Herb Washington was Like No Other

The annals of baseball history are littered with interesting stories and stat lines. Being the young sap that I am, much of that history is unknown to me which is why I dig around in our databases from time to time so that I can come across stories like this one.

Herb Washington was a world-class sprinter. Literally, he held world records in both the 50 and 60-yard sprints. He also played baseball in high school but stopped after his Junior year. About six years later, Charlie Finley signed him to the Oakland Athletics for the 1974 season to be used as a pinch runner.

That was not an unprecedented move for Finley, but what ended up being special about Washington is that despite appearing in 110 games total across 1974 and 1975, Washington never once came to bat nor spent even an inning in the field. The 1975 Oakland team actually featured at least two such speed specialists in addition to Washington in Don Hopkins and Matt Alexander.

Even that, as footnoteable as it is, is not what I found the most remarkable about Washington. Because Washington appeared in so many games and because his ultimate stolen base success ratio (65%) was not spectacular, Washington actually achieved a negative WAR by the way FanGraphs calculates it for his career thanks to the slow accumulation of pinch running for positions that carried a defensive penalty.

While that might be an unintended quirk of the calculation process, without it I would have failed to stumble into Herb Washington’s glorious baseball state line. And it is not all bad news for the former three sport athlete. His career WPA is actually positive, indicating that the brunt of his stolen base successes might have come in higher leveraged situations than most of his failures.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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