seasons, toeing the rubber as a starting pitcher 95 times for the Expos (plus twice more for the Yankees), yet managed to eke out just four base hits, all of them singles. Livan Hernandez once had four hits in a single start.

Thurman's .031 career batting average is the second-worst in major league history among all players with 100 at-bats. Only Ron Herbel, widely considered the worst-hitting pitcher ever, out-embarrasses Thurman with his lifetime .029 average. (Cut Herbel some slack; anyone could have hit .029 in the '60s.)

Along the way, Thurman set the all-time record for worst career slugging average (.031) with 100 at-bats, most at-bats without a single career RBI, and highest percentage of at-bats that ended in a strikeout, 71.0%. (Minimum 100 at-bats. If you lower the threshold to 50 at-bats, the only player ahead of Thurman in that last category is Rich Gale, who struck out 50 times in 68 AB. The amazing thing about Gale is that when he did make contact, he was 9-for-18 with two doubles and two homers. Weird.)

On Wednesday, we'll look at the best-hitting pitchers in the game today. (You have three guesses as to who's #1 on that list, and the first two don't count.)

Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rany's other articles. You can contact Rany by clicking here

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