The 10 worst No. 6 hitters since 1957

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.

(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+
  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

OPS+: 78

Dave Concepcion, shortstop, 1985 Cincinnati Reds (team OPS+: 101)

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

Mike Lansing, second baseman, 1995 Montreal Expos (team OPS+: 92)

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

OPS+: 77

Garry Maddox, center fielder, 1981 Philadelphia Phillies (team OPS+: 111)

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

OPS+: 76

Eric Hinske, third baseman, 2004 Toronto Blue Jays (team OPS+: 87)

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

OPS+: 73

Tony Batista, third baseman, 2003 Baltimore Orioles (team OPS+: 93)

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.

image

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

OPS+: 72

Royce Clayton, shortstop, 1995 San Francisco Giants (team OPS+: 101)

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.

image

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

OPS+: 70

Manny Trillo, second baseman, 1976 Chicago Cubs (team OPS+: 91)

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

OPS+: 69

Brooks Robinson, third baseman, 1958 Baltimore Orioles (team OPS+: 91)

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

OPS+: 66

Bill Mazeroski, second baseman, 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates (team OPS+: 94)

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

Terry Pendleton, third baseman, 1985 St. Louis Cardinals (team OPS+: 107)

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

OPS+: 60

Vinny Castilla, third baseman, 2002 Atlanta Braves (team OPS+: 98)

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.

Next installment

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.

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