Pitcher Ben Sheets of the Milwaukee Brewers swings the bat against the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 16, 2002. The Reds won 2-1 in 11 innings. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
It's the end of 2011. And so it's the time of year to do Top Ten Lists.
Truth be told, I don't really like year-end lists. So this is a Top Ten list, but of a different kind, and it was inspired by Jeff Sullivan's feature about Randy Johnson batting. Randy Johnson was a great pitcher but an awful hitter -- as Jeff wrote, he had a career .305 OPS and -22 OPS+.
That's bad. But it got me wondering, have there been pitchers worse than that?
The answer is... oh, yes, there have. I looked at all pitchers in MLB history who had at least 200 plate appearances -- at most pitchers' current PA rate, that would be about three seasons' worth. As it turns out, neatly so, there are exactly ten pitchers in baseball history who had that many PA and who had an OPS of .200 or lower. Yes, that's right -- ten whose OPS was more than 100 points lower than Randy Johnson's. Johnson isn't even close -- by this standard, he ranks 180th.
Let us celebrate, then, the worst pitchers to ever stand at the plate with a bat in their hands.
10) Mike Bielecki: .200 OPS in 348 PA. 22-for-282, 144 K, -44 OPS+
Bielecki's most miserable hitting season was the Cubs' NL East title year of 1989, when he pitched very well (18-7, 3.41, 1.26 WHIP, ninth in Cy Young voting). He went 3-for-70 (.043) in the regular season with 35 strikeouts. Naturally, in his first NLCS at-bat in Game 2, he hit a two-run single.
9) Ben Sheets: .199 OPS in 496 PA. 34-for-436, 206 K, -46 OPS+
Ben Sheets was a very good pitcher, until all the injuries ended his career (I'm assuming that after a year out of the game, he's not coming back). He was a very bad hitter. His "best" offensive season was 2004, when he hit .134 with a .194 OBA. His lifetime BA of .078 drops to .067 without that year (in which he also drew five walks) included. He's swinging the bat in the photo at the top of this post; he actually went 2-for-3 the day that photo was taken.
8) Claudio Vargas: .195 OPS in 224 PA. 15-for-188, 60 K, -50 OPS+
Vargas and Sheets were Brewers teammates in 2007 and 2009, although Vargas threw entirely in relief in '09 and did not bat. In 2007, Sheets and Vargas combined to hit .096/.096/.108 (8-for-83, one double, no walks, 35 strikeouts). That's 1.5% of all Milwaukee at-bats for 2007; no wonder they came up two games short of the division title.
7) Doug Davis: .195 OPS in 466 PA. 34-for-412, 175 K, -49 OPS+
Davis is the only man on this list who hit a triple. In fact, he hit two of them, one off Brandon Claussen in 2005 and one off Chad Gaudin in 2009 (he managed to lose that game). Career lowlight: going 1-for-64 (.016) in 2004 with 43 strikeouts. He is also responsible, as Jeff Sullivan pointed out, for allowing Randy Johnson's only career home run.
6) Dean Chance: .183 OPS in 759 PA. 44-for-662, 406 K, -46 OPS+
Stop and look at those numbers for a moment. 406 strikeouts in 662 at-bats. That's a K in 61.3% of all his major league at-bats, and this was in an era when pitchers routinely made around 38-40 starts a year and threw a lot of CG, so they were batting deep into games. Chance had 89 or more PA for six straight years, from 1963-68. Truth be told, Chance was a pretty good pitcher until he got hurt, probably from overwork; his 1964 season was outstanding and resulted in a Cy Young Award (and back then, there was only one award for both leagues). But he was an awful hitter. He did manage to hit .150 (12-for-80) in 1963, but never hit higher than .093 in any other season.
5) Luke Walker: .174 OPS in 218 PA. 11-for-188, 107 K, -50 OPS+
Walker was what you'd have called a "swingman" in the late 1960s and early 1970s; he started in 100 of his 243 career appearances. All 11 of his hits were singles, and he was nearly as K-prolific as Chance, striking out in 56.9% of his at-bats. He hit .130 in 1970, a year in which he finished 10th in Cy Young voting. The two events are not related.
4) Mark Clark: .170 OPS in 280 PA. 14-for-242, 106 K, -54 OPS+
Let us celebrate Mark Clark, the only man in our Top Ten list who hit a home run. He did this in an interleague game against the Red Sox on June 14, 1997 -- off Tim Wakefield. Two months after this feat, Clark was traded to the Cubs, for whom he went 4-for-85 (.047) the rest of 1997 and all of 1998.
3) Brian Moehler: .159 OPS in 216 PA. 9-for-188, 89 K, -58 OPS+
Moehler began in the AL and thus did not bat much until he landed in the NL with the Reds, seven years into his career. He didn't have a hit until he'd gone 0-for-36 to start that career. He wasn't much better after that, and in his final four seasons, all with the Astros, he hit .040/.093/.050 (4-for-101).
2) Don Carman: .124 OPS in 239 PA. 12-for-209, 75 K, -65 OPS+
This Phillies lefthander could have headed our list, but he went 3-for-11 in 1990. Otherwise he never hit higher than .082, all 12 of his hits were singles, and he drew just two walks in 239 PA for a career OBP of .066.
1) Ron Herbel: .104 OPS in 225 PA. 6-for-206, 125 K, -70 OPS+
Herbel, another swingman who had a couple of decent years for the Giants in the 1960s, was a truly awful hitter. In 1964, he went 0-for-47. In 1965, 1-for-49. In 1966, 1-for-38. That's a three-year BA of .015. And on September 4, 1965, he suffered the ultimate indignity. He hit what should have been a clean single to right field, and instead was thrown out at first base by Cubs right fielder Billy Williams. He also gave up a three-run homer to Williams, but the Giants won the game anyway 7-3.
I'll finish with (dis)honorable mention to Bob Buhl, who holds the single-season record for most at-bats without a hit (Eugenio Velez set this for position players in 2011, but Buhl holds the mark for any position). In 1962 he went 0-for-70; including the end of the 1961 season and the start of 1963, he had an overall 0-for-87 streak. Buhl came up short of making this list, ranking 19th overall with a .220 OPS in 952 career PA.