A curious club—600 PAs, 20 BB, 20 K in the same season.

A question popped into my head—which players had 20 or fewer walks and strikeouts in a season of 600 or more plate appearances? My gut said Juan Pierre; my gut was wrong.

It’s happened 13 times by 11 men, and those who did it range from the obscure and unknown to Hall of Famers and those with decent Cooperstown cases.

The first to do it was Charles Comiskey, who before he became the Hall of Fame owner of the White Sox, was a middling first baseman who played mostly for the Browns in the 19th century. In 1889, he had 609 plate appearances, but walked and struck out just 19 times each. It was a decent campaign, as he hit .286 with 105 runs scored and 102 RBI in 137 games.

Comiskey was the first man to join the club; he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939. (Wikipedia).

Centerfielder Steve Brodie did it next, in 1894, when he hit .366 with 210 hits, 134 runs, 113 RBI, 18 walks and 8 strikeouts in 628 PAs. He whiffed once every 71.6 at-bats, but that rate didn’t even top the league—it was 6th, far behind Jack Doyle’s 142.3 AB/K (he struck out 3 times in 427 at-bats).

And that sexy batting average? Not so sexy after all. It wasn’t even among the top ten. Five players hit .400 or better that year, with Hugh Duffy pacing the loop with a .440 mark.

Hughie Jennings, a Hall of Famer, had just 19 walks and 11 strikeouts in 602 plate appearances in 1896. That season, he hit .401—which was second in the league—and led the NL with 51 hit by pitches. Not surprisingly, that is a league record.

In 9,745 plate appearances, Cross struck out just 217 times. (Wikipedia).

21-year veteran Lave Cross, who finished with over 2,600 hits and nearly 1,400 RBI, stepped to the plate 639 times in 1904, drawing just 13 walks and striking out 9 times. At 38, he was the oldest among those who accomplished the feat and the first man from the American League to do it. Unlike Brodie, his 67.4 AB/K led the league; he paced the loop twice more in that category and his 41.9 mark ranks 6th-best all-time.

*Random aside: I think a legitimate Hall of Fame case could be made for Cross, or maybe I’m a fool—he peaked at 0.4% in BBWAA balloting.

The feat didn’t happen again until 1920, when two players managed it. In 666 PAs, the Dodgers’ Ivy Olson had 20 BBs and 19 Ks, but he wasn’t getting on base with all those plate appearances he had to spare. He batted just .254 with a 68 OPS+.

Stuffy McInnis, owner of four World Series rings, over 2,400 hits and a .307 career average, also did it that year (624 PA, 18 BB, 19 K) and again in 1924 (611 PA, 15 BB, 6 K). Like Cross, he was notoriously difficult to strikeout, with his 96.8 AB/K ratio leading the league in 1924; he ranked in the top ten 14 times and his career 31.2 mark is 20th all-time. In 1925, he struck out just once in 175 plate appearances.*

*For context, the player with the most plate appearances with just one strikeout in 2021 is Andy Burns, with 15.

Woody Jensen was also a repeat offender, doing so in 1935 and 1936. The former season, he had 14 walks and 15 strikeouts in 657 plate appearances; the next, he led the league with 731 plate appearances and 696 at-bats, but walked and struck out 16 and 19 times, respectively. In 1938, he walked just once in 129 plate appearances. (That sounds like a rarity, just one walk in so many PAs, but Reed Johnson accomplished a similar rate as recently as 2014, when he had but a single BB in 201 trips to the plate).

Nine-time All-Star and 1940 MVP Frank McCormick, who few have ever heard of despite all his accolades, did it in 1938. He had 671 plate appearances and a league-leading 209 hits, while walking 18 times and striking out 17. The feat is an interesting novelty, but his career was more than that: He was All-Star each year from 1938 to 1946 and owns a World Series ring (1940); nevertheless, he’s been relegated to the dustbin of history.

So has Emil Verban, who in 1945 had 635 plate appearances, 19 walks and 15 strikeouts. Though he played seven seasons and had 400-plus plate appearances in five of them, he never struck out more than 18 times in a campaign. In 343 at-bats in 1949, he Ked just twice.

Don Mueller was an All-Star when he did it in 1955. In addition to his 19 walks and 12 strikeouts in 640 plate appearances, he batted .306—but had a measly 90 OPS+. He led the league in AB/K rate five times and is 25th all-time in that category.

Like McCormick, Power is an oft-forgotten All-Star. He made 6 teams and won 7 Gold Gloves. (Wikipedia).

Most recently—and it happened 63 years ago—Vic Power performed the feat, hitting .312 with 20 walks, 14 strikeouts and a league-leading 10 triples in 620 PAs between the Athletics and Indians in 1958.

Since Power, no player has gotten particularly close to matching the parameters set forth since. Expanding the BB and K limits to 25 adds just a couple more instances, with the most recent being Bobby Richardson in 1963 (668 PA, 25 BB, 22 K).

Even moving the goalposts to 30 each adds just a few more names, with the most recent occurrence still nearly forty years ago, in 1983. That year, Bill Buckner had 665 plate appearances, 25 walks and 30 strikeouts. He met those parameters five times.

I kept expanding the limits until I could fit my initial guess, Juan Pierre, into them. It took a little while. The list moved into the 21st century when I put them at 35, but just barely—in 2002, Paul Lo Duca had 632 PAs, 34 walks and 31 Ks. He’s the most recent to achieve those numbers.

How about 40? Success! In 2006 and 2007, Pierre had fewer than 40 walks and strikeouts and more than 600 plate appearances both seasons. In fact, he had more than 700 PAs each campaign, with 750 and 729, respectively.

Andrelton Simmons, in case you were wondering, was the last man with 50 or fewer walks and strikeouts in a 600-plus PA campaign, when he had 35 and 44, respectively, in exactly 600 plate appearances in 2018.

Unless there is a radical shift in the way the game is played, the 600-20-20 club might have added its last member in Power those many years ago. In this age of free swingers and 200-strikeout seasons, I cannot foresee a player reaching those numbers again.

But, as with all things in baseball—hey, you never know.

Clay Buchholz was as good as Walter Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Sometimes.

Clay Buchholz never lived up to the high expectations set for him. (Wikipedia).

A quick glance at Clay Buchholz’s career stats and you see that, eh, he wasn’t bad. Ninety wins, a couple All-Star selections, a 13-year career. The kind of run to tell the grandkids about.

He was supposed to be better than that, though. He was supposed to be a superstar, an ace, a legend. And if you take a closer look—sometimes, he pitched like one.

Selected by the Red Sox 42nd overall out of Angelina College in Texas in 2005, the right-hander tore through Boston’s system and was in the majors by 2007. His ERAs his first three years in the minors were 2.61, 2.42 and 2.44, respectively. He had 171 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings between two stops—including Triple-A Pawtucket—in 2007.

This kid was good.

And Baseball America thought so, too. They ranked him the 51st-best prospect in the sport going into 2007.

Making his big league debut on August 17, 2007, Buchholz went 6 innings against the Angels, allowing 8 hits and 3 earned runs. Despite winning the game, it was not a stellar start for the top prospect.

Perhaps he wouldn’t live up to the hype …

…never judge a book by its cover.

Facing Baltimore in his next showing, September 1, he silenced the bats of Nick Markakis, Miguel Tejada and the rest of that (admittedly mediocre) team, allowing no hits and just three walks to become the first pitcher to toss a no-no in his second career start since the White Sox Wilson Alvarez did it (also against Baltimore) in 1991.

He also had nine strikeouts in that game. Shades of Walter Johnson, anyone?

Then he earned another win in relief on September 6, not surrendering a run, and on September 19, his final appearance of the season, he allowed just one earned run in 4 2/3 innings.

In his first big league stint, Buchholz went 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 303 ERA+. He became the first starting pitcher to post an ERA+ that high in his first season (min. 20 IP) since the Orioles’ Bob Milacki in 1988. It’s only happened three times since 1950 (Cisco Carlos was the other, in 1967) and 11 times, ever, if you include available Negro league data. The last time a National Leaguer did it was in 1907.

Yeah, it’s a rare feat.

The folks at Baseball America were impressed. They ranked him #4 on their top 100 prospects list going into 2008. It’s hard to illustrate how elite that ranking is. He was placed on a pedestal higher than Clayton Kershaw (#7), Joey Votto (#44) and Max Scherzer (#66). Derek Jeter was once ranked #4. So was Chipper Jones.

And Baseball Prospectus liked him even more. They put him at number 2.

But even the best can let us down.

In 2008, he fell to 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA; in 76 innings, he allowed 93 hits. Whether it was pressure to perform or issues with mechanics or lingering health problems—he’d experienced shoulder fatigue the year before—he left the baseball world wondering, what the heck happened?

Buchholz’s 2.33 ERA was second in the American League in 2010. (Wikipedia).

But the old Buchholz was still there. In the minors that year, he had a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts, averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He just didn’t show up on the big league stage.

2009 was an improvement, but it was like when your stocks tank and they’re working they’re way back up. Yes, it’s better than before, but still not where you want to be. In 16 starts, he was 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA. Once again, he performed like a future superstar in the minors, going 7-2 with a 2.36 mark in 99 innings.

He just needed to translate that to the majors.

In 2010, it looked like he finally arrived. Making 28 starts for Boston, Buchholz went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and 187 ERA+. In 173 2/3 innings, he surrendered only 9 home runs. He was an All-Star. He earned Cy Young support. He was the first Sox pitcher to have a full season ERA that low or ERA+ that high since Pedro Martinez, and was just the third since 1944 to accomplish the feat. Babe Ruth did it. So did Cy Young and Smoky Joe Wood.

Buchholz was back, baby.

Or not. In 2011, he made just 14 starts and had a 3.48 ERA; his number in April was 5.33. In 2012, he was 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA. That year, he carried an ERA over nine into early May and a mark of 6.58 into June.

Superstardom was put on hold.

Briefly, once again, it seemed. Beginning 2013 with a 1.01 ERA through May 1, the resurgent hurler was 9-0 with a mark of 1.71 through June 8 … just to suffer a neck strain and miss the rest of the month, July, August, and early September. He returned to make four starts to finish the year and didn’t skip a beat—he lost just one game, on September 21, and was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA and 237 ERA+ in 16 games on the season.

Greg Maddux had an ERA+ of 230 or greater twice, in 1994 and 1995. (Wikipedia).

The only other Red Sox starting pitcher with an ERA+ over 230 in a season of 15 games or more was Pedro Martinez, who did it in 1999 and 2000. Excluding Negro leaguers, it has only happened 13 times in the history of the game. The club includes Walter Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson and Christy Mathewson.

Buchholz was back, baby. For real this time.

And again … or not. He was 8-11 with a 5.34 mark in 2014 and that began his spiral into mediocrity. From 2014 to 2017, he was 23-29 with a 4.73 ERA in 430 1/3 innings. On December 20, 2016, Boston gave up on him and traded him to the Phillies for a minor leaguer of no consequence,  Josh Tobias.

After a poor two game stint with Philadelphia in 2017, he was given his walking papers after the season and joined the Royals, who ditched him in May 2018 before he could play a game. The Diamondbacks picked him up less than a week later, put him in their rotation and — oh yeah! Clay Buchholz was back, baby!

In 16 starts with them, he was 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA and 209 ERA+. Sure, it was a stunted campaign, but it was an unbelievable one—besides Buchholz, no Diamondbacks starter who played at least half a season has ever posted an ERA that low or an ERA+ that high. Not Randy Johnson. Not Curt Schilling.

You know what happened next. He was granted free agency the following season. The Blue Jays signed him. He went 2-5 with a 6.56 ERA in 12 starts.

There would be no next time. Buchholz rode his last rodeo in Toronto to conclude an underwhelming career. He finished with six seasons with ERAs over 4.50 and three of 6 or higher.

For half his career, or thereabouts, he was awful.

For a third of it, however, he was legendary. Between his 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2018 seasons, Buchholz tossed 403 innings and surrendered just 92 runs for a 2.05 ERA. He was 39-11, a winning percentage of .780. His lowest ERA+ was 187.

Here is a list of nine illustrious baseball names: Pedro Martinez, Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Randy Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Bill Foster, Lefty Grove.  Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers, or Hall of Fame-quality players all.

What do they have in common? They’re the only other starting pitchers with four or more seasons with an ERA+ of 180 or greater.

Buchholz is number ten.

Remove those Hall of Fame-level years from his ledger, and his career numbers look like this:

51 wins, 58 losses, 4.81 ERA.

Buchholz might be the best worst pitcher ever.

Three milestones indicate greatness for major league catchers.

No catcher has hit more home runs than Mike Piazza. (Wikipedia).

Recently, I covered the 300-300 club and the 50-20 club, each of which has at least one unusual member. The former, for example, featured Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders, who hit over 300 home runs and stole at least 300 bases each.

The 50-20 club, likewise, is laced with legends like Willie Mays—and also includes Brady Anderson among its number.

But here’s one collection of milestones that has only ever been achieved by the best of the best, the most elite catchers of all-time:

2,000 hits, 300 home runs, 1,000 RBI.

Only six backstops have reached all three and there is no questioning their greatness:

Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Gary Carter and Ivan Rodriguez.

Piazza leads the pack with 427 homers and added 2,127 hits and 1,335 RBI for good measure. Rodriguez managed the most hits at 2,844, and had 311 home runs and 1,332 RBI to boot.

The RBI champ was Yogi Berra, who finished with 1,430—which makes sense. He played on Yankees teams that featured names like Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Hank Bauer. With all that star power getting on base around him, he had ample opportunity to drive guys in.  

Carter had 324 home runs, 2,092 hits and 1,225 RBI. Fisk, 376, 2,356 and 1,330, respectively. Bench clobbered 389 homers with 2,048 knocks and 1,376 RBI.

They’re the only catchers who reached the hit and home run milestones and scored 1,000 runs, as well.

What if we eliminate one of those markers, say RBI. Is the club any less illustrious without ribbies?

No. No outliers to complicate things yet.

How about 2,000 hits and 1,000 RBI, minus the home runs? Still no.

Phew, this really is an elite club, no need to ask any further—

What about 300 home runs and 1,000 RBI, who cares about the hits?

Well, hold onto your seats: Outlier alert.

In fact, the 300 HR/1,000 RBI catcher cabal does have one unexpected member. See if you can guess who it is:

From 1977 to 1995, this backstop played 1,988 games, hitting .252 with 324 home runs and 1,070 RBI. He had just 1,782 hits, but made 8 All-Star teams, won 6 Silver Sluggers and 3 Gold Gloves, and owns a World Series ring. He spent most of his career with the Tigers.

Got it yet?

It’s Lance Parrish.

And while all those other guys were elected to the Hall of Fame in their first few tries (Carter took the longest, appearing on the ballot six times before he made it), Parrish received a resounding 1.7 percent of the vote in 2001 and dropped off the ballot.

I’ve said in the past that being a member of elite clubs does not necessarily make a player elite, or a Hall of Famer.

But with Parrish right up there with the absolute greatest catchers of all-time, well …

Maybe we need to make an exception.

***

The 2000/300/1000 club contains only two second baseman, Robinson Cano and Jeff Kent, and, incredibly, there’s a strong possibility neither will be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Two shortstops reached those marks as well: Cal Ripken, Jr. and Miguel Tejada. Tejada is not a Hall of Famer and likely will never be one, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him get in.

Among third basemen, the club has a few more members. The Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Adrian Beltre, Chipper Jones, Ron Santo and Scott Rolen. The unexpected: Graig Nettles, Aramis Ramirez and Gary Gaetti.

Darren O’Day is the best relief pitcher of all time. (And, a bunch of other guys were really good, too).

Closers get all the love. They get all the glory. Coming in to finish out a tight game in the bottom of the ninth, all eyes on them, they’re the ones who make the headlines the next day.

But you gotta give credit to the hurlers who got them there to begin with.

That’s the relievers. The setup guys. The long men. In between the starting pitcher and the finisher is the man in the middle, for whom they bestow little recognition or accolade.

Some make All-Star Games. None have won a Cy Young Award.

And it is those pitchers that we’ll be discussing today—the best relievers in the game, not the best closers.

Technically, yes, closing pitchers are relief pitchers, but modern baseball has cast a clear delineation between the two. Nowadays calling a closer a reliever because they both pitch in relief is the same as calling a reliever a starter because they’re both pitchers.

They serve distinctly different roles.

*Even when a reliever serves as an opener, he is still largely acting in the role of a relief pitcher: Tossing one or two innings before surrendering the ball.

For the sake of this piece, to qualify as a reliever rather than a closer, no more than 10 percent of a pitcher’s appearances resulted in a save and 80 percent of his games, at least, had to be in relief. And a pitcher could not have been a team’s primary closer more than two or three seasons. To whittle it down further, I limited it to hurlers with over 500 appearances.

That leaves us with 42 guys.

Among the worst were John Grabow, Shawn Camp and Boone Logan. Grabow and Logan were lefties—ah, what a blessing it is to be sinistral in baseball. While more capable right-handed pitchers around you get cast off, you keep getting job after job after job …

John Grabow somehow lasted nearly a decade in the majors. (Wikipedia).

Grabow made 506 appearances from 2003 to 2011, posting a 4.31 ERA and 99 ERA+, while averaging more than a hit allowed per inning and more than 4 walks per 9. Camp pitched from 2004 to 2014, appearing in 541 games and posting a 4.41 mark; he averaged only 6.1 K/9 IP and allowed nearly 100 more hits than innings pitched. Logan pitched in 635 games from 2006 to 2018, finishing with a 4.50 ERA. His saving grace was his strikeout ability—he averaged nearly 10 per 9 frames, and he did have some good seasons … but a bunch of clunkers, too. Respectively, their Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference, were 1.9, 2.0 and 2.3.

They don’t belong here.

But Jared Hughes, he was pretty good. The quirky hurler with all the goofy headshots spent ten seasons in the majors, until 2020, posting a 2.96 ERA and 138 ERA+ in 542 games. Between 2014 and 2018, pitching for Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, he had a 2.41 mark in 345 games—and just 9 saves.

Yeah, that’s the kind of guy I’m talking about.

So is submarining Chad Bradford, who during the high-flying 1990s and 2000s, made 561 appearances and posted a 3.26 ERA and 138 ERA+. In his second-to-last campaign, his numbers were 2.12 and 211, respectively. Total saves: 11. Ooh yeah, Chad, you were better than people give you credit for. If they credit you at all.

Pedro Strop was solid, too, posting a 2.61 ERA from 2014 to 2018. From 2002 to 2005, Damaso Marte had a 2.78 ERA and 166 ERA+. Bob Howry had a good run and so did Jason Frasor.

But let’s kick it up a notch. He of the funky motion, Pat Neshek, defied the odds and made two All-Star Games in a career that spanned from 2006 to 2019. After a rocky start in which he missed all of 2009 and had an ERA of 4.40 from 2008 to 2011, he cranked it into high gear and had a 2.64 ERA the rest of the way. In 544 career games, his mark was 2.82; he had just 12 saves.

Starters get credit for the win. Closers seal the win. These are the guys who keep the games winnable.

Injuries cut Jesse Crain’s career to just ten seasons. (Wikipedia).

For 10 seasons, Jesse Crain, who spent most of his career with the Twins, was among the best at doing just that. He began his career with a 2.00 mark in 22 games in 2004 and ended it with a 0.74 ERA and an All-Star selection in 38 games in 2013; he was only getting better, too, improving his ERA each year from 2010 onward; his mark from 2011 to 2013 was 2.10 with a 205 ERA+ in 156 games. A bum shoulder ruined him. He had 4 total saves.

But those 4 saves aren’t even the fewest of the qualifying relief pitchers here. Rather, Ray King, a solid hurler from 1999 to 2008, converted only 2 in 593 games. He wasn’t bad—his career ERA+ was 126—but his services were more valuable as a left-handed specialist rather than a stopper.

We’re not talking solid here, however. We’re talking the best.

Tony Watson, currently of the Giants after beginning 2021 with the Angels, has had a fairly rough go of it this year, to the tune of a 3.77 ERA. That’s almost a full point higher than his career mark of 2.87. From 2013 to 2020, he posted a 2.65 ERA and 149 ERA+ for three teams; his performance earned him an All-Star selection in 2014 and some save opportunities in 2016 and 2017. But because he had no more than 15 in a season—and he has just 32 for his career—Watson earns a mention here.

Only four qualifying relievers have a career WAR of 13 or better—Jeff Nelson, Joe Smith and Steve Reed are three of them.

And it is hard to deny, for the roles they were called upon to fill, they were among the best.

Without Nelson, the Yankees might not have won four World Series. Without Nelson, they might not have gone deep into the playoffs, at all.

The hurler spent 15 years in the majors, five-and-a-half in New York. He made 331 appearances with the Yanks in the regular season, but it is in the postseason where he shined. In 55 October games, he had a 2.65 ERA, averaging more than a strikeout per inning. In 13 of the series he pitched for New York, he didn’t allow a single run; in the Fall Classic, his career mark was 1.69.

Mariano Rivera made the papers. Nelson made the right pitches.

Smith, technically, is still going, but he missed all of 2020 and is having a poor 2021. No matter. From 2007 to 2019, the hurler appeared in 782 games. He was the consummate middle man, finishing only 161 of them and saving just 30. But he also had a 2.98 ERA and a 136 ERA+; he and Reed are the only two pitchers with 800 or more total appearances and ERA+s of greater than 130.

And Steve Reed, he tossed 833 games in his career—more than half with the Rockies!—with marks of 3.63 and 132, respectively. The former number seems a little elevated, but recall, he pitched in the thin Denver air during the 1990s and 2000s, when balls were flying all over the place. Reed owns the most WAR among anyone on this list at 17.8.

But he took more than 830 games to get there.

Including his stunted campaigns, O’Day has had an ERA+ of 200 or more six times. (Wikipedia).

Making over 200 fewer appearances, current Yankees hurler Darren O’Day has just 0.4 less WAR at 17.4. Beginning his career in 2008, O’Day has been nothing but dominant. In his second campaign, he had a 1.84 ERA in 68 games between the Mets and Rangers, and from then until 2015, he posted a mark of 2.07 and a 206 ERA+, averaging more than a strikeout per inning and allowing just 286 hits in 400 1/3 frames. Home runs against him are a rarity, and so are walks, as he allows 0.9 and 2.5 per 9 innings, on average.   

Since 2016, health issues have hampered him, but effectiveness issues have not—he’s averaged 11.3 K/9 IP over the past six years.

He is head and shoulders above anyone else on the list. Neshek had the second-best ERA and ERA+ at 2.82 and 146, respectively. O’Day’s are 2.53 and 171. In WHIP (1.023), K/BB ratio (3.77) and, heck, wild pitches (3), no pitcher bests him.

All that, and he has just 21 saves.

If ever relief pitchers—not closers, not relievers who spent a few years closing, but relievers who spent their whole careers in a non-closing role—begin to make the Hall of Fame, O’Day better be at the front of the line.

You think I’m joking? Dennis Eckersley became a reliever in 1987 and a closer in 1988; in 695 games between those two roles, he had 16.8 WAR. That’s 0.0242 WAR per appearance. Trevor Hoffman averaged 0.0271 WAR per game. Rollie Fingers, 0.0265.

O’Day has averaged 0.0283 WAR per appearance—that’s a rate more than 15 percent higher than Eckersley; it’s better than two other Hall of Fame closers.

Few truly great pure relief pitchers exist today, and they’ve been almost just as rare throughout baseball history. Chad Bradford was good and Jesse Crain, he was great.

But Darren O’Day, well, they don’t get better than him.

Sorry, your .300 average is garbage.

I love a high batting average; a mark of .300 is very sexy.

But even I have to admit, a weighty average doesn’t necessarily mean a great season. Two hundred hits aren’t that impressive when they are mostly singles—a guy who dinks and donks his way to first base isn’t likely to drive too many runs home or, unless he’s fast, score many runs himself.

Let’s take a look at some high-average seasons that really weren’t that great, after all. To put this piece together, I looked up players who hit .300 or better with an OPS+ of less than 100; to keep the list a bit more manageable, I included only those that qualified for the batting title.

Pinky Whitney later hit .341 in 1937 … and had an OPS+ of 121. (Wikipedia).

One of the most incredible years was that of Pinky Whitney in 1930. That season, he batted .342 with 207 hits and 117 RBI in 149 games for the Phillies. On paper, those are incredible numbers.

But looks are deceiving. Whitney had just 54 extra base hits, including 8 home runs, in that high-flying campaign in which the National League batted .303 as a whole. Drawing only 40 walks, he didn’t do much to improve his on-base percentage and, by connection, his OPS+.

In a double whammy, his OPS+ also suffered because the stat takes league averages into account and—despite his gaudy numbers—he did not stack up well against his contemporaries. 100 is considered average; his OPS+ was 98.

Consider this: In the modern game, his 207 knocks would have led the National League in six of the past eight seasons; in the AL, they would’ve led in 22 of the past 30 campaigns. They were good for ninth in the NL in 1930. And his batting mark didn’t lead the league, not by a long shot—it didn’t even make the top ten; it was 14th.*

*Bill Terry paced the loop with a .401 mark; Babe Herman was second at .393.

In fact, none of the high-average, low-OPS+ players led the league in batting average during their mediocre campaigns and only one led in hits—Boston’s Doc Cramer, who had 200 in 1940.

Observers of the time didn’t think too highly of Doc Cramer. He peaked at 6% of the Hall of Fame vote. (Wikipedia).

Cramer, despite finishing with over 2,700 career knocks, was a notoriously empty hitter. Possessing little power, he hit just 37 home runs in 20 seasons, and cursed with minimal speed, he had just 62 stolen bases. He slugged only .375 for his career and walked no more than 51 times in a season.

Despite his shortcomings, he made five All-Star teams and batted .300 or better eight times. Not surprisingly, five of those campaigns qualify here, with 1938 among the worst. Hitting .301 with 198 hits in 148 games, he managed a paltry OPS+ of 80 that year.

Cramer was a rare breed, as few other players had 200 or more hits in their inglorious seasons, and six of the 12 times it happened were in the 1990s or after. Juan Pierre did it twice, in 2001 (202 H, .327 BA, 89 OPS+) and 2003 (204 H, .305 BA, 94 OPS+) and, most recently, Ender Inciarte (201 H, .304 BA, 98 OPS+) and Dee Strange-Gordon (201 H, .308 BA, 97 OPS+) managed the feat in 2017. Mark Grudzielanek (201 H, .306 BA, 93 OPS+ in 1996) and Michael Young (.306 BA, 204 H, 97 OPS+ in 2003) did it, as well.

There were multiple repeat offenders, spanning all of baseball history. Turn of the century Irish outfielder Patsy Donovan hit .300 or better, just to have a middling, sub-100 OPS+, three times. So did dead ball first baseman Stuffy McInnis, 1930s outfielder Ethan Allen, and second baseman Luis Castillo, who played as recently as 2010. Even a Hall of Famer, first baseman George Sisler, did it thrice, while Buddy Myer— a second baseman who has his Cooperstown supporters—did it too.

Luis Castillo had nearly 1,900 hits, less than 300 of which went for extra bases. (Wikipedia).

But which was the most futile of these ostensibly impressive .300 campaigns? You have to go back to 1894 for that. Playing for the Cleveland Spiders, first baseman Patsy Tebeau batted .302 with 158 hits in 125 games.

Hey, that’s not too bad! Well, actually …

That year, the National League was even more offensive than 1930, with a league batting average of .309, so Tebeau actually hit seven points lower than league average. If you neutralize his statistics to 2021, his average drops to .234.

His OPS+ was 75. To put that in context, Gorman Thomas, hit .215 in 1985 and had an OPS+ of 112.

Wonky, high BA/low OPS+ seasons are mostly vestiges of days long past. There were 142 instances from before 1950; since, just 47. Though in recent years, they’ve begun to make a comeback.

Just last year, in that shortened 60-game sprint, Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia hit .321 with a 99 OPS+—and I bet he wishes he could have that season back, as his marks have dropped 33 and 11 points, respectively, this year.

Since 1990, it’s happened 36 times (in fact, it happened for the first time in 11 years in 1994) and 23 times since 2000. Names you thought were better than that populate the list, too: D.J. LeMahieu is on it (twice!), and so are Kenny Lofton, Wade Boggs, Ivan Rodriguez, Placido Polanco and Jacoby Ellsbury. Hey, at least Ellsbury led the league with 70 steals when he did it.

But there has to be balance between showy stats and actual production.

Unfortunately, however, these seasons were a lot like those fake Rolex’s you buy on the streets of New York. At first glance they look like the real deal, super flashy, pretty great … but then, you look a little closer and, well, it seems you got ripped off.

Max Muncy’s 2019 was pretty unusual (introducing the Muncy Ratio).

Max Muncy, the father of the Muncy Ratio. (Wikipedia).

Slugging infielder Max Muncy doesn’t match up with some of the names who have done it, but in 2019 he achieved a thrice-in-a-decade feat.

That year, he had 122 hits and crossed the plate 101 times, an astonishing hit-to-run ratio of 1.21, which was accomplished by only two other players in the 2010s (minimum 100 hits).

In 2011, Curtis Granderson scored 136 runs on 153 hits and in 2017, Aaron Judge scored 128 runs on 154 hits. Since 1950, the Muncy Ratio, as we’ll call it, happened just 25 times, and only 46 times since 1900.

But, historically, it isn’t rare. In the small ball, high-steal, often wonky days of  19th century baseball, it happened 114 times. Ross Barnes did it first in 1873, when he had 125 runs on just 138 hits, then he did it again in 1876, with 126 runs and 138 hits.

In 1884 Billy Hamilton, the renowned speedster, had 198 runs on 225 hits, and Hall of Famer King Kelly nearly hit the magic ratio of 1:1 in 1885, scoring 124 runs on 126 hits.

If a Hall of Famer couldn’t do it, some lesser names could. Emmett Seery—whose claim to fame still hasn’t been established nearly a century-and-a-half later—scored 104 runs and had the same number of hits for the long-since forgotten Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1887.

Honestly, if we were discussing this feat in the 1800s, no one would be impressed. Eight men scored more runs than had hits between 1884 and 1890 alone. George Gore did it twice. Seery’s accomplishment is unique, sure, but the Muncy Ratio—the very reason for this article!—eh, it’d be nothing to write home about about.

Harry Stovey achieved the Ratio more than anybody. (Wikipedia).

Harry Stovey managed it eight times, including four years in a row. Bid McPhee, a Hall of Famer, and George Gore—who should be in the Hall if you ask the right folks—did it five times each. Even Tom BrownTom who??—did it four times.

Then the 20th century dawned. The Ratio, which was achieved eight times from 1895 to 1899, didn’t occur again until 1911—it happened four times that decade, and Donie Bush owns two of its instances.

It saw a resurgence in the high-flying 1920s and 1930s, occurring 15 times. Of course Babe Ruth accomplished it, three times in fact, but so did Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell, twice, each. In 1930, Max Bishop, known for being a walks machine, was the first player to score more runs than have hits in a season since 1890. That year, he trotted home 117 times on just 111 hits. He was also the last player to manage a hit-to-run ratio of less than one-to-one.

As offenses came down to earth, the mark again became a rarity. Only two men did it in the 1940s, none in the 1950s, two in the 1960s and one in the 1970s, with Jim Wynn the only man to do it that decade. He also achieved it in 1969.

Rickey Henderson and Eric Davis tried to bring the trend back in the 1980s and it worked, sort of. Both did it twice, and Henderson did it five times overall.

As the game became offensive again in the 1990s, it saw an uptick in the hit-run phenomenon. It was achieved six times by four players in that ten-year span.

Then 2000s Barry Bonds happened. With hurlers pitching around him at record rates, he was getting on base with superhuman frequency—and, with guys like Jeff Kent batting behind him, scoring a lot. He accomplished the feat four times in a five year span, but still doesn’t own the most impressive season of those who did it that decade: In 2000, Jeff Bagwell led the league with 152 runs scored on just 183 hits.

While nearly all the players who reach the Ratio rank as very good-to-great and have or had All-Star potential, sometimes a total outlier crops up and joins the club. In 2005, David Dellucci did just that, scoring 97 runs on just 109 hits. It was one of only two seasons in which he had 100-plus knocks.

And here we are today. Max Muncy was the last player to reach the ratio he established, and though he’s managed it just once, he’s gotten close in other years, as well. In 2018, he had a hit-to-run ratio of 1.41-to-1. This year, he’s at 1.31. And last year, had he played a full season, he would have bested the Muncy Ratio with a mark of 1.08.

Fernando Tatis, Jr. is on the verge of qualifying for the Muncy Ratio. (Wikipedia).

There are a few factors that allow for the phenomenon to unfold. Drawing walks is key—58 of those who achieved it had on-base percentages of .400 or better when they did. Speed helps, too, especially for those who hit a lot of singles or don’t have a good eye at the plate. Sixty-nine of the players who achieved the Muncy Ratio had stolen at least 40 bases.

Home runs contribute. By dint of what they are they achieve a H:R ratio of 1:1 each time they’re hit. And triples, they’re not quite home runs, but they get a player as close to scoring as possible without going all around the bases. Sixty-two of those who managed the Ratio had 10 or more when they did it.

And most importantly, batters need other solid hitters in the lineup to drive them in—a triple is only a run scored if someone else pokes one into the outfield or himself hits a big fly. Otherwise, it’s a wasted opportunity.

Sure, it’s a novelty, the Muncy Ratio. But those who achieve it, in the 21st century at least, are in fairly rare territory. And though the club’s membership might expand by two this year, with Fernando Tatis, Jr. (98 H, 83 R) and Joey Gallo (81 H, 70 R) right at its doorstep, do recall—

It’s a group neither Willie Mays, nor Joe DiMaggio, nor Frank Robinson, nor Hank Aaron, nor Ken Griffey, Jr., nor Lou Brock, nor Ty Cobb ever managed to joined.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 19, 2021.

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t started more than 30 games since 2015. (Wikipedia)

Kershaw’s greatness is past: Clayton Kershaw remains one of the greatest pitchers of the past fifty years—but Kershaw the superhuman is no more. Granted, pound for pound he’s still among the best in the game, when he pitches. But he hasn’t tossed more than 180 innings in a season since 2015 and has averaged just 138 innings in the six succeeding campaigns. To be among the best, a player has to play. And Kershaw hasn’t done enough of that in recent years.

Chirinos is killing it: Catcher Robinson Chirinos, a career .232 batter, is hitting the cover off the ball. Over the past week, he’s slashed .471/.591/.824 with 3 doubles and a home run. On the year, he has a stellar 166 OPS+.

Giving Zavala some love, too: Catcher Seby Zavala isn’t a household name, and his 2021 season likely won’t make him one, but give credit where credit is due. Over the past month, he’s hit 4 home runs with 13 RBI and scored 12 runs on just 11 hits. The White Sox other catching options, Zack Collins and Yasmani Grandal, have disappointed—but Zavala is cranking along.

Littell is making a name for himself: Reliever Zack Littell is one of the reasons the Giants’ pitching staff is among the best in the league. He has a 2.74 ERA in 44 appearances this year, and didn’t allow a run, while striking out 10 batters, in a recent 6 game, 8 2/3 inning stretch. Two years ago, with Minnesota, he had a 2.68 ERA in 29 games.

Head-ing for greatness? Maybe not, but Rays reliever Louis Head has been an unsung hero on that first place club. In 19 appearances this year, he has a 2.49 ERA; this past month, he’s averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Fargas designated for assignment: Johneshwy Fargas, who the Mets let walk earlier this year, has been DFA’d by the Cubs. Here’s hoping a return to New York is imminent—he hit .286 in his brief showing with the Mets and has stolen 50-plus bags in the minors twice. He could be an asset.

Parra reaches 1, 500 games played: While Joey Votto was stealing the spotlight with his 2,000th career hit, Nationals outfielder Gerardo Parra recently reached 1,500 games played. Cesar Hernandez passed 1,000 this past week, as well.

Milestones galore: Bryce Harper recently blasted his 250th home run, Jose Ramirez eclipsed 500 RBI, Marcus Semien knocked his 200th double, Elvis Andrus reached 50 triples, Freddie Freeman drew his 100th intentional walk (and J.D. Martinez reached 50), Nolan Arenado and Jean Segura passed 5,000 plate appearances and Yadier Molina reached 3,000 total bases.

Jumbo Diaz averaged more than a strikeout per inning for his career. (Wikipedia)

Jumbo earned the nickname: Remember Reds reliever Jumbo Diaz? At the end of 2013, he weighed an astonishing 348 pounds! He managed to drop nearly 70 pounds for 2014, quite an impressive feat. But still, during his time in the majors, he had a listed playing weight of 315.

Moye is a cautionary tale: I’m sure few people remember him, but Andy Moye is a cautionary tale for players drafted by big league clubs. The starting pitcher was taken by the New York Mets in the 11th round of the 2006 draft, but did not sign a contract. Bad choice. His stock fell so much that the next time he was drafted, 2009, it was in the 50th round — the very last round in the draft. He was the seventh to last player taken overall. Ouch. He forged a four-year pro career, but never advanced beyond Double-A.

Garritano dies: I don’t want this to become a death blog, but the baseball fraternity lost another member just a couple weeks ago.  Catcher Arnie Garritano never played professionally, but was drafted by the Tigers in 1983. He died August 8 at 57 years old.

Studs and duds: August 12 – August 18

In terms of performance, the top batters and pitchers cooled off a little bit since the last writing, but there were still some excellent showings in the week of August 12 to August 18.

Dansby Swanson is finally living up to his first round billing. (Wikipedia)

Offensive stud: Dansby Swanson (SS, Braves). It’s been a rocky road getting to this point for Swanson, as he was hitting below .250 as recently as August 3 … and for his career, prior to 2021. If this past week was any indication, however, it looks like the former number one overall pick is turning a corner. In 31 at-bats, he collected 13 hits for a .419 average, with 4 of his knocks going over the fence. Not much of a slugger prior to 2021, his slugging percentage of .806 in this recent hot streak was downright Ruthian. To this day, the Diamondbacks brass must be kicking themselves for trading him away (how’s Shelby Miller working out for ya?).

Honorable mention: Max Muncy (IF, Dodgers; .364 BA, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 4 BB).

Offensive dud: Gavin Lux (IF, Dodgers). Lux retains his title as Dudliest Dud, making Los Angeles fans cringe with his 0-for-6 showing and 2 errors since coming off the Injured List a few days ago. His shuffling return reminds fans of how underwhelming the 2016 first round pick has been since joining the big club three years ago, as he’s hit just .218 in 126 games.

Dishonorable mention: Ramon Urias (IF, Orioles; 1-for-14, 6 K, 2 E). The only thing saving him from the title is a slightly more impressive defensive performance. 

Pitching stud: Logan Webb (SP, Giants). After earning the honorable mention yesterday, Webb ascends to this week’s pitching stud. Winning both of his starts, Webb tossed 13 1/3 innings, striking out 16 batters and walking just 3. He’s finally put it all together this year, maintaining a pitching line of 7-3, 2.92 after going just 5-9, 5.36 the prior two seasons. He’s among the best on a pitching staff that’s won 78 games and features Cy Young candidate Kevin Gausman.

Honorable mention: Charlie Morton (SP, Braves; 2-0 W-L, 12 IP, 16 K, 3 BB, 2 QS).

Pitching dud: Jorge Lopez (SP, Orioles). As with Lux above, Lopez retains his title, with his 3 1/3 inning, 7 run performance a few days ago so abhorrent no pitcher has stepped up to match it. He’s starting today — let’s see if he can twirl a gem and pull himself out of such mediocrity. I’m not hopeful. He’s never completed a game, but he’s allowed 5 or more runs 17 times — including 6 times this season.

Dishonorable mention: Dan Winkler (RP, Cubs; 0.1 IP, 6 H, 4 BB, 9 ER). … and he didn’t even take the loss!  

Studs and duds, August 11 – August 17

Amazing things can happen when given a sample size of just a few games, and so can total disasters. Let’s see who the studs and duds were from the week of August 11 to August 17.

Teoscar Hernandez, the stud.

Offensive stud:  Teoscar Hernandez (OF, Blue Jays). Hernandez has quietly been one of the game’s better sluggers since joining the league in 2016, with a career slugging percentage of .502. The past week shows he is firing on all cylinders in what has been a career year, as he’s collected 12 hits in 25 at-bats for a .480 batting mark. He’s hit 4 home runs – including a grand slam – and driven 10 runs in, while whiffing just 5 times. He has all the makings of a one-year wonder, but let’s enjoy his performance while we can.

Honorable mention: Ozzie Albies (2B, Braves; .344 BA, 4 HR, 2 SB, 11 RBI).

Offensive dud: Gavin Lux (IF, Dodgers). Welcome back from the Injured List, Gavin. Nice job in your return. Two errors, a strikeout and a 0-for-3 showing at the plate. You were a first round pick once, right?

Dishonorable mention: Greg Deichmann (OF, Cubs; .222 BA, 9 AB, 5 K, 1 E).

Pitching stud: Corbin Burnes (SP, Brewers). Corbin Burnes, you da man. Have you ever thought about becoming a Cy Young winner? This past week, Burnes won both his starts, allowing zero runs in each. In 14 innings, he struck out 18 batters and walked just 2, while allowing only 6 hits. It continues his run of dominance, as this season he is currently 8-4, 2.13 with league-leading K/9 IP, BB/9 IP, K/BB and HR/9 IP ratios of 12.4, 1.6, 7.6 and 0.4, respectively. He’s also leading the league in ERA+ (196) and he made the All-Star team. He finished 6th in Cy Young voting last year – let’s see how close he can get this year.

Honorable mention: Logan Webb (SP, Giants; 2-0 W-L, 1.37 ERA, 13.1 IP, 16 K, 3 BB, 2 QS).

Pitching dud: Jorge Lopez (SP, Orioles). Somehow Jorge Lopez has survived in the major leagues for six years with a career ERA over 6 and a paltry ERA+ of 75. He’s won 3 games this year, but lost a league-leading 13 – and the past week didn’t improve his line at all. In his lone start, he went just 3 1/3 innings and allowed 9 hits, 2 walks and 2 wild pitches, while surrendering 7 earned runs for the loss. Tick tock, tick tock, his time in the majors might almost be up.

Dishonorable mention: Nick Sandlin (RP, Indians; 1 G, 0 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 1 BSV, 1 L).

He can mash, but does he ever score? Players with 10-plus homers and fewer than 20 runs scored.

I recently did a piece on batters with seasons of 10 or more home runs and fewer than 20 RBI. Just eight guys have done it, with designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion the most recent in 2020.

That got me thinking – how many players have hit 10-plus dingers and scored fewer than 20 runs in a season? Would the list be as exclusive as the other one?

Catcher Ernie Lombardi was the first player to have fewer than 20 runs in a season with 10-plus homers. (Wikipedia)

Spoiler alert: It’s not. Thirty-two men have accomplished the feat, with notoriously slow-footed Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi the first to do it. In 1943, the backstop hit .305 with 10 home runs, 51 RBI … and just 19 runs scored. Which makes sense, I guess. When a player is too slow to even leg out doubles (he had 30 or more just once in 17 seasons), then it is reasonable to assume he won’t be sprinting himself past home plate much, either.

The next man to manage the feat was … well … Lombardi. In 1946, he had 12 home runs and 19 runs scored, with just 4 of his 69 hits going for doubles.

Since then, the feat has been generational. It did not happen again until 1953, but that year, three players – including Ted Williams – did it. Then nearly a decade passed before it happened again, in 1962. Then in 1964 and 1969, it happened twice each year.

Catcher Bob Tillman achieved the mark in 1969 and 1970, becoming just the second player to do it twice – with no one managing it more than once since. In addition, he was the only man to do it in the 1970s.

In fact, for a while it was a once-in-a-decade rarity. Outfielder Oscar Gamble did it with the Yankees in 1984, then it didn’t occur again until outfielder Shane Spencer had 10 home runs and 18 runs scored in 1998, also for the Bronx Bombers.

It happened four times in the 2000s, but the feat is disproportionately a product of the 2010s and beyond. Nearly half of its instances occurred after 2010, with it happening four times each in 2019 and 2020.

And three of the four occurrences in 2020 were parts just atrocious seasons. Gary Sanchez batted .147 in 49 games, while Encarnacion hit .157 and Rougned Odor managed a knock in one of every six at-bats, posting a .167 mark. The year before, Jung Ho Kang joined the ranks with a .169 mark and in 2014, Zach Walters batted .181.

True, the feat happens more in seasons of low average and poor performance, but a few batters bucked that trend. When Williams did it, he batted .407 in 37 games, while Spencer hit .373 in 27 games.

Frank Thomas is in the club, too. (Wikipedia)

While seasons with 10-plus homers and fewer than 20 RBI have mostly been accomplished by no-names, membership in the > 10 HR, < 20 R club is more inclusive. For every Manny Jimenez, there is a Frank Thomas; for every Mike Jacobs, there is a Gary Sanchez.

And if a player is a member of the HR/RBI club, then he’ll likely be a member of the HR/R club, as well. Six of the eight names in the former populate the latter – Walters, Curt Casali, David Ross, Todd Greene, Adam Duvall and Encarnacion – with corner infielders Wayne Gross and Randy Ruiz the only exceptions. Casali was the closest to achieving the improbable, as nearly all his runs came off home runs when he did it in 2015. He had 10 dingers and 13 runs scored, meaning just 3 came from sources other than the longball.*

*the record for most runs in a season in which all were scored on home runs is 3, which has happened 16 times, most recently by Matt Davidson in 2020.

Below is a list of all the players who have accomplished the feat.