Our intrepid inspection of the most ineffective incumbents at each slot in the batting order has so far examined leadoff, No. 2, No. 3, cleanup, and No. 5. Now we’re ready to dive to the depths of sixth.
As always, we’re defining qualifiers as starting at least one-half of their team’s games in this lineup slot, and 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. 6 job description
At the sixth place in the order, we’ve finally reached the point at which there’s never been a particular established normative role for the hitter, as either table setter or clearer. The great majority of the time, the guy batting sixth is simply the least bad of the remaining hitters.
That’s not to say sixth-place hitters are always bad. Indeed, the quality of a team’s sixth-place hitter can serve as a telling indicator of the overall quality of the team’s offense. Most every team has good bats in the third and fourth slots, and usually not a bad one at No. 5. But if you know nothing else about a ball club, knowing the quality of its No. 6 hitter provides a strong clue as to its run production; No. 6 is often the fork in the road that begins to separate the good offenses from the rest.
Given the lack of a clear directive regarding what the No. 6 hitter is supposed to do beyond “not suck,” we observe not only a great disparity among No. 6 hitters in quality but also in style. Sometimes they’re high-power, low-average types, but they’re just as likely to be good hitters for average, but neither hitting for power nor drawing walks. And of course, they’re also quite often just middle-of-the-roaders in every regard.
Here are this week’s guys who were bad, but not quite bad enough:
Team Rank OPS+ Player Pos Year Team Lg OPS+ 25 88 Bill Stein 3B 1977 SEA AL 89 24 87 Dave Stapleton 1B 1982 BOS AL 99 22T 86 Al Cowens RF 1976 KCR AL 103 22T 86 Bo Diaz C 1987 CIN NL 102 20T 85 Benito Santiago C 1988 SDP NL 97 20T 85 Ivan Rodriguez C 2007 DET AL 110 19 84 Larry Herndon CF 1978 SFG NL 106 17T 83 Glenn Hubbard 2B 1981 ATL NL 91 17T 83 Ray Knight 3B 1987 BAL AL 97 16 81 Tony Pena C 1985 PIT NL 91 13T 80 Bill Mazeroski 2B 1965 PIT NL 104 13T 80 Garry Maddox CF 1980 PHI NL 103 13T 80 Jeromy Burnitz RF 2002 NYM NL 96 12 79 Tony Scott CF 1979 STL NL 106
From this motley bunch we can discern a few patterns.
First, unlike the last few slots we’ve been observing, almost no one on this list was expected to be a big hitter. The one exception would be Jeromy Burnitz, who was customarily a productive slugger but just had an inexplicably bad year. Most of these guys, while they weren’t expected to struggle as they did, weren’t being counted upon as offensive cogs; No. 6 is, as we’ve discussed, the beginning of the bottom of the order.
And, related to that, most of these guys held down key defensive positions: Among 14 honorable mentions, we find four catchers, three center fielders, two second basemen and two third basemen. The far outlier in this regard is Dave Stapleton, an erstwhile middle infielder whom Red Sox manager Ralph Houk deployed as a regular first baseman for reasons that, well, remain elusive. (Almost as elusive, in fact, as the reasons another Red Sox manager, Johnny McNamara, might have had for failing to insert Stapleton as a defensive replacement for gimpy-kneed first baseman Bill Buckner in the bottom of the 10th inning of the sixth game of the 1986 World Series when that purpose, and only that purpose, justified Stapleton’s inclusion on the roster—but I digress.)
And related as well is the fact that several of these poor-performing No. 6 hitters weren’t just holding down key defensive positions, they were outstanding defenders, maintaining their lineup spot through glovework despite offensive struggles. That doesn’t necessarily justify their maintaining the No. 6 spot in the order, of course; some degree of “halo effect” could be at work, granting a defensive star a more prominent offensive role than his hitting deserves.
Tied for 10th-worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 146 620 59 28 48 50 3 67 3 3 4 23 16 12 .252 .314 .330 .645 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 116 478 41 21 36 32 3 51 2 3 3 20 10 8 .251 .303 .322 .625
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 127 502 47 42 62 28 2 65 3 1 3 14 27 4 .255 .299 .392 .691 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 92 364 35 29 45 18 0 42 2 1 2 2 20 4 .264 .303 .396 .699
Well, now … when we last visited Señor Concepcion, he was posting the worst season of any No. 3 hitter since 1957. I guess here he was demonstrating his versatility, stinking now in the No. 6 slot instead.
The facts were simply these: Concepcion was a very fine ballplayer for a long time, but he wasn’t as fine a hitter as the Reds thought he was, and not for as long a time as the Reds thought it was.
As for Lansing, the situation is a little less clear. Expos manager Felipe Alou didn’t have a set batting order of any kind that year, using 116 different orders in 144 games (that was a strike-shortened season)—yet Lansing at No. 6 was his one predictable choice. Lansing should have mostly batted eighth, or least seventh, as his OPS+ was by far the lowest among Montreal regulars.
Probably the best explanation is that it was a case of Alou, understandably, not having yet properly recalibrated his interpretation of batting stats. Remember that 1995 was still quite early in the scoring boom: Just a few years before that, a guy who hit .255 with 30 doubles and 10 homers, even if he didn’t walk much, was delivering a solid year with the bat. But in 1995 such a performance was, as we see, suddenly not so hot. I’ll certainly plead guilty to spending a few years believing that Lansing, with his gaudy doubles column, was a better hitter than he actually was, until my own perceptions of the brand-new stat line norms had a chance to be re-standardized.
And, it’s also the case that this was a slight off-year for Lansing. In both 1996 and ’97, moved up to the No. 2 hole by Alou, Lansing would hit meaningfully better.
The ninth-worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 85 350 37 13 40 17 1 42 1 1 8 6 9 4 .263 .295 .337 .633 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 83 332 33 13 39 16 1 40 1 1 8 6 8 4 .261 .293 .340 .633
Ineffectual though he was with the bat in 1981, having Maddox bat sixth wasn’t really a bad idea. Hitting behind him were two fellow defensive standouts, shortstop Larry Bowa and catcher Bob Boone: Boone hit worse than Maddox, and Bowa only marginally better in this season. The Phillies’ lusty 111 team OPS+ was a product of great hitting concentrated at the top and middle of the order, most especially from All-World cleanup hitter Mike Schmidt (199 OPS+).
The eighth-worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 149 634 66 41 69 54 2 109 4 0 6 14 12 8 .246 .312 .375 .688 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 83 354 46 24 43 31 1 52 2 0 5 10 7 4 .253 .319 .402 .721
The Jays that year were one bad-hitting team, and in fact there weren’t any superior sixth-slot alternatives to Hinske’s mediocrity for managers Carlos Tosca and John Gibbons. Moreover, Hinske had hit quite a bit better than this before 2004, and he would hit quite a bit better than this after 2004. Sometimes, well, stuff just happens.
The seventh-worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 161 670 76 47 99 28 4 102 5 0 6 20 4 3 .235 .270 .393 .663 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 109 452 56 34 73 18 2 75 3 0 3 13 3 2 .241 .274 .416 .690
But then some stuff happens that really shouldn’t.
Yes, Batista had hit better than this in previous seasons, but he’d never been all that great. And yes, Batista was a good hitter for power, but he was downright bad—not just mediocre, but downright bad—at everything else offensively. And yes, Batista was a good defensive third baseman, but he was hardly Pie Traynor over there.
All in all, it was a case of paying far too much deference to Batista’s gaudy home run column. Manager Mike Hargrove didn’t need to be lavishing Batista with 161 games and 670 plate appearances, and he didn’t need to have Batista batting mostly sixth, let alone also fifth and fourth, which were the only other spots Batista hit in that season. There’s a place for a player of Batista’s quality on most ball clubs, but it isn’t one nearly this prominent.
The sixth-worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 133 557 56 37 58 38 1 109 3 4 3 7 24 9 .244 .298 .342 .640 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 73 299 29 15 37 19 0 57 0 1 2 2 13 7 .260 .305 .336 .641
What’s in a name?
Royce Clayton’s name was fluid and elegant. It just sounded like a strong, graceful, gallant star shortstop’s name.
It was the sort of name you expect to find on a daytime soap opera: Dr. Royce Clayton, dashing chief of surgery at City Hospital. Or a tuxedoed 1930s movie star, romancing Norma Shearer in shimmering black-and-white. Or perhaps at the State Department: “Ambassador Royce Clayton today announced a breakthrough in the difficult negotiations.”
It’s the name of a winner. It doesn’t sound at all like the name of a dime-a-dozen journeyman.
The Giants were sure convinced. They confidently stuck the young Clayton in the starting lineup, sat back, folded their arms and awaited the blossoming. When it didn’t happen after a few years (the dreary final one of which we see above), the Cardinals were only too happy to trade for Clayton, so he could be their stellar shortstop. When that failed to materialize, the Rangers were eager to get hold of him.
And so it went. Eventually, nine—count ’em, nine—different major league teams would deploy Clayton as their first-string shortstop, despite the fact that he never posted an OPS+ as high as 100, and was typically in the 70s-to-low-80s, while delivering nice-but-hardly-great defense. Clayton simply wasn’t good enough to justify 2,100 major league games, and 8,100 major league plate appearances, but that’s what he got. He ought to have had a career as a good utilityman, with intermittent stretches of regular duty, but nothing close to the sumptuous opportunity he was given.
Thus one is left to ponder: If instead of Royce Clayton, this guy’s name had been, say, Ed Gray, or Bengie Guzman, or Vern Hershberger, would all those teams have been so sure that he was just what they’d been waiting for at shortstop?
Consider me skeptical.
The fifth-worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 155 649 42 31 59 53 4 70 3 7 4 17 17 6 .239 .304 .311 .615 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 107 443 29 25 47 41 4 51 2 4 2 13 10 3 .236 .310 .325 .635
Having Trillo bat sixth wasn’t so strange. Sure, he was really bad, but the guys hitting behind him (those immortals Steve Swisher and Mick Kelleher) were even worse: This Cubs ball club had some issues with hitting depth.
No, what was strange was the fact that when Trillo wasn’t batting sixth, manager Jim Marshall had him batting fifth (32 starts) and, get this, third (five starts). Those Cubs did have some serious bats on hand for the middle of the order, and they didn’t have to be very serious to be more serious than the idea of Trillo in the middle of the order.
The fourth-worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 126 507 31 22 32 31 1 51 5 7 1 19 1 3 .238 .292 .305 .597 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 83 327 17 13 20 23 0 38 3 5 0 12 0 2 .230 .292 .284 .576
Three separate elements combined to create this truly stupefying stat line—think about it, in 83 games in the No. 6 spot, he scored 17 runs and drove in 20.
First, Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium in this period was an extreme pitchers’ park, so the raw magnitude of the scoring numbers was depressed. Second, Paul Richards had been fundamentally reconstructing the operation for several years, and his philosophy was strongly defense-first: Across most of the lineup, Richards favored fielding skill, and was very willing to sacrifice hitting proficiency to get it. And third, in this still talent-starved organization, the best young prospects—and Robinson certainly would qualify on that score—were being rushed to the majors, not just playing in the big leagues but handling front-line roles before they ideally would have. The 21-year-old Brooks was obviously best suited for Triple-A, or perhaps even Double-A, at this point.
So in this low-scoring environment, Richards had Robinson usually batting sixth because second baseman Billy Gardner and shortstop Willy Miranda, fellow defensive standouts, were hitting even more poorly than him. This Oriole team scored 3.38 runs per game, yet finished just five games below .500.
Tied for second-worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 129 537 50 28 59 29 1 55 1 10 4 16 1 3 .241 .283 .339 .621 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 94 391 41 23 40 20 1 32 1 7 1 11 0 2 .262 .302 .367 .669
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 145 602 56 24 69 37 4 75 0 3 3 18 17 12 .240 .285 .306 .591 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 120 500 52 19 61 32 4 61 0 3 3 14 16 9 .227 .276 .297 .572
The theme we noted earlier of defensive specialists as struggling No. 6 hitters could hardly be coming through any more strongly at this point.
We encountered Mazeroski last time, batting fifth far too often for the 1967 Pirates. But manager Danny Murtaugh’s sixth-slot deployment of him here was quite defensible, on two counts: Maz had hit pretty well in 1958, batting sixth and seventh, and moreover the .262/.302/.367 line we see him producing from sixth in ’59, while not that good, was his best work of this season. That was what Mazeroski had done through July 28, and at that point Murtaugh dropped him to seventh, moving Don Hoak to No. 6. From then on, Mazeroski just fell apart at the plate, hitting .167/.206/.246 the rest of the way in the seventh spot.
The slick-fielding Pendleton had arrived in the majors as a midseason call-up the previous season, and hit up a storm—interestingly, batting third. But in 1985, manager Whitey Herzog dropped Pendleton to sixth early in the season, and he remained in a dismal slump all season long. Yet Herzog persisted with him at No. 6, despite the fact that Ozzie Smith, batting seventh and eighth all year, hit significantly better than Pendleton in every regard.
The worst No. 6 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 138 578 56 37 61 22 4 69 7 0 6 22 4 1 .232 .268 .348 .616 When batting sixth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 94 391 38 23 39 13 4 39 4 0 4 16 4 1 .249 .279 .349 .627
Ah, Vinny, Vinny, Vinny.
He made a strong showing last time, with his 1999 season qualifying as the fourth-worst by a No. 5 hitter. Not satisfied with that, he now comes back and his 2002 effort captures the title of worst No. 6 hitter, in a runaway.
Atlanta GM John Schuerholz was one of the greats, no doubt, but his December 2001 decision to sign the 34-and-a-half-year-old Castilla as a free agent, and shift incumbent third baseman Chipper Jones to left field to make room for Vinny, can be liberally questioned. It’s true that Castilla had put together a decent year with the bat in 2001, and it’s true that Schuerholz signed him for a reasonable salary, but: Castilla’s hitting had been horrible in 2000, and not good in 1999, and he was really kind of getting up there in age.
Manager Bobby Cox, hoping for the best, batted Castilla fifth for most of April. Castilla’s .204/.240/.367 line that month persuaded Cox to drop him to sixth. Castilla held the No. 6 slot through mid-August, but as we see, he didn’t hit for average, draw walks or deliver power, and so Cox put him down in seventh for the remainder of the season.
As though just to be mischievous, Castilla in 2003, splitting his time between the seventh and eighth spots in the Braves’ order, would produce a pretty good offensive year.
The sorriest saggers of seventh.
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 probably would 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.