The 10 worst No. 8 hitters since 1957

We’ve toured most of the batting order now, starting at leadoff, then on to No. 2, No. 3, cleanup, No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7. Now it’s time to meet the anti-greats at No. 8.

As always, we’re defining qualifiers as starting at least 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. 8 job description

We described the offensive responsibility of the seventh-place hitter as, basically, “don’t suck.” Alas, in the eighth slot, suckiness is ruefully expected. Blessed indeed is the team that’s deep enough to have a good hitter batting eighth; even something in the neighborhood of league-average offensive production is rare in these gloomy depths.

Thus for the great majority of teams the question isn’t whether their No. 8 hitter is bad, it’s simply a matter of how bad. Given that he’s either the worst-hitting or next-to-worst-hitting non-pitcher in the order, the No. 8 hitter generally justifies his starting status on the basis of his defensive contribution; almost always he plays shortstop, second base or catcher. And since the fellows we’re examining here are the worst among these noodle bats, most of them were exceptionally good with the glove.

There is an interesting wrinkle with this slot in that a few National League teams recently have been toying with the idea that Tony LaRussa introduced a few years back, of batting the pitcher eighth and the nominal No. 8 guy ninth. That would seem to make sense only if this nominal No. 8 guy presents a semi-decent on-base percentage; certainly for the sort of “hitters” we’re talking about it wouldn’t appear to be worth the trouble. (Incidentally, a reader recently informed me that manager Bobby Bragan of the Pirates batted his pitcher not just eighth, but seventh, a total of 21 times in 1956 … what the @#&%?!?)

(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    46  Sammy White         C    1957  BOS    AL     106
 22T    46  Chris Cannizzaro    C    1965  NYM    NL      78
 22T    46  Ed Brinkman         SS   1965  WSA    AL      94
 22T    46  Hal Lanier          SS   1969  SFG    NL     104
 22T    46  Hal Lanier          SS   1970  SFG    NL     114
  21    45  Jerry Grote         C    1964  HOU    NL      80
 18T    43  Bobby Wine          SS   1969  MON    NL      94
 18T    43  Dick Green          2B   1970  OAK    AL     106
 18T    43  Alfredo Griffin     SS   1990  LAD    NL     103
  17    42  Jose Valdivielso    SS   1960  WSH    AL      97
 13T    40  Willy Miranda       SS   1958  BAL    AL      91
 13T    40  Woody Woodward      SS   1965  MLN    NL     111
 13T    40  Bobby Wine          SS   1971  MON    NL      95
 13T    40  Bob Boone           C    1984  CAL    AL      94
  12    39  Dal Maxvill         SS   1969  STL    NL      95

Yep, 10 shortstops and four catchers. The only other guy is a second baseman, Dick Green, who was good with the glove and wasn’t ordinarily a bad hitter; in this season for some reason he laid an offensive egg. And Sammy White was also a generally decent hitter just having a bad year here.

As for the rest of the names on the list, it’s pretty much the good-field no-hit Dream Team. Yes, they’re all here: It isn’t obvious just who was the feeblest batsman among Ed Brinkman, Bobby Wine, Alfredo Griffin, Jose Valdivielso, Woody Woodward, and Bob Boone. I think I’ll cast my vote for Wine, for no reason other than the way his batting stance was once described: “All elbows and anxiety.”

As for the rest of these characters, we’ll be meeting them again below.

But not before we discuss Chris Cannizzaro, who will always hold a special place in my memory.

One time in around 1970 or so my brother and I were at the Santa Clara County Fair, the fairgrounds for which were (and are) located in south San Jose. We’re walking around and suddenly we see, in the concrete pad at our feet, the name “CHRIS CANNIZZARO” boldly etched.

We were stunned: Here was the name of the guy we’d known as a Strat-o-Matic card, the weak-hitting catcher for the expansion Mets and the expansion Padres. What in the world was it doing here at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds?

We knelt down and examined it carefully; it was real, no mirage. The letters had obviously been carved in the cement when it was wet, with a stick or a screwdriver or something, and he’d done a darn good job: the gouges were deep and thick, and remained abundantly visible despite the weathering of the concrete. And just how old was this concrete? It wasn’t new; it appeared to us, taking into account the structures nearby, that the concrete had likely been poured about 15 or 20 years earlier.

We did the math: That would have been when the ballplayer Chris Cannizzaro was a teenager, just the age when adolescent boys are prone to perform such, um, creative acts. (Not that either of us had ever … oh, okay, take a look sometime at the concrete next to the traffic light pole at the corner of Newhall and Monroe in Santa Clara.) And Who’s Who in Baseball informed us that Cannizzaro had been born in Oakland; that’s 40 miles away from San Jose, but by no means too far for it to be plausible for him to have been spending time, perhaps living, in San Jose.

And, come on, just how common a name is “Chris Cannizzaro,” anyway? What are the odds that the kid who carved his name in this wet cement in the 1950s was a different Chris Cannizzaro?

Pretty damn long, it seemed to us. And it still does; I see no good reason to doubt that the name-carver was indeed the future big leaguer.

On a subsequent visit to the fairgrounds several years later, I attempted to find the Cannizzaro carving, but couldn’t do it. Either I couldn’t remember exactly where it was, or it had been demolished/remodeled or something, but I was unable to locate it.

But it had been there before. Mr. Cannizzaro, you made a lasting mark.

Tied for seventh-worst No. 8 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 38

Bob Lillis, shortstop, 1963 Houston Colt .45s (team OPS+: 80)

          Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
133  496   31   15   19   15    1   35    4    7   10    8    3    4 .198 .229 .237 .466

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 81  287   17   10    7    6    0   22    3    3    5    5    2    1 .208 .232 .245 .477

Jerry Grote, catcher, 1967 New York Mets (team OPS+: 83)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
111  367   25   12   23   14    8   65    1    4   12    5    2    2 .195 .226 .253 .479

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 88  280   18   10   19    9    7   50    1    0    6    5    2    2 .211 .236 .271 .506

Hal Lanier, shortstop, 1968 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  518   37   15   27   12    0   57    0   14    5   17    2    2 .206 .222 .239 .461

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
142  489   35   14   26   11    0   56    0   14    5   15    2    1 .205 .221 .238 .459

Rafael Belliard, shortstop, 1992 Atlanta Braves (team OPS+: 99)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 90  315   20    7   14   14    4   43    3   13    5    6    0    1 .211 .255 .239 .494

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 90  281   20    6   11   14    4   40    3   12    5    6    0    1 .206 .257 .234 .491

Rey Sanchez, shortstop, 1996 Chicago Cubs (team OPS+: 92)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 90  324   28   10   12   22    6   42    3    8    8    6    7    1 .211 .272 .253 .525

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 88  314   28   10   12   21    6   41    3    6    8    6    7    1 .213 .273 .255 .528

This five-way logjam presents players in two distinct categories. On the one hand, we have Grote and Sanchez, who were both defensive specialists with light bats, to be sure, but both usually hit a whole lot better than this. In Sanchez’s case we seem to have simply caught him in “one of those years,” while Grote was still quite young at this point and hadn’t yet established himself as a hitter; his breakout year with the bat would occur in 1968. In the earlier Grote season we see above on the Honorable Mentions list, he was a 21-year-old being force-fed big league pitching by the expansion Houston organization.

But as for Lillis, Lanier and Belliard: they weren’t doing any weekend slumming in this exotic neighborhood, this is where they lived. This was their turf.

Lillis’s physique earned him the nickname “The Flea.” He was so light on his feet, and such a dependable, sure-handed middle infielder that he performed in the majors as a good-field no-hit specialist until the age of 37, a point at which most players of this type are long gone. And Lillis was so powerless at the plate that his career Isolated Power (SLG – BA) was .041, in almost 2,500 plate appearances. Flea-like, indeed.

We encountered Lanier last time, when a strange set of circumstances had him delivering most of his 1967 groundouts from the No. 7 slot, but here he is back in his natural No. 8 environs. And, of course, we see him making two additional appearances on this Honorable Mentions list, which means that Lanier put together four, count ‘em, four consecutive seasons from 1967 through 1970 that rank among the very worst offensive performances in history.

In order to pull off that feat, one might reasonably conclude that Lanier must have been a stupendously great defensive infielder, but that really wasn’t the case. He was quite good: He was sure-handed, and his arm was terrific, but his range wasn’t all that special. He never won a Gold Glove. The plain truth is that Lanier’s defensive contribution, good though it was, wasn’t good enough to justify the year-after-year deployment as a regular the Giants provided. Then again it isn’t exactly a news flash to report that the Giants organization in that era wasn’t always exercising the shrewdest possible judgment.

Lanier’s hitting wasn’t just bad in one or two ways, it was bad straight across the board. He could do it all. Despite the fact that he was fairly big (6-foot-2 and 180 pounds), he had utterly no power, but neither did he have the faintest hint of strike zone discipline.

image

And despite the fact that Lanier strove for contact and attempted to do nothing more than poke and slap ground balls, he hit for a miserably low average as well. As a bonus, the constant poking and slapping of ground balls made Lanier a double-play machine: He was in the league’s top 10 in GIDP for six consecutive years, four of them in the top four. If it was dreadful offense you wanted, Hal Lanier was your man.

Yet Belliard’s offense was just as dreadful; his offensive profile and Lanier’s are virtually identical. The differences between them were (a) the slick-fielding Belliard was teeny-tiny (5-foot-6 and 150 pounds), and (b) Belliard’s teams had the good sense to deploy him in a manner that limited his times at bat. In this 1992 season, even though Belliard was the Braves’ “regular” shortstop, he was the starter in only 90 of his 144 games, the rest of the time being used as a defensive replacement, and occasionally a pinch-runner. He had just 2.19 plate appearances per game in 1992, exactly equal to his career rate. Lanier, on the other hand, started 149 of his 151 games in 1968, and had 3.43 PA/G that year, and for his career he came to the plate 3.29 times per game.

Tied for fourth-worst No. 8 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 37

Don Kessinger, shortstop, 1965 Chicago Cubs (team OPS+: 93)

          Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
104  336   19    7   14   20    1   44    2    3    4    6    1    2 .201 .252 .233 .485

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
103  333   19    7   14   20    1   43    2    3    4    6    1    2 .199 .252 .232 .484

Dal Maxvill, shortstop, 1970 St. Louis Cardinals (team OPS+: 92)

          Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
135  466   35    7   28   51    3   56    0    9    9    8    0    0 .201 .287 .223 .510

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
132  450   30    7   27   48    3   53    0    8    9    8    0    0 .202 .285 .225 .510

Matt Walbeck, catcher, 1994 Minnesota Twins (team OPS+: 97)

          Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 89  359   31   17   35   17    1   37    2    1    4    7    1    1 .204 .246 .284 .530

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
 60  238   25   12   23   12    1   25    0    1    4    4    0    1 .210 .249 .290 .539

We met Kessinger way back when we were looking at the worst leadoff hitters, and Cubs manager Leo Durocher insisted on batting Kessinger leadoff. Here we see Kessinger prior to Durocher’s arrival in Chicago, as a 22-year-old rookie sensibly slotted at No. 8 while he was overmatched by major league pitching. While he would never become an offensive threat, Kessinger would develop into a far better hitter than this, and spend most of his long career as a reasonably effective-hitting shortstop.

Maxvill was something else entirely, the prime quality real deal when it comes to good-field no-hit shortstops. Unlike Lanier or Belliard, Maxvill was once awarded a Gold Glove, but he was every bit the equal of a Lanier or a Belliard in his capacity to combine a dreadful average with zilch power. However, he was overall slightly less worthless offensively than either of them because Maxvill had remarkable strike zone judgment, consistently drawing walks at a healthy rate despite the fact that his bat presented no danger whatsoever. Still, Maxvill’s back-to-back seasons with OPS+ figures of 39 and 37 as the Cardinals’ starting shortstop in 1969-70 were pretty special.

Walbeck wasn’t typically an extreme good-field no-hit catcher. His appearance here is just an illustration of the risk of depending on rookies. The Twins had had a very good-hitting regular catcher for several years in Brian Harper, but he left as a free agent following the 1993 season. To replace him, Minnesota traded for Walbeck, who had only 11 games of major league experience but had hit reasonably well in the minors. Alas, Walbeck spent the strike-shortened 1994 season woefully struggling, as we see. Why, one might ask, did manager Tom Kelly persist in starting Walbeck in 79 percent of the Twins’ games? Well, because the only other catcher on the roster was fellow rookie Derek Parks, who put up an OPS+ of 38 in his opportunities.

The third-worst No. 8 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 36

Rey Ordoñez, shortstop, 1997 New York Mets (team OPS+: 100)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
112  391   35    9   33   18    3   36    1   14    5   10   11    5 .216 .255 .256 .510

          When batting e\Eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
106  358   30    9   30   17    3   35    1   10    5   10   11    5 .216 .256 .259 .515

Of course, no discussion of extreme good-field no-hit shortstops is complete without consideration of this guy.

image

His flashy fielding led to three Gold Glove awards, though there’s no shortage of opinion that questions just how warranted those Gold Gloves were, and moreover there’s no shortage of opinion that questions whether the best defense in the world would justify keeping this bat in the lineup.

To be fair, weak a hitter as he was, Ordoñez wasn’t as helpless at the plate as a Lanier or a Belliard. This season was significantly worse than the typical Ordoñez contribution; he usually hit the ball with enough authority to find some holes and even deliver the extra-base hit now and then, and he could occasionally work a walk. But when he was bad, Ordoñez was, as we see, very, very bad.

The second-worst No. 8 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 30

Willy Miranda, shortstop, 1957 Baltimore Orioles (team OPS+: 97)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
109  349   29    3   20   24    2   41    0    8    3    5    2    1 .194 .249 .204 .453

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
109  349   29    3   20   24    2   41    0    8    3    5    2    1 .194 .249 .204 .453

Lest you think that Ordoñez was the first small, slender Cuban shortstop to play regularly in the majors for several years despite remarkably light hitting, we give you Señor Miranda, who pioneered the concept way back in the 1950s.

Miranda owed his regular status to the bold wisdom of Baltimore GM/field manager Paul Richards. Miranda had been knocking around the American League for a few years, but just as a utility man. When Richards took over the Baltimore operation, one of his first acts was to execute the most gargantuan trade in baseball history, a 17-player earthquake with the Yankees, which netted him Miranda among many other odds and ends. In keeping with Richards’ emphatic defense-first orientation, he then stuck Miranda in the Orioles’ lineup as his everyday shortstop for the next several years.

Miranda didn’t hit too badly in his first season in Baltimore, but following that his offensive production steadily faded. By 1957, his third season as an Oriole, Miranda’s OPS+ had shrunk to a miniscule 30, and he managed to deliver just three extra-base hits (all doubles) in 349 plate appearances—quite a feat. Even Richards was moved to reduce Miranda’s playing time; it would be reduced further still in the 1958 season we see on the Honorable Mentions list.

While it wouldn’t be accurate to say that Richards was entirely satisfied with what he got from Miranda—Richards prioritized defense ahead of offense, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t want offense too—it’s reasonable to conclude that on balance he felt that sticking with Miranda, more or less, was his best course of action under the circumstances, providing his patchwork pitching staff with optimal infield defensive support as he bought time to find and develop superior young talent. It’s reasonable to conclude this because in Richards’ next GM assignment, the from-scratch construction of the Houston Colt .45s, he would take the same course, making Bob “The Flea” Lillis (see above) a big league regular for the first time at age 32, and staying with him as his primary shortstop for several years.

The worst No. 8 hitter since 1957

OPS+: 26

Luis Gomez, shortstop, 1980 Atlanta Braves (team OPS+: 96)

         Overall:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
101  307   18    6   24   17    2   27    1   10    4    9    0    4 .191 .239 .212 .451

          When batting eighth:
 GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH  ROE  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
101  301   15    6   24   17    2   27    1   10    4    9    0    4 .188 .237 .210 .447

OK, quick, what do Gomez and Rafael Belliard have in common? I mean, aside from being 150-pound (yeah, I believe that) shortstops who couldn’t hit their way out of paper bag, but nonetheless forged major league careers as defensive-specialist shortstops?

Well, here’s what: The manager deploying both of them on their seasons appearing on this list was none other than Bobby Cox.

It’s a virtual certainty that Cox will one day be elected to the Hall of Fame, an honor that eluded Paul Richards. But something shared by Cox and Richards is a strong orientation toward creating the best possible conditions for pitchers in which to develop and thrive. Quite obviously, both were very willing to sacrifice offensive production from shortstop in order to achieve this.

Yet it’s also obvious that despite the astounding offensive futility of Gomez, Belliard, Miranda and Lillis, all were deployed with more nuance and proportionality that the ham-handed manner in which Giants managers Herman Franks and Clyde King steadfastly played Hal Lanier, season after season.

Though Cox started Gomez in 101 of his 121 appearances in 1980, he wasn’t hesitant to pull Gomez for a pinch-hitter as the situation demanded; overall, Cox gave Gomez just 2.54 plate appearances per game that season. Richards, as GM in Houston, despite operating under resource-poor conditions in a newborn expansion franchise, endeavored to provide an alternate shortstop for his field manager to swap out with Lillis and minimize his exposure on offense; when J.C. Hartman proved inadequate in that role in 1962-63, Richards went out and got Eddie Kasko.

Still, carefully modulated or not, these guys were pushing the envelope regarding how just how weak offensive production from a primary shortstop can get and still be tolerable. The OPS+ figure of 26 presented by Gomez in 1980 would have to be considered bleeding-edge.

Next installment

The noxious number nines.

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.

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