Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Worst Batting Games In History

This post hasn't even started yet and already the writer is feeling pressured by that heady post title. And of course, in situations like this, it's favorable to blame somebody else. That somebody is Mike Rosenbaum over at one of this writer's favorite sites: The Golden Sombrero. Mike's site, as you can probably guess, features a summary of batters who strike out four or more times in a game. Mike's site does a lot of other great things like his famous Look-A-Likes feature. But the name of the site says it all. In Mike's latest post, he features players who have the most golden sombreros in a career (four strike out games if you haven't been following along). That got this Fan thinking and wondering if those games were the worst batting performances in a game ever. It turns out that such a question is a bit mind-boggling.

Striking out four times in a game is a pretty pathetic performance. There's no doubt about that. But there is so much more that has to be accounted for to just take those examples at face value. Information such as when those strikeouts occurred, the game situation at the time of the strikeouts, etc. And is a strikeout a batter's worst possible outcome? Is a strikeout better than grounding into a double play? Possibly. Is it still worse (the double play) if a runner scores and a strikeout doesn't score anyone? Yikes! What has this writer gotten himself into?

The game situation mentioned above can be accounted for in a stat called leverage. Another way of looking at a player's batting game is to look at WPA (win probability added) which totals each at bat for a batter in a game and how it affected his team's chance of winning the game. Obviously, grounding into a double play to end an inning with the bases loaded in a tie game is going to be an ouchie of a WPA for that at bat. There is another stat called RE24 with is short for Base-outs Runs Added. Baseball-reference.com describes that statistic this way: "Given the bases occupied/out situation, how much did the batter or baserunner (sic) add in the resulting play." RE24 is similar to leverage without considering what else is going on in the game (the inning or score). In RE24 you want a positive number. Negative numbers are not good here. In fact, negative numbers are bad for WPA too.

And so it seems that we have to look beyond simply how many times a player strikes out in a game but also look at these other stats to try to come up with really bad batting games. First, let's make some lists. We'll start with the five worst RE24 game scores since 1919:

Five Worst RE24 game scores since 1919:

  1. -4.999 - Tommy Agee for the New York Mets on August 5, 1971 against the Braves. This was a seventeen inning game. Tommy Agee had eight plate appearances and made out each time. He struck out once and grounded into two double-plays
  2. -4.806 - Kirby Puckett for the Minnesota Twins on September 20, 1995 against the Royals. Puckett even got a hit in this game but went one for six in a thirteen inning game. His outs ended three innings when the Twins had men on base. Two of those times were double-plays, though it's hard to blame him for one of them as a runner was thrown out at the plate on a potential sacrifice fly.
  3. -4.681 - Omar Vizquel for the Cleveland Indians on June 11, 2000 against the Reds. All of these top five games were extra inning games. Vizquel had seven plate appearances and went oh for seven with a strike out and a double play.
  4. -4.532 - Kevin Kouzmanoff for the San Diego Padres on May 30, 2008 against the Giants. Kouzmanoff had six plate appearances and came up empty each time. He hit into two double plays.
  5. -4.504 - Juan Rivera for the New York Yankees on June 1, 2003 against the Tigers. Rivera had seven plate appearances, walked once and had no hits and hit into three double plays (tied among many for the most in a game).

Five Worst WPA game scores for a batter since 1919:

  1. -0.820 - Juan Rivera - See #5 above
  2. -0.781 - Tommy Agee - See #1 above
  3. -0.769 - Kevin Kouzmanoff - See #4 above
  4. -0.758 - Rico Rossy for the Seattle Mariners on July 30, 1998 against the Indians. This was a seventeen inning game but Rossy didn't get into the game until the eighth inning. He replaced Russ Davis who struck out three times in three at bats (he also had a sac fly). Rossy went oh for five with two strikeouts. He grounded out to first for the last out ending one bases loaded rally, struck out with men on second and third and struck out to end the game (in a loss) again with the bases loaded. Ouch. Between them, Davis and Rossy went oh for eight with five strikeouts.
  5. -0.756 - Bill Schroeder for the Milwaukee Brewers on May 8, 1987 against the Mariners in an extra inning loss. Schroeder had six plate appearances with no hits and two strikeouts. Most of his outs came at very inopportune times.

Other notable bad batting games:

  • Alex Gonzalez for the Toronto Blue Jays on September 9, 1998 against the Cleveland Indians. In that extra inning game, Gonzalez had six plate appearances and struck out all six times. Now that's a bad night.
  • Geoff Jenkins for the Milwaukee Brewers on June 8, 2004 against the Angels. Jenkins had seven plate appearances in the game and collected no hits and no walks and struck out six times.
  • Cecil Cooper (Red Sox - 1974), Billy Cowan (Angels - 1971) and Rick Reichardt (Angels - 1966) all had games where they went hitless in eight at bats with six strikeouts. That will hurt your batting average.
  • (side note - the most plate appearances in a game without a hit was Dwight Evans for the Red Sox with ten plate appearances. He hit into two double plays but he walked four times)
  • Robin Yount for the Milwaukee Brewers on May 8, 1984 against the White Sox. Yount set a record of sorts in this game. Yount did go three for ten with a walk in eleven plate appearances in this game. But he also hit into three double plays. If you add two outs for each double play and the other four outs he hit into in other unsuccessful at bats, then Yount accounted for thirteen outs in this game. The most ever.
  • A.J. Pierzynski, Darnell Coles, Billy Williams, Alex Trevino, Yogi Berra and Eddie Robinson all had games where they had four plate appearances, grounded into double plays on three of them and struck out on the fourth one.

Special mention has to go to eight special players who packed the worst batting games into the fewest at bats. The following players managed to tie a record by hitting into three double plays in the same game. That record has been tied 108 times. But these eight guys did so in only three plate appearances. In other words, they hit into a double play in every at bat. They are: Kevin Kouzmanoff (different game than the one listed above), Jeff Baker, Pete Incaviglia, Julio Franco, Dave Conception, Jose Morales, Ted Martinez and Joe Adcock.

With all the information this writer has now provided you, how would you rank the worst batting games in history? Here are the rankings for this writer. Agree? Disagree? What would your criteria be? Have at it. But here's the Fan's list:

  1. Tommy Agee - Worst game ever in RE24 was also second worst in WPA
  2. Juan Rivera - Worst WPA ever and fifth worst RE24 ever.
  3. Kevin Kouzmanoff - Fourth worst RE24 ever in the same game that compiled the third worst WPA
  4. Alex Gonzalez - It's hard to match six plate appearances resulting in six strikeouts.
  5. Rico Rossy - That was one ugly game. 
  6. Those guys tied with oh for eights with six strikeouts.

How did Adam Dunn not make this list?

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