This annotated week in baseball history: April 12-April 18, 1969by Richard Barbieri
April 17, 2009
On April 14, 1969, Brad Ausmus was born. In his 17-year caree, he has appeared in more games than all but a handful of catchers. During this career, Ausmus posted a historic batting line, which inspired Richard to look at other, similar hitters.
If you root for a team long enough, you will eventually see that team trot out a lousy hitter. This even happens with decent teams. Last season, the Yankees won almost 90 games and still ran out Jose Molina (.216/.263/.313) for 100 games. Of course, it happens a lot more on bad teams. For example, in 2002 the Royals gave 585 plate appearances to Neifi Perez. Perez hit just .236 with even worse on-base and power numbers than Molina.
But of course, these cases usually come with some explanation. Molina—quality back-up—was starting for the Yankees because Jorge Posada was injured. Perez was just a season removed from a Gold Glove award, and had his numbers superficially boosted by time at Coors Field.
While such players seldom last long in the starting lineup, that doesn’t mean they never do. Such is the case of Brad Ausmus. Ausmus—still donning the tools of ignorance as the backup for the Dodgers this season—has appeared in more than 1,900 games. That’s more than Mike Piazza, Elston Howard, Bill Dickey or Mickey Cochrane.
All those guys could hit, and every one except Piazza is in the Hall of Fame, and he will be soon. Ausmus, meanwhile, simply cannot hit. In fact, his hitting is historically bad, though others have come to the plate as often as Ausmus and been even less adroit with the bat. This includes men like Alfredo Griffin, Larry Bowa and Ozzie Guillen. The common trend among those men is their position: shortstop.
Of those players who came to the plate at least 6,500 times—and mind you, Ausmus has been up a good deal more than that—he has the single lowest OPS+ of any non-shortstop.
Ausmus was not exactly terrible year in and year out. His best season came in 1999, when he posted a .779 OPS for the Tigers, making him one of the top 10 hitting catchers in baseball. Unfortunately for Ausmus, that was the exception rather than the rule. Six of Ausmus’ seasons saw him play in 81 or more games while posting an OPS+ of 63 or lower. In 2003 and 2006, Ausmus came to the plate more than 500 times with an OPS+ of 55 and 54 respectively.
So Ausmus is almost surely the worst hitter to manage 6,500 plate appearances as a major league catcher. As bad as Ausmus was, the shortstops below are worst hitters, which got me thinking about who the worst hitters at each position were.
We will set the minimum at an “Ausmus Line” of 6,500 career plate appearances, and a minimum of at least 75 percent of their games at a given position. This may cut out some utility-style hitters who lasted for many seasons despite never hitting their weight, but I hope it will show us the starters who played despite it all. We’ll also leave out the DH, since they exist only to hit. Going from the best hitters on down:
Charlie Grimm, 1B, 95 OPS+: It will shock no one that the “best” hitter, at least so far as players actually playing defense were concerned, is a first baseman. Given the minimal defensive role of the position, few hitters have stuck at first without being able to hit at least some. Indeed, only Grimm and Bill Buckner rank as first baseman who meet our qualifications and fail to reach a 100 OPS+.
Doc Cramer, OF, 87 OPS+: We’re just doing outfielders here, rather than trying to find specific players for each position, since records are a little sketchy for baseball’s early days. Cramer was a five-time All-Star, finished as high as eighth in MVP voting, hit over .300 nearly seven times and finished his career with a .296 average. But he neither got on-base nor hit for power at a better than average rate, leaving his .296 largely empty.
Manny Trillo, 2B, 81 OPS+: This one surprised me a bit. While second base has had some mashers who don’t play much defense (hello, Rogers Hornsby), it is also an important defensive position. Trillo won three Gold Glove awards and was a good enough hitter to even take two Silver Slugger awards for second base.
Aurelio Rodriguez, 3B, 75 OPS+: As the positions grow more important defensively, the hitters are getting worse. Rodriguez spent 17 years in the majors on the strength of his defense. (He spent most of his career not winning Gold Gloves thanks to Brooks Robinson and Graig Nettles.) Like Ausmus, he had a couple of decent years but was often well below average.
Tim Foli, SS, 64 OPS+: Well, ouch. Foli just ekes over the line here, with 6,573 plate appearances. Might wish he hadn’t gotten those last 74 PAs, but such is life. Foli, as you would expect for someone who couldn’t hit at all, played all over the diamond, in the infield and outfield. He started for three different clubs (Montreal, Pittsburgh and the Angels) and posted his best season offensively in 1976 for the Expos. Unfortunately for him, even that season was below average.
Bob Friend, P, -19 OPS+: I lowered the standard to 1,000 plate appearances for this. And yes, that’s correct, -19 is Friend’s career number, which mostly made him a friend to opposing pitchers. Friend came to the plate almost 1,300 times, and hit a career .121 with just 20 extra base hits. Even by pitcher standards, he couldn’t hit at all.
Combined with Ausmus, who would slot in between Trillo and Rodriguez, you get some of the worst hitters to ever see regular time for many years. This is basically as bad as players can be for their position and still maintain a regular job. So say what you will about the Mendoza Line for batting ineptitude; don’t forget about the Ausmus Line for minimal competency.
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com