We’ve arrived at the ultimate destination on our tour of the lowlights of the batting order now, having visited leadoff, No. 2, No. 3, cleanup, No. 5, No. 6, and No. 7, and No. 8. This time we examine the caboose.
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. 9 job description
One is tempted to think that at No. 9 we’ve at last reached the true offensive nadir, but in truth, of course, the No. 9 slot is just the DH league’s equivalent of the non-DH league’s No. 8. Thus, while no one expects the No. 9 hitter to be any good—if he is, that’s a blessing, a luxury—in this aspect, we aren’t encountering anything we didn’t last time.
Thus what’s interesting about this collection of No. 9 hitters isn’t that they’re bad, it’s that the worst of them are this bad. Despite a much smaller source population to draw from (American League teams since 1973 only, as opposed to all NL teams since 1957 plus all AL teams from 1957-72), the worst No. 9 hitters we’ll see below are worse than the worst No. 8 hitters. Holy cow, it’s as though these teams figured that since they had the benefit of the DH they might as well start a guy in the ninth slot who hits almost as feebly as the typical pitcher. This would be, I believe, what logicians call a “fallacy.”
Here are this week’s guys who were bad, but not quite bad enough:
Team Rank OPS+ Player Pos Year Team Lg OPS+ 25 53 Fred Stanley SS-2B 1975 NYY AL 101 24 52 David Howard SS 1996 KCR AL 85 22T 51 Luis Gomez SS 1978 TOR AL 87 22T 51 Deivi Cruz SS 1997 DET AL 95 19T 50 Omar Vizquel SS 1989 SEA AL 96 19T 50 Alvaro Espinoza SS 1990 NYY AL 86 19T 50 Benji Gil SS 1997 TEX AL 96 16T 49 Gary Allenson C 1979 BOS AL 109 16T 49 Andy Allanson C 1986 CLE AL 109 16T 49 Wayne Tolleson SS 1987 NYY AL 100 14T 48 Frank Duffy SS 1977 CLE AL 98 14T 48 Alfredo Griffin SS 1984 TOR AL 104 12T 47 Dick Schofield SS 1984 CAL AL 94 12T 47 Jose Lind 2B 1993 KCR AL 88
Just like the No. 8 crew from last time, this group is composed entirely of players handling the key defensive positions of shortstop, second base and catcher; the great majority are shortstops.
The most notable cases here include Fred Stanley, because his nickname was “Chicken”—that was just cruel. Omar Vizquel broke in this way but then developed himself into a decent hitter through the heart of his career, but is now going out the way he came in. Showing versatility is Luis Gomez, who nabbed the top spot among No. 8 hitters, and Alfredo Griffin, whose name appeared here not only among No. 8 hitters, but also among leadoff hitters.
And how about this for a family legacy? Dick Schofield was a banjo-hitting shortstop with a career OPS+ of 73 whose dad was also a banjo-hitting shortstop named Dick Schofield with a career OPS+ of 73, and appeared in this series as one of the worst leadoff hitters of all time.
But surely the most fascinating is the case of the Allenson and Allanson boys. They were no relation, obviously, but just how weird is it that two guys with names this similar would not only play in the same league at about the same time, but would also play the same position, and would also both post OPS+ seasons of 49, and would also both do so for otherwise strong-hitting teams that both posted team OPS+ figures of 109? (Cue X-Files music.)
Tied for 10th-worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 98 315 24 12 14 15 0 31 0 11 3 14 0 1 .216 .253 .261 .515 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 91 285 18 10 12 15 0 28 0 8 3 12 0 1 .203 .245 .245 .491
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 84 270 19 13 20 11 1 26 5 4 5 10 1 0 .221 .267 .273 .540 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 84 270 19 13 20 11 1 26 5 4 5 10 1 0 .221 .267 .273 .540
Ah, Billy Ripken.
But Billy’s not-measuring-up status was so comprehensively perfect that the only one I’d truly consider to be his equal would be Tommie Aaron. As the boys in the Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book put it:
It is the fate of such men as Tommie Aaron, Hank Allen, and Vince DiMaggio, men who—if I may be permitted to put it in its frankest, most unflattering light—have seen fit to carry sibling rivalry far beyond the bounds of ordinary common sense, always to be referred to by their full names—as in TOMMIE Aaron or HANK Allen, with the emphasis on the TOMMIE and the HANK—while their teammates and older brothers are allowed to luxuriate in the relative stability of their surnames alone. Aaron, Allen, DiMaggio. Dennis Hull is always going to be DENNIS Hull just as Earl Averill, Jr., is always going to be Earl Averill, JR. It goes with the territory.
Of course it wasn’t bad enough that Tommie Aaron should have chosen to follow in the illustrious footsteps of his brother Henry, who is at this very moment closing in inexorably on Babe Ruth’s 714 career home run record, but that he should have chosen to do so on the same team as his brother, at the same time, and in the same position can only be described as a needless and willful public self-humiliation.
Indeed, Billy, why?
As for Ortiz, he was one of those no-power, no-walks slap hitters who gets by for several years by producing a good batting average. But when this kind of guy loses some bat speed, and the pokes and taps no longer have enough oomph on them to find holes, well, the results ain’t pretty.
The ninth-worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 146 501 41 12 34 34 0 54 4 10 8 10 2 5 .220 .279 .254 .533 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 136 462 36 10 30 30 0 50 4 9 8 10 2 5 .217 .274 .248 .522
Veryzer was … well, hang on, we’ll talk about him in a minute …
The eighth-worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 97 341 31 25 46 14 0 80 3 7 1 9 3 2 .204 .243 .342 .584 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 85 294 27 22 37 12 0 72 2 7 1 8 3 0 .200 .237 .341 .578
This was Matheny’s first year as a first-stringer, and he would improve meaningfully on this level of offense over the course of his career. Which is fortunate, because here he was pretty amazingly bad with the bat; a .243 on-base percentage is, well, not something you see every day. Matheny would never be a good hitter, but never again be as terrible as this.
But overall his career stands as effectively interchangeable with the rest of the serious good-field, no-hit catchers throughout history. His modern twin is Brad Ausmus, and together they followed the footsteps of the likes of Kirt Manwaring, Bruce Benedict, Mike Ryan, Bob Rodgers, Jim Hegan, Luke Sewell and Bill Killefer, marching in steadfast pilgrimage to lay a wreath upon the shrine to Bill Bergen.
The seventh-worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 115 383 36 12 21 19 0 41 0 18 5 5 4 1 .222 .260 .265 .526 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 96 312 28 10 20 13 0 33 0 16 5 4 4 1 .229 .260 .271 .532
Texas picked up the 19-year-old Norman from the Pittsburgh organization in a trade following the 1977 season, in anticipation that the team’s incumbent shortstop, 35-year-old Bert Campaneris, might soon be in need of replacement. Sure enough, in ’78 Campaneris fell off the cliff, but the Rangers didn’t rush Norman; they allowed him to play a full Triple-A season (in which he hit .284, but that was below the league average in the hitter’s-paradise PCL) even as Campaneris was producing an OPS+ of 37 and his backup, Jim Mason, was even worse with 29.
Thus when Texas installed the now 21-year-old Norman as its first-string shortstop in 1979, the Rangers expected he’d be ready to provide a reasonable contribution. As we see, he really wasn’t, but the Rangers nonetheless stuck with him as the regular for most of the year because his backup, Larvell Blanks, matched his woeful OPS+ of 43.
So for 1980, the Rangers would send Norman back to the minors and trade Blanks for a new shortstop, Pepe Frias. Alas, Frias would deliver an OPS+ of just 48, prompting Texas to go get yet another new shortstop—and that was none other than a fellow we’ll be meeting below.
Anyway, what it all added up to was that in 1978, Texas shortstops combined to deliver a .225/.294/.325 line (an OPS+ of 92 compared strictly to other major league shortstops); in 1979 it was .237/.277/.313 (shortstop OPS+ of 82), and in 1980 it was .240/.287/.275 (shortstop OPS+ of 75). That, folks, was a lot of bad shortstop hitting.
Tied for fifth-worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 109 349 32 8 20 16 0 29 6 12 4 8 4 4 .204 .255 .245 .500 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 108 344 30 8 19 16 0 29 6 11 4 8 4 4 .200 .252 .242 .494
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 126 456 47 16 26 22 0 90 3 7 5 5 9 7 .226 .267 .276 .543 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 86 285 26 9 18 11 0 61 1 4 3 3 3 5 .210 .242 .255 .497
Concepciόn had provided several years of acceptable service as a utility infielder for the Royals, but when thrust into the role of first-stringer in 1985 he was, as we see, not quite ready for prime time. However, manager Dick Howser’s other shortstop option that year was Buddy Biancalana, whose OPS+ was just 49, so Concepciόn kept on getting most of the starts.
Despite the dreadful offensive contribution from their shorstops, the Royals won the AL West in a fiercely close race. In the season’s final couple of weeks, Howser went with Biancalana as the starter, and continued to deploy him ahead of Concepciόn through the ALCS and World Series, both won by the Royals in seven-game decisions. In those 14 post-season contests, Concepciόn would make just a single plate appearance, and he would play in only one more major league game following 1985.
Guzmán has spent most of his career as a decent-hitting shortstop, but here he was a 21-year-old rookie who hadn’t before played above Double-A, and was struggling mightily. The switch-hitter just couldn’t get his left-handed stroke going in 1999, putting up a line of .201/.240/.231 in 328 plate appearances against right-handed pitching.
The fourth-worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 101 317 28 12 19 15 0 34 0 2 2 7 0 1 .201 .238 .245 .483 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 100 313 28 12 19 15 0 34 0 2 2 6 0 1 .204 .241 .248 .489
Perhaps there’s been a less likely major league first-stringer than Houston Jiménez, but I’m not sure who it would be. In the first place, Jiménez is variously listed in one source or another as weighing either 140 or 144 pounds; he was very, very small by modern big league standards. In the second place, he never projected as any kind of serious prospect, plodding along in the Mexican League as a slap-hitting shortstop for five and a half years before being abruptly released by the Puebla ball club in July of 1980 while hitting .244 with 10 extra-base hits in 254 at-bats.
Why he was released, I don’t know. The Minnesota Twins signed Jiménez in October of that year, but before the 1981 season opened they sold him to Reynosa of the Mexican League. While under contract with Reynosa in 1981-82, Jiménez never played at all. What that was all about, I don’t know either; he wasn’t on the disabled list, he just didn’t play. One has to presume there was some personal issue he was dealing with, or perhaps he was in legal trouble, or maybe he was just holding out.
At any rate Jiménez didn’t play an inning for a year and a half, which isn’t something one often sees in the development of future major leaguers, let alone future major league regulars. Finally, in July of 1982, the Twins organization bought him back, and he played in 37 Triple-A games over the balance of that season, producing a slugging percentage of .252. The following season Jiménez hit a little bit better in the International League, and in June the Twins promoted him to the majors and deployed him as a backup shortstop in 36 games, in which his OPS+ was 25.
This was the unlikely resume’ of the guy whom manager Billy Gardner would start in most of the Twins’ games at shortstop in 1984, the 35th and final season in which 73-year-old Calvin Griffith served as GM of the franchise his family had owned since 1920. It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Jiménez was nothing resembling a competent major league hitter, and after this season he would never appear in another Minnesota game.
Jiménez’s sterling glove would gain him brief major league trials with two other organizations, but he would reach base just twice in 29 times at bat. His big league career OPS+ was 24 in 158 games. Nevertheless, Jiménez would return to the Mexican League in the 1990s, and play as a regular shortstop into his 40s, and then become a manager. His long Mexican League career gained him election to the Salόn de la Fama.
The third-worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 121 446 35 17 22 9 0 55 1 14 7 8 1 4 .200 .218 .258 .475 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 97 293 26 11 16 8 0 37 1 9 5 7 0 3 .198 .222 .264 .486
My longtime SABR buddy Barry Mednick had an article published in the Baseball Research Journal in the 1980s entitled “They Could Run But They Couldn’t Walk,” identifying the major leaguers with the most microscopic rates of bases on balls. This fellow was a main character.
His 1977 rookie-season performance aside, Picciolo didn’t generally hit all that badly for a middle infielder; his career batting average was a not-terrible .234 and it came with a little bit of pop. But good grief, his strike zone discipline was something else again.
The nine-walk total we see Picciolo producing here would be his major league high, in nine seasons. His 1977 rate of nine in 446 plate appearances was .020—and that would be significantly higher than he would subsequently achieve; in 1,274 more times at bat following his rookie year, Picciolo would draw 15 non-intentional walks, a rate of .012.
Unlike most hitters who practically never draw a base on balls, Picciolo wasn’t an exceptional contact guy, the sort who regularly succeeds at putting the ball into play before the count has a chance to get deep enough to allow the walk to become possible. Picciolo was quite capable of yielding strikes; his career strikeout rate of .148 was slightly above the league average for his era. But taking four pitches outside the strike zone was a feat almost always beyond Picciolo’s grasp.
The second-worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Tom Veryzer, shortstop, 1977 Detroit Tigers (team OPS+: 94)
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 115 373 31 15 28 16 0 44 0 4 7 6 0 1 .197 .230 .254 .485 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 99 317 28 14 25 14 0 39 0 4 6 5 0 1 .216 .249 .280 .530
And here’s our friend Mr. Veryzer once again.
Veryzer was never a guy who was going to impress anyone as a good-hitting shortstop, but most of the time he could hold his own. But from time to time he’d decide to have a bad year with the bat, and when Veryzer had a bad year, he didn’t kid around.
In both of Veryzer’s bad years we see on this list, he found himself with companionship from teammate infielders. With the Indians in 1979, Veryzer and his double-play partner, second baseman Duane Kuiper, combined for a grand total of 26 extra-base hits in 1,029 plate apparances, an aggregate Isolated Power of .037. And with the Tigers in 1977, Veryzer and his fellow shorstops Chuck Scrivener (OPS+ of -37; yes, that’s negative 37), Mark Wagner (OPS+ of 26), and 19-year-old Alan Trammell (OPS+ of 21) to produce an overall line of, get this, .177/.219/.227 in 539 plate appearances, and OPS+ of 42 when compared with all other major league shortstops.
Fortunately for the Tigers, that Trammell kid would have a little improvement in him.
The worst No. 9 hitter since 1957
Overall: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 132 401 26 14 29 9 0 62 1 13 4 12 3 0 .198 .216 .249 .466 When batting ninth: GS PA R XBH RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH ROE GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS 132 391 26 14 29 9 0 62 1 13 4 11 3 0 .204 .222 .256 .478
Whoever first uttered it, the phrase became an instant classic: funny, descriptive, and oh so deadly accurate. Many times when a ballplayer attracts good-natured ribbing for his shortcomings, it’s hyperbolic: everyone knew that Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy wasn’t that bad a pitcher, and Curt “Clank” Blefary actually handled five different defensive positions at the major league level and compiled an aggregate fielding percentage of .983 against a league average of .988; not good but hardly disastrous. But the .200 batting average, an eternal benchmark of offensive futility, was indeed a level that Mario Mendoza persistently struggled to overcome.
Mendoza spent five seasons in a utility infielder role for the Pirates; in three of those years his average was below .200, his highest mark was .221, and his career average at that point stood at a precarious .204. But Pittsburgh had the good sense to deploy the slick-fielding Mendoza in strict backup mode: in those five years Mendoza started just 112 of the 324 games in which he appeared, and he came to bat 1.48 times per game. Nevertheless the Mariners—often in that period a franchise unafraid to commit the incomprehensible move—decided to trade for Mendoza and install him as their first-string shortstop in 1979.
And the performance Mendoza delivered was nothing if not in character: Of his 148 games in 1979, he ended the day at or above the Mendoza Line 53 percent of the time, and below it 47 percent. After May 9, his average was never higher than .210; after June 11 it was below .190 on only three days, the last of which was July 10.
And, of course, batting average was just the beginning of Mendoza’s offensive troubles. He was devoid of power, and rather like Rob Picciolo, Mendoza virtually never drew a walk while being rather susceptible to the strikeout. The OPS+ figure of 25 Mendoza posted in 1979 wasn’t just the lowest of any regular No. 9 hitter since 1957, it was the lowest presented by any regular at any batting order position since 1957, lower even than the mark presented by Luis Gomez as a regular No. 8 hitter in 1980.
Yet remember when we were detailing above the sustained run of shortstop offensive weakness the Texas Rangers had suffered in 1978-79-80? The guy they would acquire to take over as their primary shortstop for 1981 was, you guessed it, Señor Mendoza, and that season the Texas would get an aggregate line of .238/.272/.286 from the position, an OPS+ of 80 in comparison to major league shortstops.
Following his north-of-the-border career, Mendoza would play in the Mexican League until 1990, and is a member of the Salόn de la Fama.
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.
Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris, The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, Boston: Little, Brown, 1973, p. 113.
An alert and informative reader has provided an answer to the question raised above as to why Houston Jiménez sat out for a couple of years in the Mexican League in the early 1980s. Many thanks to Sr. Diego Campos Sobrino:
Hi Steve, about the year and a half that Houston Jiménez was out of organized baseball, you can find the reason in the Mexican League strike of 1980. He was one of the leaders in a movement for the player’s rights called the ANABE (Asociacion Nacional de Beisbolistas Profesionales) or (Baseball Players National Assotiation) that created the National League, an lternate professional league in Mexico which lasted about four years. Many players of that movement were banished from
Mexican League for life, and some of them like Houston Jiménez returned after his stint at the major league level.
More information about the subject (in Spanish) can be found at http://www.jaimecer vantes.netfirms. com/ArSindicato% 20II%20Parte. htm