Saturday, November 15, 2014

The worst single-postseason hitting performances of all time

Well, we covered bad pitching in the last entry, so let’s switch gears back to good pitching – or at least, to hitters who made pitchers look good, which is perhaps not quite the same thing.

Either way, that’s what we’re doing. Brace yourself for the ten worst single-year postseason efforts by hitters, as measured by Championship Probability Added.

10. Devon White, 1997 (-.326 CPA)

White hit a go-ahead grand slam for the Marlins in the clinching third game of the NLDS – and still barely made a positive contribution, as he went a combined 0 for 7 in the first two games. In the NLCS, White went 4 for 21 with one extra-base hit and one RBI, but his 2 for 5 with a pair of runs scored in the clinching Game 6 muted his negative impact.

The raw numbers improved in the World Series, though .242/.306/.394 is pretty unimpressive as improvements go. After going 3 for 18 in the first four games, White appeared to be heating up as the Series progressed, going 5 for 9 with two doubles, a triple, and a pair of RBI in Games 5 and 6.

Then came Game 7. The Marlins rallied to tie in the ninth, then won it in the eleventh… and White had nothing whatsoever to do with it. He went 0 for 6, with all of the outs coming either leading off an inning or with at least one runner on base. Most notably, White stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the eleventh and hit into a force at home. In total, Game 7 represented a WPA of -.369, and it’s the reason for White’s presence here. And the Marlins suffered not at all due to his performance, as the next hitter up was Edgar Renteria, who drove in the Series-winning run.

9. Hick Cady, 1912 (-.353 CPA)

Cady was a backup catcher for the 1912 Red Sox, but started six of the eight games of the World Series and took over in the ninth inning of another. He did little to justify the increased playing time, going 3 for 22. He made the last out of Boston’s one-run loss in Game 3, leaving the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. And in the classic Game 8, Cady went 0 for 4, with outs in the second, seventh, and ninth innings that all came with runners in scoring position and the Red Sox either tied or down by a run.

The dire outing in the eighth game alone was worth -.274 CPA, which makes up most of this score. The earlier failures propelled him the rest of the way onto the list. And, like White, Cady’s team won the Series in spite of his lack of production.

8. Marv Owen, 1934 (-.394 CPA)

Sometimes, the raw numbers need further explanation – and sometimes, a guy goes 2 for 29 with no walks, no extra-base hits, and one RBI in a Series that his team loses in 7 games.

Owen went 2 for 29, with no walks... you get the idea. He even managed to do badly in the one game that included both of his hits; he went 2 for 5 in Game 4, but two of the three outs came with the game tied and the other was with two runners in scoring position and Owen's Tigers ahead by only a run, while the hits came with leads of two and four runs, respectively, and therefore had minimal impact on the game.

Outside of that effort, Owen had four single-game WPAs of -.100 or worse, including an 0 for 5 in the extra-inning second game (-.326) and an 0 for 4 in a one-run loss in Game 6 (-.209). Unlike the two other players we’ve seen on the list, Owen was not an utter disaster in Game 7 – at least not any more than the rest of his team, which lost 11-0. But by then, Owen’s damage was already done.

7. Sam Rice, 1924 (-.395 CPA)

Rice hit .207 (6 for 29) with no extra-base hits for the Senators in the ’24 Series, though he did draw 3 walks and steal a pair of bases. As if the basic numbers weren't bad enough, his performance got worse as the series went on; five of the six hits, all three of the walks, and both steals came in the first three games. After that, Rice went 0 for 5 in Game 4 (-.084 WPA), 0 for 4 in Game 5 (-.128), and 1 for 4 in Game 6 (-.050).

Of course, all of that was prologue for the decisive seventh game, which is one of the more famous contests in baseball history. Rice grounded out in the first and lined out in the fourth, both times with the game close and the bases empty. In the seventh, with Washington trailing 3-1, Rice hit into a double play to erase a potential rally. In the eighth, one at bat after Bucky Harris singled in two runs to tie the score, Rice grounded out to leave the go-ahead run in scoring position. He then flied out in the eleventh, helping to delay the winning rally by an inning.

Going 0 for 5 in Game 7 of the World Series is generally bad. Doing it in a Game 7 that doubles as a classic nail-biter is considerably worse – adding up to -.305 WPA, in this case. And doing it at the end of a slump that took up the last four games of the series… well, that’s a good way to show up on a worst-ever list.

6. Ron Gant, 1991 (-.415 CPA)

Gant’s raw October numbers for the ’91 Braves aren’t exactly inspiring, but neither are they awful. He went 7 for 27 with a double, a homer, and 7 steals (!) in the NLCS, then hit roughly the same (8 for 30) in the Series, albeit without the same power or speed (one triple, one steal, and nothing else). Still, it’s an overall line of .263/.317/.368, which is at least livable, especially from someone who went 8 for 8 on the bases.

The issue, as it often is on these lists, was timing – in particular, Gant’s lack of production in the last two games of the World Series. In Game 6, which the Braves lost by a run in 11 innings, Gant went 0 for 5, with four of the chances coming with runners on base. He did drive in the tying run in the eighth, but it was with a bases-loaded forceout, which isn’t generally something that results in the awarding of a commemorative plaque, and he followed that up by lining into a tenth-inning double play. Game 7 went about the same – Gant was 0 for 4, including an inning-ending forceout with two runners on, an inning-ending strikeout with two runners on, and a grounder to first with runners at second and third and no outs that failed to advance anyone. And the Braves once again lost by a run in extra innings.

There’s a good deal more to be said about the 1991 postseason. Fortunately, it does not all have to be said in the Ron Gant comment, because we'll be returning to 1991...

5. Shane Mack, 1991 (-.457 CPA)

... so soon it'll be like we never left.

Unlike Gant, Minnesota’s Shane Mack had legitimately lousy basic numbers in the ’91 playoffs: .220/.250/.317. Moreover, he got worse as the games grew more important; he was 6 for 18 with a double and a triple in the Twins' easy ALCS triumph, then went 3 for 23 with a double, no walks, no runs, one RBI, and one time caught stealing in the nail-biting Series. He was especially ineffective in Game 4, going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and one CS in a game the Twins lost by a run.

And then, in Game 7, he had… well, a rather Gant-like performance. Mack did actually single with two outs in the second, though it led to nothing. He popped up to end the fourth with a runner on, then failed to reach on a bunt in the seventh. But the real damage came in the bottom of the ninth, which began with a pair of Twin singles. Up stepped Mack, who promptly hit into a double play and defused most of the rally’s potential. The Braves would escape that inning, though not the next one.

In case anyone wants to know but hasn't kept track, Mack makes it four out of six players on the list so far whose teams prevailed in the World Series in spite of their decidedly unhelpful contributions. And we are not done with those players yet.

4. Ralph Miller, 1924 (-.460 CPA)

Before running the numbers in preparation for this post, I had never heard of Ralph Miller. Having now heard of Ralph Miller, I don’t feel like I was missing too much.

Miller made his major league debut for the 1920 Phillies, who, having recently traded Grover Cleveland Alexander, would go on to find themselves in last place for most of the next three decades. He played 97 games in ’20, and 57 in ’21, and did very little with either opportunity (he did hit .304 in ’21, but it wasn't especially difficult to hit .304 in 1921 in the Baker Bowl, and he had no patience or power to speak of). He failed to make the team again after that, and since the ’21 Phillies lost 103 games, it comes as no surprise that he didn’t appear on anyone else’s major league roster either.

At least, not until 1924, when the AL-leading Senators summoned him for no clear reason to fill a miniscule bench role. Miller played second base in three games and pinch hit in six more, accruing a total of 16 plate appearances in which he went 2 for 15 with a walk.

He remained on the bench for the World Series – until starting shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh was pulled from Game 3 in the third inning, apparently with an injury of some kind. Regular third baseman Ossie Bluege was moved to short, and Miller was inserted at the hot corner. He didn’t embarrass himself in his initial Series appearance, going 1 for 2 with a walk and a sac fly – although he did foul out in the ninth with the bases loaded, one out, and the Senators trailing by two, so his production could have been better-timed.

Miller got the start in Game 4, going 0 for 4 in a comfortable Washington victory, and Game 5, managing a 1-for-3 with an RBI in a loss. Peckinpaugh came back for Game 6 and went 2 for 2 with a walk and a run in a 2-1 win, but for whatever reason, was not in the lineup in Game 7. Tommy Taylor actually opened the decider at third, with Bluege back at short. Taylor was pulled for a pinch hitter in the eighth (which worked out, as Nemo Leibold doubled to begin the game-tying rally), and as a result, Ralph Miller became the second-most-famous substitution the Senators made at the commencement of the ninth inning. (Walter Johnson relieved to start the inning, which is generally considered ever-so-slightly more noteworthy.)

In the bottom of the ninth, with the game still tied, a one-out single and a fielder’s-choice-plus-error put Washington runners at the corners. Miller stepped to the plate, and promptly hit into a double play to send the game to extras. He also made the last out of the Series in the twelfth (which is less dire than it sounds – he was leading off the inning, and the Senators started the winning rally right after he grounded out).

The Senators can’t have expected much more than they got out of Ralph Miller in this series – he went 2 for 11 with a walk and a pair of RBI. Many hitters have done worse with more opportunities. But few hitters ever have had chances as good as first and third, one out, bottom of the ninth of a tied Game 7 – and you can’t have a worse outcome there than a double play. That single at bat, on its own, assured Miller of a place here.

Really, though, that’s about enough of the 1924 Series. Let’s move on to some new ground.

3. Sid Bream, 1991 (-.482 CPA)

Or we could go back to ’91 again.

Bream played sparingly in Atlanta’s NLCS victory over the Pirates, only starting two games; he also substituted in two more, chipping in a fairly meaningless 3-run homer in a 10-3 victory in Game 3. But he played every game of the World Series – and not very well.

The standard batting line was 3 for 24 with 2 doubles, 3 walks, and nary a run nor an RBI. Amazingly enough, that doesn’t fully capture Bream’s negative effect on the Braves’ chances. To see that, we have to return once more to the familiar territory of Game 7.

In the second inning, Bream grounded out, moving a runner over to second in the process. In the fourth, he flied out with the bases empty, and in the sixth, he grounded out in the same situation.

Then came the eighth, and one of the most famous baserunning blunders in baseball history. With Lonnie Smith at first, Terry Pendleton hammered the ball into the left center field gap. Smith, a swift runner, would normally have made it home easily – but the Minnesota middle infielders pulled a decoy double play that caused him to slow up, and limited his advance to third base.

On the one hand, Smith clearly should have scored on the play. But on the other hand… how dreadful can a baserunning miscue be if the play ends with runners at second and third and nobody out? Shouldn’t a truly horrific play on the paths result in at least one out?

As it was, the Braves still held a golden scoring opportunity in the midst of a scoreless tie. Ron Gant, as mentioned earlier, grounded out with the runners holding. David Justice was intentionally walked to load the bases. And Bream stepped to the plate.

He hit into an inning-ending double play. The Braves would not put another runner on base before Minnesota walked off in the tenth. And Lonnie Smith exempted Sid Bream from any share of the narrative blame for the defeat.

2. Kent Hrbek, 1991 (-.494 CPA)

Really? Another one? A fourth guy from the same postseason?

At least Hrbek’s presence is easy to explain. ALCS: 3 for 21 with no extra-base hits. World Series: 3 for 26 with a double and a homer, both of which came in Game 1, which the Twins probably would have won anyway. After that, it was a matter of minimizing his damage, which could be done best in Twins wins (Games 2 and 6) or Braves blowouts (Game 5). In Games 3 and 4, Hrbek went 1 for 10, and Minnesota lost both contests by a run; those games counted far more heavily against him.

And then came Game 7, just as it did for the three other players we’ve encountered from ’91. Hrbek lined out in the second, was hit by a pitch in the fourth, and flied out in the sixth; no big deal. After the Braves failed to capitalize on their huge rally in the top of the eighth, the Twins staged one of their own, with singles by Randy Bush and Chuck Knoblauch, then an intentional walk to Kirby Puckett loading the bases with one out.

And just like his positional counterpart before him, Hrbek hit into an inning-ending double play. He did have one more plate appearance, which would have been an important one (first and third, one out in the bottom of the tenth) if it hadn’t ended in an intentional walk that set up Gene Larkin’s game-winning single. One wonders what exactly it would have taken to convince the Braves to pitch to a hitter who went 6 for 47 that October.

The last six hitters we've seen have all been from either 1924 or 1991. So surely the top (bottom) man on the list will hail from one of those seasons as well...

1. Denis Menke, 1972 (-.528 CPA)

Or maybe a completely new season that's nearly two full decades away from anyone else in the bunch.

Menke was a solid player through the ‘60s and early ‘70s, combining a league-average bat with the ability to play the middle infield at an acceptable level. He turned 32 in July of 1972 and was clearly winding down, having moved to third base (albeit partly because the Morgan-Concepcion Reds were pretty well covered up the middle) and slipped to a .233 batting average (in a tough era and with good secondary production, but still not great).

Like many of the other players on this list, Menke was actually not bad in the NLCS; he went 4 for 16 with a double and a quartet of walks. Three of the hits came across Games 4 and 5, helping to propel the Reds into the World Series.

The 1972 World Series lasted the full seven games. It did not include any extra-inning contests, but six of the seven matchups were decided by one run, so high-leverage situations abounded. Menke played all seven. Here are his performances.

Game 1: 0 for 3 with a walk and an RBI. The walk loaded the bases in the second, which helped lead to a run; the RBI came on a force in the fourth and tied the game. After that, he struck out with the tying run at second in the sixth and whiffed again to end the eighth. He earned a pretty neutral -.023 WPA, and the Reds lost by a run.

Game 2: 0 for 4. He struck out in the second to help Catfish Hunter escape a second-and-third, nobody-out jam, hit into a double play in the fourth, grounded out with a runner on in the sixth, and lined out for the first out of the ninth. Cincinnati once again fell by a single-run margin, and Menke’s WPA was a rather dreadful -.256.

Game 3: 1 for 2 with a walk and a sac bunt. The hit came with two outs in the second and went nowhere; the walk led off the fifth, and Menke would reach third before being stranded. The bunt moved Tony Perez to second in the seventh, and he scored from there on Cesar Geromino’s single for the game’s only run. It was the only run in part because Menke fouled out with the bases loaded in the eighth, but he still helped enough to keep his WPA neutral again, at -.008.

Game 4: 0 for 4 again. Forceout in the second, lineout to end the fourth, double play to end the seventh, and a flyout to end the top of the ninth. The Reds led by a run at the time of that last out, but Oakland rallied in the bottom of the inning and took the win and a 3-1 series lead. Menke’s WPA was back to damaging territory, at -.160.

Game 5: 1 for 3, sac bunt, and… home run! The homer came in the fourth against Catfish Hunter and pulled Cincy within one. After that, Menke struck out in the sixth, then whiffed again in the eighth to leave the go-ahead run at third. The Reds won it in the ninth; despite the homer, Menke’s WPA was a mere +.004.

Game 6: Reds win 8-1. Everyone contributed… except for Menke, who went 0 for 4. But with his team cruising, the negative effect was limited to -.026 WPA.

Game 7: Here, as always, is the big one. Menke grounded out to end the second. In the fifth, Tony Perez (representing the tying run) led off with a double; Menke struck out to keep him at second, though he later scored anyway. Oakland pulled ahead 3-1 in the top of the sixth, and the Reds rallied again in the bottom of the inning, putting runners at second and third with two away. Menke flied to right, leaving the tying runs in scoring position. Two innings later, Cincinnati took another crack at it, putting runners at second and third with nobody out. A popup, an intentional walk, a sac fly and a steal put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with two down and Menke at the plate. He promptly flied out to leave them there, and the Reds went down quietly in the ninth to end the Series.

Menke stepped to the plate four times in Game 7 of the World Series; three times his team had the tying run at second or third, and all three times he went down without bringing a single Red home. That’s a single-game WPA of -.337, capping a Series in which Menke went 2 for 24.

Which seems like an appropriate combination to take the prize, such as it is, among the most harmful single-October hitting efforts.

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