The ten worst No. 7 hitters since 1957

All right, we’ve visited the most wretched at leadoff, No. 2, No. 3, cleanup, No. 5, and No. 6. This time we’ve set our sights on seventh.

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. 7 job description

If it’s true, as we asserted last time, that by the sixth slot in the batting order there’s not much specificity to the job description beyond “don’t suck,” then that would be even more true for the seventh-place hitter. The team is rare (especially in the non-DH National League) that enjoys a deep enough offense to feature a good hitter batting seventh; most teams are happy if the seventh guy is just average. The occupier of the seventh spot typically handles a key defensive position, such as middle infield, catcher, or third base, and thus it’s generally a safe bet that he isn’t in the starting lineup because of his bat.

That said, of course, seventh isn’t eighth (and in the post-1972 AL, it isn’t ninth either); there’s somebody on hand with a less-potent stick in the lineup than the No. 7 man, at least theoretically. While few seventh hitters are good, few are terrible either. Usually this hitter has some redeeming feature, such as occasional power or a pretty-good batting average or something to counter his weaknesses. If a team has a truly woeful hitter in the seventh spot on a consistent basis, it’s an indicator of either a remarkably dismal bottom of the order, or something funky going on with the batting order itself. This time we’ll encounter both such situations.

(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+
  24T      76   Bubba Phillips      3B     1962    CLE      AL         96
  24T      76   Bob Rodgers         C      1967    CAL      AL        103
  24T      76   Manny Trillo        2B     1982    PHI      NL         99
  24T      76   Dave Stapleton      1B     1983    BOS      AL         99
   23      75   Jose Castillo       2B     2006    PIT      NL         93
  21T      74   Julian Javier       2B     1964    STL      NL        101
  21T      74   Ken Reitz           3B     1975    STL      NL         97
   20      73   Randy Hundley       C      1968    CHC      NL        102
  17T      72   Ed Sprague          3B     1994    TOR      AL         95
  17T      72   David Bell          3B     2005    PHI      NL        104
  17T      72   Miguel Olivo        C      2007    FLA      NL        109
  15T      71   Manny Trillo        2B     1975    CHC      NL        100
  15T      71   Larry Bowa          SS     1980    PHI      NL        103
   14      70   Adam Everett        SS     2005    HOU      NL         95
   13      69   Tommy Helms         2B     1969    CIN      NL        114
   12      65   Steve Swisher       C      1976    CHC      NL         91
   11      61   Billy Gardner       2B     1958    BAL      AL         91

Interestingly, only a few of these ball clubs had really weak offenses, indeed a couple were darn good-hitting teams. Mostly these are cases of key defensive players, holding regular spots despite, not because of, their bats: we see eight middle infielders, four third basemen, and three catchers.

And, sticking out like a sore thumb, a first baseman. It seems we encountered Dave Stapleton in this circumstance last time as well: Apparently Red Sox manager Ralph Houk wasn’t satisfied with having Stapleton in 1982 become the only first baseman among the worst No. 6 hitters in history, so he saw to it that Stapleton in 1983 would also become the only first baseman among the worst No. 7 hitters in history.

Another familiar name would be Manny Trillo, the slick-fielding second baseman whose 1976 season ranked as the fifth-worst No. 6 performance, appearing not once but twice on the No. 7 honorable mentions list.

The tenth-worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 59

Scott Servais, catcher, 1994 Houston Astros (team OPS+: 115)

          Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 72  275   27   25   41   10    0   44    4    7    6    6    0    0 .195 .235 .371 .606

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 58  225   18   19   33    8    0   39    3    5    6    5    0    0 .180 .218 .335 .553

Getting performance this bad from the seventh slot was more than one Astros’ decision-maker could pull off. This stinkbomb required the combined efforts of both GM Bob Watson and field manager Terry Collins, each a rookie in his role.

In 1993, Servais had delivered a pretty good year with the bat as a platoon catcher for the Astros. A right-handed hitter, he played mostly against southpaws in ’93, and displayed an extreme platoon split: .297/.357/.522 in 154 plate appearances against lefties, and a woeful .183/.261/.292 in 137 tries against righties. Given this, Watson’s April 1994 decision to trade away the lefty-hitting platoon partner, Eddie Taubensee, and leave Servais to share the Houston catching duties with a fellow right-handed hitter, Tony Eusebio, was questionable.

It became more than merely questionable as the 1994 season unfolded, and Eusebio proved to be even more of a extreme platoon-sensitive hitter than Servais; in 1994 Eusebio destroyed left-handers at a .426/.439/.721 rate in 66 plate appearances, while struggling to a .214/.245/.296 line in his 108 times up against right-handed pitching. Here, in a nutshell, was the problem: somebody had to play catcher for Houston against right-handed opposing pitchers. And Mr. Servais, thrust into the role of first-stringer, wasn’t able to hit the righties to save his life, putting together a feeble .174/.206/.337 mark in 200 PAs, while still handling the southpaws reasonably well, at .254/.311/.463. But he was only able to come to bat 75 times in that favorable circumstance, and thus the quality of his overall performance was swamped by the workload against right handers.

Provided by Watson with this unfortunate arrangement, Collins made it worse. He persisted in predominantly batting Servais seventh in this strike-shortened season, while leaving shortstop Andujar Cedeño in the eighth slot: Cedeño wasn’t a great hitter, but with an OPS+ of 100 in 1994, on the heels of a 106 mark in ’93, he was distinctly better than this.

Tied for eighth-worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 58

Brooks Robinson, third baseman, 1975 Baltimore Orioles (team OPS+: 103)

          Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
134  539   50   22   53   44   10   33    1    8   11    6    0    0 .201 .267 .274 .541

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 96  385   32   13   39   39    8   20    1    7    8    5    0    0 .182 .267 .245 .512

Joe Girardi, catcher, 1995 Colorado Rockies (team OPS+: 98)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
119  506   63   27   55   29    0   76    2   12    7   15    3    3 .262 .308 .359 .667

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 72  288   24   13   24   17    0   36    1    5    4   10    2    3 .216 .265 .307 .572

I recall reading an observation by Bill James someplace, in which he noted that Robinson and Nellie Fox shared the attribute of being so extraordinary with the glove that they were granted regular major league playing time both before they could hit, and after it. This is vividly illustrated by Brooks, whom we saw last time as the fourth-worst No. 6 hitter in his first season as a regular, and here he is in his last season as a regular.

If the seventh spot seems a rather generous place for a hitter this bad, it’s worth bearing in mind that through 1974 Robinson had still been hitting all right; this was the year his bat slammed against the wall, so we can cut manager Earl Weaver some slack here. Robinson’s offensive collapse of that season, combined with one of a similar magnitude that vexed veteran center fielder Paul Blair, rendered the ’75 Orioles into quite an odd team. They featured a decent offense overall, but it was disproportionally bunched into three oustanding bats (right fielder Ken Singleton, left fielder Don Baylor, and second baseman Bobby Grich, with OPS+ figures of 153, 145, and 130 respectively), a couple that were mid-grade (first baseman Lee May and DH Tommy Davis, at 111 and 95), and four really bad ones: catcher Dave Duncan (who had once been a pretty good hitter, but was now in decline, with an OPS+ of 70), and the defensive specialists Robinson, Blair (62 OPS+), and shortstop Mark Belanger (64).

As for Girardi, he didn’t have defensive brilliance to accompany his ineffectual bat. But he usually hit a little better than this, and as future managers tend to be, he was smart and “scrappy” and thus was able to find his way into nearly 1,300 major league games despite a career OPS+ of 72. In this season, Rockies’ manager (and Brooks’s former teammate) Don Baylor batted Girardi seventh because he had light-hitting Walt Weiss on hand to take care of batting eighth, but Weiss confounded that by putting up an OBP nearly 100 points better than Girardi’s.

The seventh-worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 56

Garry Templeton, shortstop, 1987 San Diego Padres (team OPS+: 99)

          Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
141  561   42   23   48   42   11   92    1    5    8   15   14    3 .222 .281 .296 .577

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 84  337   25   12   33   20    2   50    0    4    5   12   10    2 .228 .273 .293 .566

Garry, Garry, Garry … we encountered him before as his career was taking its sudden u-turn in 1982, and he was one of the all-time worst No. 3 hitters. Now it was time for him to make a run at the worst performance from the seventh hole.

Templeton’s offensive futility was nothing if not comprehensive. He didn’t hit for power, and he didn’t hit for average. He didn’t draw walks, and he struck out quite a bit. And just to top it off, he was prone to ground into double plays.

Despite all that, Padres’ manager Larry Bowa can’t really be faulted for hitting Templeton mostly seventh in 1987, as the guys he had batting eighth weren’t much better. San Diego that season had a terrific offensive core, headed up by Tony Gwynn and John Kruk, but the supporting cast was bleak.

The sixth-worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 55

Brad Ausmus, catcher, 2003 Houston Astros (team OPS+: 102)

          Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
129  509   43   18   47   46    1   66    4    5    5    8    5    3 .229 .303 .291 .594

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
110  429   35   14   37   42    1   54    4    4    4    7    5    3 .215 .298 .279 .577

Every era has its share of good-field, no-hit catchers; it’s one of those classic models that never goes out of style.

image

And the most prominent exemplar in the modern day has been Ausmus.

It’s debatable just how much the great “D” provided by such a player gets cancelled out by the lousy “O”. But what’s certain is that you really push the limits of the value proposition when you bat this kind of guy seventh. Astros’ manager Jimy Williams chose to hit Ausmus ahead of shortstop Adam Everett (a good-field, no-hit shortstop; another evergreen type), and while Everett was surely a light hitter, he wasn’t nearly as featherweight as Ausmus.

Ausmus has had other seasons when he hit better than this, but it wasn’t clearly his worst year by any means, either. In addition to this performance, he’s presented full seasons with OPS+ figures of 63, 58, 57, and 54. There are worse hitters, but Ausmus has been a persistently bad one for a very long time.

The fifth-worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 52

Ken Reitz, third baseman, 1981 Chicago Cubs (team OPS+: 86)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 75  286   10   12   28   15    3   56    3    6    2    9    0    0 .215 .261 .281 .541

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 55  200    8    7   18   10    2   36    2    4    1    7    0    0 .220 .263 .269 .532

This extremely sure-handed third baseman (his nickname was “Zamboni,” for the way he smoothly sucked up grounders) had never been a good hitter overall, but at least he’d consistently posted a batting average in the .260-to-.270 range. But then suddenly upon his acquisition by the Cubs, Reitz uncorked this complete disaster.

Bill James’s comments in that year’s Abstract were quite interesting:

Look at his runs scored figure: 10. He’s something: career runs totals are 5, 40, 48, 43, 58, 41, 42, 39, and 10. You see those and you’d never believe he was a regular.

On balance I’ve been very lucky at guessing how a change in ballparks will affect a specific player’s performance, but I blew it a year ago when I agreed that Reitz might be better suited to Wrigley Field than he was to Busch Stadium. I said at the time it was an off-the-top-of-my-head comment, and I’m glad of that at least. What I was thinking was that Busch emphasizes speed and Wrigley doesn’t. Reitz, as you probably know, is slower than a lot of dead people. Wrigley Field rewards a player who uppercuts the ball and that is something which Reitz could do. What I should have thought about is that he doesn’t. If I’d looked at his 1980 batting averages, .336 in St. Louis and .207 on the road, I’d have known better.

Kudos to James for admitting that he’d missed one, but I think he overplays the park effect issue here. Whatever went wrong with Reitz in 1981, it wasn’t limited to the change in ballparks. It wasn’t just Reitz’s batting average that cratered that year; His strikeout rate soared and his isolated power evaporated too. At the age of 30, he just suddenly lost it, which isn’t typical but isn’t all that rare either.

At any rate, what it meant for the 1981 Cubs was an offense that suffered extraordinary weakness in not one but two spots in this strike-interrupted season: As we may recall, their leadoff hitter Ivan DeJesus was the very worst in that role, while Reitz was mightily struggling at seventh.

The fourth-worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 44

Tommy Helms, second baseman, 1970 Cincinnati Reds (team OPS+: 110)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
147  607   42   23   45   21    4   33    0    5   12   18    2    2 .237 .262 .282 .543

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
100  397   20   17   33   14    3   25    0    3    8   12    2    1 .249 .274 .302 .576

Helms was a fine defensive second baseman, and he wasn’t usually nearly this bad a hitter; In most seasons he hit for a pretty good average and was thus able to provide some offensive value. But he did absolutely nothing else well with the bat than hit for average: he had no power and precious little speed, and couldn’t draw a walk with a pencil. And when such a player doesn’t hit for a decent average, his offensive value becomes minimal indeed.

We see Helms above on the Honorable Mentions list in a season (1969) that was also below his norm, but not nearly as drastically so as 1970. In that ’69 season Helms was slogging along at .235 as late as Sept. 10, and then salvaged his year with a ferocious 38-for-93 (.409) rush to the finish, but in 1970 no such last-minute heroics were forthcoming. The Reds in both of those years featured a monumental hitting attack (that would be dubbed “The Big Red Machine” in 1970), but it’s intriguing to contemplate just how much more robust that offense would have been without Helms performing so ineffectively in the seventh slot, and without their black hole at shortstop that prevented Helms from hitting eighth.

The third-worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 43

Sparky Anderson, second baseman, 1959 Philadelphia Phillies (team OPS+: 85)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
145  527   42   12   34   42    1   53    1    5   15   16    6    9 .218 .282 .249 .531

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
118  408   30    8   25   32    1   40    1    4   11   11    6    7 .224 .287 .251 .538

Yes, that’s right, here’s the manager of that Big Red Machine, in his lone season as a big league player.

Anderson had spent six full years in the Dodgers’ minor league chain, including the final three at the triple-A level. In that extensive trial, Anderson abundantly demonstrated that his bat wasn’t going to scare anyone; His batting averages had ranged from .260 to .298, but without any power at all, producing just nine minor league home runs in 3,341 at-bats. But he was highly regarded as a defensive second baseman, having led his league in putouts five times, in assists three times, and in fielding percentage four times.

This prompted the Phillies, in December of 1958, to put together a pretty substantial trade package to acquire Anderson, surrendering a power-hitting journeyman corner outfielder (Rip Repulski) plus two pitching prospects. Having invested this much in him, the Phillies obviously concluded that they were committed to giving Anderson the full shot as their second baseman.

image

That wasn’t unreasonable. What was odd was manager Eddie Sawyer’s insistence upon batting Anderson seventh despite the fact that the rookie was plainly overmatched by major league pitching. Sawyer consistently batted his catchers in the No. 8 slot behind Anderson, which was fine when his choice was either Valmy Thomas or Joe Lonnett, but usually it was Carl Sawatski, one of the better-hitting platoon catchers of that era, enjoying a splendid year, putting up an OPS+ of 131.

Having been decisive in giving Anderson this wide-open opportunity, the Phillies would then be just as decisive in going in a different direction; following the 1959 season they let him go to the independent Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. Anderson would spend four seasons there as the regular Toronto second baseman, in full-fledged good-field, no-hit form, before retiring as a player and beginning the long managerial career that would lead him to Cooperstown.

The second-worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 42

Hal Lanier, shortstop, 1967 San Francisco Giants (team OPS+: 103)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
149  557   37   19   42   16    2   61    2   13   12   17    2    2 .213 .239 .255 .494

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 90  347   23   11   29   12    2   33    1    5    9   10    2    1 .231 .260 .271 .531

In the annals of rotten hitting, Hal Lanier is a towering figure; dare I say godlike? Pretenders cower in his presence: there is bad hitting, there is worse hitting, and then there is Lanierian hitting.

But we’ll be visiting with him next time, when we discuss the worst No. 8 hitters. Which begs the question: What in the world is he doing on this list? It was bad enough that the Giants insisted on playing this guy every day, but why in the world would they bat him seventh? And the answer to that question is that, believe it or not, in 1967 the Giants had another guy in the regular lineup who, for most of the season, was hitting even worse than Lanier.

As a rookie in 1966, Lanier’s double-play combo partner Tito Fuentes had put together a minimally acceptable season with the bat: His OBP was a comical .276 (especially for a leadoff hitter, which is how the Giants deployed him), but his slugging average of .360 was pretty good for a middle infielder. But in 1967, Fuentes started the season in a dreadful slump: as of May 2, he was “hitting” .145/.175/.218, and manager Herman Franks dropped him from the leadoff spot down to eighth, and moved Lanier (who was rollicking along at a .186/.182/.233 clip—ya gotta love that OBP-lower-than-the-BA part) up to seventh.

They would remain in that configuration for the bulk of the season. Lanier would have pretty much his normal year—his OPS+ of 42 wasn’t far off his career mark of 49—while Fuentes, batting behind him most of the time, continued his ghastly struggle. As late as June 25, Fuentes’ batting average remained at .146, and it was at .189 on Aug. 27. At long last in September Fuentes put together a mini-hot streak, rendering his season-ending stats (.209/.266/.294) less bad than Lanier’s. Fuentes would then be shipped back to the minors, and take up switch-hitting to revive his career.

The worst No. 7 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 38

Kirt Manwaring, catcher, 1997 Colorado Rockies (team OPS+: 106)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 95  375   22   11   27   30    0   78    2    4    1   10    1    5 .226 .291 .276 .567

          When Batting Seventh:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 84  330   19   11   23   22    0   64    1    4    1   10    1    4 .233 .285 .289 .574

Having already tried out the banjo-hitting catcher approach with Girardi, Rockies’ GM Bob Gebhard decided he liked it so much he’d do it again, and signed Manwaring as a free agent.

To be fair, while Manwaring was always distinctly within the good-field-no-hit-catcher mold, he usually hit better than this. These raw stats might not appear all that terrible, but remember that we’re talking about Coors Field in its pre-humidor heyday here. On the road in 1997, Manwaring put up a line of .198/.279/.222, which is pretty special.

The really strange part was that (a) Don Baylor kept writing Manwaring’s name on the lineup card, giving him 248 plate appearances against right-handed pitching despite the fact that his platoon partner, left-handed-hitting Jeff Reed, was having an outstanding year with the bat, and (b) Baylor kept batting Manwaring seventh, despite the fact that his No. 8 hitter (still Walt Weiss) was hitting far better than Manwaring in every regard.

Next installment

The No. 8 ain’ts.

References & Resources
I’m fully aware of the limitations of relying upon the OPS+ stat in these rankings. 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. However, this series makes no pretense of endeavoring to offer a sophisticated analysis. It is, unabashedly, just for fun. OPS+ is plenty good enough for that.

Bill James, The Bill James Baseball Abstract 1982, New York: Ballantine, 1982, p. 142.

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