The 10 worst No. 5 hitters since 1957

Our tour of the most pitiful performances in the various spots in the batting order has so far visited leadoff, the second slot, No. 3, and cleanup. This time we’ll look in on the fitful flailers of the fifth position, as defined by starting at least one-half of their team’s games in that lineup slot.

As has been the case from the get-go, the stat we’re using to rank these stinkers is OPS+. (For more on the methodology employed here, please see the References and Resources section below.)

The No. 5 job description

The fourth-place hitter is of course called the “cleanup” man, in reference to his directive to tidy up that table setting, converting baserunners into runs. Given that, the guy following the cleanup hitter has a job that’s typically defined in relation to the No. 4 man: At minimum, the No. 5 hitter needs to be threatening enough to force the opponent to face the cleanup man, and more generally the No. 5 hitter is expected to clean up whatever hasn’t gotten cleaned up ahead of him.

Obviously No. 5 isn’t generally as good as the cleanup hitter, or he wouldn’t be batting fifth, but he ought to be reasonably close to that good in his capacity to drive in runs. While it goes without saying that you want every hitter to get on base as frequently as possible, in practical terms at No. 5 we’ve gotten to the part of the order in which the hitters to follow are less and less dangerous, so getting on base with singles and walks is nice but not the first priority of the fifth-slot guy. This fellow is an RBI man, big time; his primary job is to deliver power.

(Dis)honorable mentions

Here are this week’s guys who were bad, but not quite bad enough:

                                                                   Team
  Rank    OPS+  Player           Pos     Year    Team     Lg       OPS+
  22T      94   Ernie Banks       1B     1963    CHC      NL         94
  22T      94   Dick Allen        1B     1975    PHI      NL        110
  22T      94   Willie McGee      CF     1987    STL      NL         94
  22T      94   Tim Wallach       3B     1988    MON      NL        100
  22T      94   Matt Williams     3B     1992    SFG      NL         98
  22T      94   Rico Brogna       1B     1999    PHI      NL         99
  19T      93   Tim McCarver      C      1969    STL      NL         95
  19T      93   Benito Santiago   C      1991    SDP      NL         94
  19T      93   Ken Caminiti      3B     1993    HOU      NL        107
  16T      92   Ernie Banks       1B     1969    CHC      NL         96
  16T      92   Brooks Robinson   3B     1969    BAL      AL        119
  16T      92   Todd Zeile        3B     2002    COL      NL         89
   15      91   Delmon Young      RF     2007    TBD      AL        103
   14      90   Charlie Hayes     3B     1994    COL      NL         95
   13      88   Danny Cater       1B     1969    OAK      AL        107

As it was with the No. 3 hitter and No. 4 hitter honorable mentions, here we see some erstwhile stars in an off-year, and some former sluggers in decline. It’s perhaps a bit embarrassing for Mr. Cub to find himself listed twice, but as we’ve discussed many times, the Cubs in the 1960s gave Banks star-quality playing time long, long after he’d stopped delivering star-quality performance.

One wonders just what sort of year the 109-53 1969 Orioles might have had if Brooks Robinson hadn’t slumped so distinctly that season.

Then there are those teams, like the 1987 Cardinals, 1969 Cardinals, 1991 Padres, 1993 Astros, 2002 Rockies, and 1994 Rockies that just didn’t have a big supply of power bats to populate the middle of the order.

The curious cases are those of Rico Brogna and Danny Cater, nifty-gloved first basemen whose managers apparently thought they were better hitters than they were. And most odd is the Delmon Young situation, in which a very young player was given a very prominent role, all season long, despite, oh, let’s call it modest production.

Tied for ninth-worst No. 5 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 86

Harry Anderson, left fielder, 1959 Philadelphia Phillies (team OPS+: 85)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  136  508   50   48   63   43   14   96    5    2    3    9    1    1 .240 .304 .402 .706

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   86  351   32   31   40   27    8   62    1    1    0    5    0    1 .252 .311 .422 .734

Eddie Murray, designated hitter, 1994 Cleveland Indians (team OPS+: 114)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  108  467   57   39   76   31    6   53    0    0    3    8    8    4 .254 .302 .425 .727

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  101  437   55   39   74   29    6   51    0    0    3    8    8    4 .262 .309 .444 .753

Kevin Young, first baseman, 2000 Pittsburgh Pirates (team OPS+: 99)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  123  541   77   47   88   32    1   96    8    0    5   15    8    3 .258 .311 .433 .744

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   82  357   56   35   63   22    1   63    6    0    5    9    3    2 .262 .317 .463 .779

Hank Blalock, third baseman, 2006 Texas Rangers (team OPS+: 101)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  149  646   76   45   89   51    6   98    2    0    2   15    1    0 .266 .325 .401 .726

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  102  441   52   34   67   33    2   70    1    0    0   10    0    0 .290 .345 .445 .789

While every one in this quartet delivered a truly lousy year, the decisions of each of their managers to go with them as No. 5 man can’t be strongly faulted.

Anderson and Blalock were both promising young power hitters, who seemed to be up-and-comers. When such an impressive young talent encounters a struggle, a good manager doesn’t panic, but instead gives the player the opportunity to play through it, and that’s what the Phillies’ Eddie Sawyer and the Rangers’ Buck Showalter did here. Sometimes that leads to a season’s performance along the lines of one of these, and often it turns out to be little more than a bump in the road to a successful career.

In Anderson’s case, it would turn out to be a whole lot more than that. This was no bump for him; he would quickly careen into a ditch, his career among the more disastrous flops of all time. With Blalock it’s obviously too soon to tell: Since the disappointing 2006 season, his offensive rate stats have rebounded, but he’s been hurt an awful lot, not a good sign for a 27-year-old.

Murray was one of the best hitters of his generation, of course. Though at this point he was clearly past his peak, entering his age-38-season he’d never had an off-year. Well, there’s a first time for everything. Those 1994 Indians were a great-hitting young team, leading the league in runs scored in that strike-shortened season, despite the fact that their Hall-of-Fame-bound DH was stinking it up. As though to validate manager Mike Hargrove’s faith in him, Murray would bounce back for one last big year in 1995.

As for Young, he was neither young (despite his name) nor an established star, but he’d been a very solid producer for the previous few years. It wasn’t unreasonable for manager Gene Lamont to give him lots of playing time in the middle of the order, even batting cleanup, which Young mostly did when not batting fifth. This is especially true given that the Pirates weren’t exactly drowning in hitting depth.

Tied for sixth-worst No. 5 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 85

Bob Rodgers, catcher, 1962 Los Angeles Angels (team OPS+: 99)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  144  623   65   46   61   44    6   67    0    6    8   18    1    8 .258 .308 .372 .680

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   90  381   39   30   36   28    5   27    0    6    6   12    1    5 .279 .328 .396 .724

Bob Aspromonte, third baseman, 1965 Houston Astros (team OPS+: 96)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  151  628   53   22   52   38    5   54    3    5    4   14    2    2 .263 .310 .322 .632

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  120  499   42   20   42   33    4   43    1    4    3   10    2    2 .260 .309 .330 .639

Frank White, second baseman, 1987 Kansas City Royals (team OPS+: 93)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  151  624   67   51   78   51    5   86    2    4    4   16    1    3 .245 .308 .400 .708

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   91  368   37   28   49   34    2   53    1    2    4   14    0    1 .229 .301 .373 .674

Poorly though the tied-for-ninth guys performed, theoretically they were all what you’re looking for in a No. 5 man: a power bat. But none among this trio fit the bill even in theory.

Indeed, each of these three was a defensive specialist, in the lineup for his glove. Keeping a light-hitting player in the lineup for his outstanding defensive contribution is all well and good, until you do something like bat the guy fifth.

To be fair, by this late stage in his career, White had developed decent power. But it was a level of power that’s real good for a second baseman; it wasn’t serious middle-of-the-order power. And while the ’87 Royals didn’t have a whole lot of clearly better alternatives to hit fifth, the 36-year-old White was all too obviously not getting it done.

Neither Rodgers (who was always “Bob” as a player; the “Buck” nickname didn’t come along until he was managing) nor Aspromonte ever even threatened to hit for power. But each found himself on a newly minted expansion franchise that was short on productive bats. So both Angels manager Bill Rigney and Astros skipper Lum Harris can be excused, as the range of choices available to them at No. 5 ranged from bad to worse.

The fifth-worst No. 5 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 84

Bill Mazeroski, second baseman, 1967 Pittsburgh Pirates (team OPS+: 109)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  160  679   62   37   77   30    7   55    0    5    5   18    1    2 .261 .292 .352 .644

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   95  401   35   19   50   17    2   26    0    3    3    9    1    2 .257 .286 .336 .622

Well … speaking of defensive specialists.

When researching this article, when I came across Mazeroski’s name in this context, my first reaction was, “What? They batted Mazeroski fifth?!?” I double-checked it, and indeed the ’67 Pirates did bat Mazeroski fifth nearly 60 percent of the time.

So then I derived a theory: Let’s see, 1967 was the season in which Donn Clendenon, the Pirates’ first baseman and regular No. 5 hitter, suffered through an off-year. So, I deduced, what must have happened was that they stuck with Clendenon in the role until almost mid-eason, and then reluctantly switched to Maz in an attempt to shake things up. Even though Clendenon in an off-year was still a better hitter than Maz, it’s a reasonable theory.

Nevertheless, as it turns out that wasn’t what happened. In truth, manager Harry Walker elevated Mazeroski to the fifth slot in late April, and the Pirates largely stayed with him there (even through a managerial change, to Danny Murtaugh) until the end of August.

Mazeroski is among the more controversial selections to the Hall of Fame; He wasn’t elected to the Hall of Merit. No one doubts his defensive brilliance (in four decades since, I’m still waiting to see another second baseman remotely comparable on the double play pivot), but Maz’s hitting was, well, not real good. He wasn’t a bad hitter for a second baseman, but that qualifier is critical: While Mazeroski was a consistent hitter, not prone to long slumps or off-years, he was consistently well below league-average. The performance we see here was exactly what he reliably turned in, over and over again: a .260-ish average with a little bit of power and precious few walks. His career OPS+ was 84, precisely as it was in this season.

Mazeroski’s defenders will invariably make the point that Forbes Field was just about the worst place for him, because he was a right-handed flyball hitter who lost a lot of home runs to that ballpark’s left-center field Death Valley. While there’s more than a little truth to this—in his career Mazeroski hit 45 homers at home, and 93 on the road—what this argument fails to contend with is the larger fact that while Forbes was a terrible home run park for right-handers, it wasn’t a bad hitters’ park overall. While it greatly suppressed home runs for RHBs, it also greatly inflated triples, and enhanced batting average. In his career, Mazeroski hit 43 triples at home, and 19 on the road, and his rate stats (.269/.307/.366 at home versus .252/.292/.369 on the road) yield a slightly superior OPS at home (.673 to .661).

The fact is that while Forbes Field unquestionably shaped Mazeroski’s stats, it didn’t distort his overall offensive value. He just wasn’t going to be much of a hitter, no matter which ballpark he played in.

And most definitely, Maz wasn’t going to be anything close to a good choice to bat in the fifth slot.

The fourth-worst No. 5 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 83

Vinny Castilla, third baseman, 1999 Colorado Rockies (team OPS+: 91)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  155  674   83   58  102   53    7   75    1    0    5   15    2    3 .275 .331 .478 .809

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  125  540   64   43   78   44    6   58    1    0    5    9    1    3 .280 .337 .461 .798

You want to talk about ballparks that distort the perception of value, well then, now we’re cookin’ with gas.

This was the pre-humidor era, when Coors Field was playing as the most extreme hitters’ park in major league history (as opposed to now, when it’s merely one of the most extreme hitters’ parks in major league history).

This was the era in which the Rockies were known as “The Blake Street Bombers,” and despite a general understanding that the mile-high conditions were inflating scoring to some degree, the Rockies were still almost universally perceieved—not just by casual fans, but apparently by their own management, too—as a lusty power-hitting ball club, whose chronic mediocrity in the standings was strictly a function of pitching deficiencies. The notion that the Rockies were in fact a rather poor-hitting ball club with pretty decent pitching had little-to-no chance of penetrating the consciousness of nearly all observers, dazzled by the raw numbers.

That’s what a Park Factor of 127 will do.

Granted, in such an extreme outlier case as Colorado baseball, the reliability of the Park Factor stat is itself stretched to its very limit. Perhaps, for one reason or another, that figure of 127 shouldn’t be interpreted with the same degree of confidence that we apply to Park Factors falling within range of normal observation.

image

But, still. Let’s take the 127 figure with a grain of salt, and consequently take the related Rockies’ team OPS+ of 91 with a grain of salt, and thus Castilla’s individual OPS+ of 83 with a grain of salt. Let’s assume that our quantitative capacities in this exceptional situation are somewhat overwhelmed, and that the “true” measure of Castilla’s offensive performance in 1999 relative to the league norm was somewhat better than 83.

We can do all that, and we’re still left with the fact that 83 is such a damn low OPS+ for a No. 5 hitter that it would need one whale of a fudge-factor to bail it out. We can apply a triple-helping of Grandma’s extra-special super-rich only-at-Christmastime fudge, but when we come down from our sugar buzz, licking our chocolate-smudged fingers, we can’t avoid the melancholy conclusion that Castilla just didn’t hit very well in 1999.

Fudging it or not, it’s clear that Castilla had hit well in the several seasons prior to ’99; not as well as his gaudy raw stats suggested, of course, but he’d hit well. Hitting at that level, when considered along with his outstanding third base defense and first-rate durability, Castilla was an excellent ballplayer. But when he hit the way he did in 1999, he was something along the lines of a Pedro Feliz.

And if Pedro Feliz is your No. 5 hitter, your offense has, well, issues.

The third-worst No. 5 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 81

Troy O’Leary, left fielder, 2000 Boston Red Sox (team OPS+: 90)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  133  563   68   47   70   44    2   76    2    0    4   12    0    2 .261 .320 .411 .731

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   94  397   51   34   49   34    2   54    1    0    3   10    0    2 .253 .317 .409 .727

It isn’t to Colorado’s degree, of course, but the situation with Fenway Park has long been of the same kind. While the magnitude has ebbed and flowed, decade after decade since it was remodeled in 1934 Fenway has played as either the best hitters’ park in the American League or close to it. And decade after decade, Red Sox teams have been almost universally perceived as presenting better-hitting lineups, and less-capable pitching staffs, than they actually possess.

This has served, of course, to overrate genuine Red Sox hitting stars (I’m looking at you, Jim Rice). And it’s also served to overrate quite a few journeyman Red Sox regulars, who whatever their defensive contribution, have tended to be seen as good hitters for Boston, minor stars, when in fact they’re essentially league-average with the bat: examples would be Bill Buckner or Butch Hobson, or reaching back a ways, guys like Frank Malzone, Jimmy Piersall, and Sammy White.

And most definitely that would describe Troy O’Leary. He wasn’t a bad player, but a corner outfielder who swings a league-average bat really has no business being more than a platoon player or utility man, at least not for an extended period. Yet O’Leary was given a half-decade or so of regular play with the Red Sox, pretty much just because his raw stats made him appear to be a better hitter than he was. For his career, the vast majority of which was for Boston, O’Leary hit .303/.358/.497 at home, and .247/.306/.399 on the road.

And when such a player has an off-year, as O’Leary did in 2000, his being in the regular lineup is bad enough, but he really doesn’t belong in the middle of the order.

The second-worst No. 5 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 79

Terry Kennedy, catcher, 1984 San Diego Padres (team OPS+: 98)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  141  570   54   31   57   33    8   99    2    0    5   16    1    2 .240 .284 .353 .637

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  112  447   42   25   47   31    8   75    2    0    5   15    1    1 .232 .286 .340 .626

One can’t fault Padres manager Dick Williams for starting out the season with Kennedy as his No. 5 hitter. The 28-year-old Kennedy was coming off of three straight years as one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball, a big, strong line-drive hitter with good power.

And so when Kennedy started slowly, hitting just .225/.276/.300 in April, it was reasonable to Williams to stick with him in the fifth slot. But when Kennedy finished May still mired at .235/.280/.346, maybe it was time for Williams to try something else for a little while. After all, those Padres were a good ball club, giving Williams a range of options. Most obviously, the guy regularly hitting sixth, power-hitting center fielder Kevin McReynolds, finished May hitting .299/.316/.518.

But Williams stayed with Kennedy at No. 5 through the month of June. And Kennedy rewarded his patience with a strong performance in June; by the end of the month his stats (.258/.309/.386, seven home runs, 36 RBI) weren’t as good as those of McReynolds (.277/.303/.482, 11 homers, 39 RBI), but he was closing the gap. So Williams stuck with Kennedy in the fifth spot through July.

But Kennedy had a terrible July. By month’s end he was hitting .242/.296/.361 with nine homers and 42 RBI, while McReynolds was at .275/.317/.481 with 14 homers and 52 RBI.

Yet still, with more than half a season’s worth of evidence accrued, and with McReynolds clearly having a significantly better year, Williams wasn’t ready to drop Kennedy from No. 5. He left him there, and Kennedy slumped even more miserably. Finally, on August 16, with Kennedy down to .230 and still stuck on nine home runs, Williams decided to switch his spot in the order with McReynolds, who was cruising at .282 with 18 dingers.

To be fair to Williams, the Padres that season were running away with the division; They’d taken over first place in mid-June and quickly opened up a fat lead. Through the months of July and August it was becoming more and more obvious that they were going to win it going away, so there was no urgent need to make a change.

Nevertheless, the batting order exists for a reason. Not only McReynolds, but also left fielder Carmelo Martinez was hitting distinctly better than Kennedy, yet Williams didn’t make a change until the regular season had just six weeks remaining.

And in the 1984 postseason, Williams put Kennedy back at No.5. He batted in that position in four of the five games in the NLCS, and all five games of the World Series, and hit a combined .216/.250/.324.

Williams was one of the most brilliant managers of all time; he’s deservedly in the Hall of Fame. But this was one instance in which he was just wrong-headed.

The worst No. 5 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 76

Gary Gaetti, third baseman, 1990 Minnesota Twins (team OPS+: 93)

Overall:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  151  625   61   48   85   36    1  101    3    1    8   22    6    1 .229 .274 .376 .650

When batting fifth:
  GS    PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   82  338   32   28   47   19    1   55    2    1    7   15    3    0 .233 .276 .395 .671

Here’s a factoid for ya that vividly illustrates the impact of park and league-context effects: Gaetti hit .255/.308/.434 for his career, as compared to .276/.321/.476 for Vinny Castilla. Yet since Castilla played in Colorado in his peak years, and in the post-1993 scoring boom years nearly all his career, his career OPS+ was 95, while Gaetti’s was 97. (And Gaetti played most of his career in pretty decent hitters’ parks.)

The fact is that in just about every important aspect, Gaetti and Castilla were exactly the same player. Each was a top-notch defensive third baseman, durable, with good-but-not-great power, lousy strike zone discipline, and frustratingly inconsistent at the plate. Each was capable of putting together a season in which he hits darn well, but quite incapable of reliably repeating it, and in his down years (more numerous than his ups) a distinctly below-average offensive producer.

image

Inconsistent hitters are the most perplexing for managers, of course. If you have a guy with an established track record of producing numbers within a fairly tight range, year after year, then you can confidently ride out a slump, knowing it’s not going to last too long, just as you can confidently not get too excited over a hot streak, knowing it too shall soon pass. Basically you can stick with him in his given role, and very likely by the end of the season he’ll have produced pretty much the result you were counting on.

But then you have a Gaetti. Coming into 1990, Gaetti had played eight full seasons, and in those seasons his batting averages had ranged from .230 to .301, his home run output from five to 34, and his OPS+ from 82 to 147. Just exactly what was Twins manager Tom Kelly supposed to be ready to expect?

The point is he couldn’t have confidently expected anything in particular, since just about everything had been demonstrated as plausible. In short, Gaetti was not somebody to be counted on to fulfill a given role, not the kind of player you patiently stick with if his bat goes south.

So Kelly’s failing in 1990 wasn’t in giving Gaetti a crack at the No. 5 slot; heck, in his up years Gaetti was a fine fifth-place hitter, even a fine cleanup hitter. No, Kelly’s failing in 1990 was in sticking with Gaetti in the No. 5 slot as his performance systematically unraveled: from .258/.311/.453 at the end of May, to .246/.292/.422 a month later, to .228/.278/.387 by the end of August. Kelly’s further failing in 1990 was in moving Gaetti, on the occasions when he did bat him someplace other than fifth, not further down in the order, but up into the cleanup spot, for no fewer than 59 starts.

It wasn’t as though Kelly couldn’t possibly have foreseen a stinker of a season coming from Gaetti. He’d done it before, and indeed he was coming off a 1989 campaign in which he’d hit a dreary .251/.286/.404, for an OPS+ of 88. And it wasn’t as though Kelly had no better alternatives on hand—the guys typically batting behind Gaetti in 1990, in the sixth, seventh and eighth slots, were Brian Harper (.294/.328/.432, 106 OPS+), Gene Larkin (.269/.343/.392, 100 OPS+) and Shane Mack (.326/.392/.460, 132 OPS+).

Kelly was in his fourth full season as the Twins’ manager in 1990, and he would hold the job for a very long time yet. His 15-plus-season stint as Minnesota’s skipper would be among the longest in baseball history. Unquestionably, anybody managing a team for that long is doing an awful lot of things right. But no matter how skilled, nobody performing any challenging job for that long is going to do it mistake-free, and Kelly’s batting-order deployment of Gaetti in 1990 was your basic blunder.

Next installment

The most sickening sixth-slot struggles.

References & Resources
Each of the previous excursions in this series has prompted a significant volume of feedback from readers, for which I’m delightedly grateful. The great majority of folks I’ve heard from understand the playfully informal tone and intent, but there has been a small (but spunky!) minority taking issue with the reliance upon the OPS+ stat in these rankings.

The point they make is that a more sophisticated analysis would make use of metrics in addition to (or instead of) OPS+, and indeed would probably use a different set of metrics for different batting-order slots. Such an analysis would very likely draw different, and more comprehensively defensible, conclusions than these regarding just who have been the worst performers at the various spots in the lineup.

That is, of course, true.

However, from the leadoff spot onward, this series has never pretended to be offering a sophisticated analysis. It is, unabashedly, just for fun. OPS+ is plenty good enough for that.

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