Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Weird Career of Wes Westrum

There have been sixteen major league players in baseball's entire history (since 1901 anyway) who have batted .220 or lower with more than 100 plate appearances and yet had an on base percentage of .370 or higher. Wes Westrum did it twice. The list looks like this:

Wes Westrum (.219/.400), Jim Wynn (.207/.377), Wes Westrum (.220/.374), Alex Kampouris (.212/.384), Nick Johnson (.220/.415), Lee Mazzilli (.206/.380), Joe Lahoud (.214/.372), Snuff Stirnweiss (.216/.373), Randy Milligan (.220/.379), Tommy Glaviano (.203/.410), Ed Mensor (.202/.372), Sixto Lezcano (.207/.392), Mike Jorgensen (.196/.375), Charlie Sands (.196/.370), John Mizerrock (.185/.374), John Jaha (.175/.398).

The list is in order of WAR the years generated for the players. The two seasons by Westrom and the season by Wynn all came with over 400 plate appearances. Lahoud and Kampouris both had 244 plate appearances. The rest were under 200. John Jaha's season in 2000 for the Athletics probably should get some distinction as the largest swing between BA and OBP for any player over 100 plate appearances with a batting average under .220.

The difference for Westrum and Wynn were that they were starters for their teams. Wynn's season for the Braves in 1976 is remarkable in that he walked 127 times (only one intentional) and only had 93 hits. He has the distinction of having the most plate appearances in our search with this criteria

Westrum was born (1922), raised and died (2002) in Clearbrook, Minnesota. He broke into the big leagues in 1947 and played his entire career with the New York Giants. The first season was only a cup of coffee, but he played in 66 and 64 games in 1948 and 1949. By 1950, he was the Giants' starting catcher and would remain so for four years from 1950 to 1953. He slipped down to 98 games in 1954 and then went full circle and became the back up catcher again until he retired after the 1957 season. He was great at throwing out steal attempts and finished in that category at 50% for his career. But he made a lot of errors and had a lot of passed balls over the years. But it was his years as a starter that are quite remarkable.

Westrum had a little bit of power and hit 69 homers over those four years but he must have lacked speed as he only hit 41 doubles over those four years. Again, what sets Westrum apart from anyone else was the large disparity between his batting average and his on base percentage. These were his four years as a starter:

1950 - .236/.371
1951 - .219/.400
1952 - .220/.374
1953 - .224/.352

It appears that the pitchers finally wizened up by 1953. The big question this Fan would have looking at those numbers is why would anybody not just throw him strikes since he couldn't hit? It looks like by 1953, the pitchers figured it out. Westrum's OBP would slide the rest of his career as did his batting average.

In the weird career of Wes Westrum, he would go on to get 2,849 plate appearances. His final slash line says it all: .217/.356/.373. He walked 489 times in his career and only had 503 hits. Westrum would go on to manage for parts of six years in the major leagues. He had the misfortune to follow Casey Stengel as the Mets manager from 1965 to 1967. They were, of course, abysmal. Westrum then managed for parts of two seasons for the San Francisco Giants. His big league managing career finished with a .410 winning percentage.

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