June 11, 2010
The .300/.500 Club
Last weekend, I posted a few trivia questions on Twitter, the type that anyone could look up but which would be more fun to answer without the help of a statistics site. The one that went unanswered for a longer than expected period of time involved naming the only National League hitter who, at the time, had 100 or more plate appearances, a slugging percentage above .500, but an on-base percentage south of .300. Forgive the slight tangent, but we need to come up with the OBP version of batting average’s Mendoza Line. Would the “Jacobs Line” work?
Anywho, the answer was none other than Mets legend Rod Barajas. On June 5, Barajas boasted a .261/.283/.529 slash line, displaying plenty of power while rarely reaching base. As of June 9, the catcher’s numbers sat at .261/.282/.521, with 11 home runs and four walks. Four. That isn’t a typo. His odd slash line got me wondering about how often a player finishes a season as a member of the .300/.500 club, while receiving a decent amount of playing time. Players with such poor rates of reaching base are unlikely to remain in the lineup for an entire season, but if they can absolutely mash, 400 or more trips to the plate isn’t exactly out of the question.
From 1954-onward, there are only six players to match these criteria:
Without even running the query I could have guessed both Dave Kingman and Mike Jacobs, but the other four would have been tougher to nail down. For his career, Kingman hit .236/.302/.478, coming eerily close to becoming a career member of the club. Jacobs is infamous around these parts for exemplifying the disconnect between the old-school and new-school ways of evaluating players, as his home run numbers look impressive but cannot compensate for the lack of skills elsewhere. Tony Armas finished his career with 251 home runs, hitting .252/.287/.453 over 14 seasons. Cory Snyder played in nine seasons, most of which were spent with the Cleveland Indians, finishing at a .247/.291/.425 clip. Given their career numbers, it really should not surprise anyone that their names surfaced in such a query.
Tony Clark and Jesse Barfield are a bit more interesting, as neither was an on-base luminary, but they managed career rates of .339 and .335, respectively. Scanning their career lines one can see that Clark came very close to appearing on this list multiple times despite sporting the highest career OBP of the club. In 2003, he hit .232/.300/.472; the next year, .221/.297/.458; and in 2003, .249/.310/.511. Barfield’s career told a different tale, as he joined this club in his second full season, and then proceeded to hit .264/.348/.476 over the next six seasons.
Curiously enough, even though only six players are members of this club given their single-season production, there are currently three major leaguers vying for membership at approximately the one-third mark of the season. Aside from Barajas, teammates Alex Gonzalez (.262/.297/.502) and John Buck (.250/.288/.500) of the Blue Jays are also in the hunt. It’s no wonder that such a high percentage of the Jays runs this year have come via the long ball. Both Gonzalez and Buck also have more homers than walks, which segues into a different look at the same situation: how many batters with 400 or more plate appearances have walloped more home runs than they walked? That query produces a pretty penny in the results bin—107 players since 1954, to be exact. The table below shows the top 10 to achieve this feat, sorted by plate appearances.
Only two of those players out-homered their walks total in 700 or more plate appearances: Alfonso Soriano, who had 39 homers and just 23 free passes in 2002, and Garret Anderson, he of the 28 home runs and 27 walks the year before. In fact, both players appear twice on this leaderboard and are ironically right next to each other each time. Castilla also shows up twice, and Armas reemerges from the prior list. Looking at some of the differences between the homers and walks, it is clear that a few barely made the cutoff. Anderson, for instance, only hit one more home run than free passes received in that 2001 campaign, and I suppose my interest in this regard lies more with players in Barajas’ current shoes; Rod has almost three times as many homers as walks.
Phrasing the question a bit differently, has anyone in the Retrosheet era amassed home runs at a rate meeting or exceeding twice the number of walks accrued, while stepping to the plate at least 400 times? The answer is a big fat no, as zero results were returned in the query. Lowering the HR/BB requirement to 1.5 times more dingers than slow trips to first, 13 player-seasons surfaced:
We still have another two-thirds of the season left in the tank, but as it currently stands a record-setting three players could join the .300/.500 club in the same season. And, to top it off, both Buck and Barajas are currently members of the 1.5 HR:BB club. It is very rare for players so relatively inept in terms of reaching base to consistently be given playing time, just as it is rare for players given so much playing time to consistently flirt with either of these clubs. In some cases it holds predictive value, and in others, like with Clark and Barfield, it could either be a random bad season or the start of a career. What makes things even funnier is that on base percentage counts home runs as times reaching base, meaning that players like Barajas, Buck and Gonzalez are truly boom or bust this year. Only time will tell if they can sustain their current clips all year, but at least this writer is pulling for them!