The Pinch Hitters of 2009

George Orwell once wrote, “When it comes to the pinch, human beings are heroic.” Orwell was hardly writing about baseball and the bench players who come to bat only in place of a pitcher or weaker hitter, but that doesn’t stop us from appreciating the guys who do so more often than anyone else in the game.


Above is a table of the 20 players with the most pinch hit appearances along with some other pivotal information about them, such as their team, phLI (which is the average leverage index of their pinch hit plate appearances), plate appearances as a pinch hitter, and their OPS. While your eyes scan the chart looking for tidbits, allow me to outline some of the more notable ones:

– Yes, Greg Norton lead the league in pinch hit appearances and yes his OPS is quite poor. However, Norton’s line is pretty magic itself: 89 plate appearances, 20 walks, 18 strikeouts, and 11 hits. That works out to a slash line of .162/.360/.191. Only two of Norton’s hits went for extra bases – both doubles – and somehow he managed to walk more than he struck out. That’s incredible.

Delwyn Young possesses the highest phLI, which means he was called upon to hit in situations with higher leverage than the rest of the guys on the list. On the flip side, there’s Darin Erstad who partook in a bunch of snoozers.

– Worth noting is how liberally some teams used multiple pinch hitters this much. The Astros, Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres, Phillies, and Pirates are each represented once, while three National League teams aren’t represented at all: the Diamondbacks, Cardinals, and Nationals. This doesn’t mean those teams fail in using the pinch hitter or anything that telling; it could simply mean they use a number of players in lower doses.

– Also worth noting, the American League pinch hitting appearance leaders: Gabe Gross, Nomar Garciaparra, Hideki Matsui, Willy Aybar, and Ryan Raburn have the top five most appearances, and Gross is actually the only American League player with more than 30. His platoon counterpart, Gabe Kapler, appeared as a pinch hitter 15 times.

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10 Responses to “The Pinch Hitters of 2009”

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  1. Maarx says:

    “The Astros, Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres, Phillies, and Pirates are each represented once.”

    Actually, they’re all represented twice. Meaning the exact opposite of what you said

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  2. TCQ says:

    Yeah…I’m half-way certain Bobby Cox cost the Braves at least a win or two with his terrible usage of Greg Norton.

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  3. Michael says:

    Glad to see the “gritty ones” Gload and Helms represented well on the list. I took a look at pinch hitting appearances earlier in the year and found the Marlins as a team something like 8-10 run above average pinch hitters, which if you then give some credit in terms of LI would be quite impressive. Any advantage you can get.

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  4. Nate says:

    More evidence that the Cardinals fell victim to some terrible luck in the NLDS.

    Beaten by a guy who OPSed .570 in Pinch Hit appearances.

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  5. Roscoe says:

    Nothing about Seth Smith?

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  6. Bluecaboose says:

    There’s not much to say about Seth Smith with regards to pinch hitting (except that he shouldn’t be relegated to it.) It’s an incredibly small sample size, that is no less impressive than, say, Torrealba’s numbers w/RISP. They’re buoyed by a somewhat ridiculous .571 babip, and completely unsustainable (not that Smith is bad, simply that he’s not .472/.574/.861 good.)

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  7. tangotiger says:

    A perfect occasion not to use OPS, and instead to use WPA, WPA/LI, or RE24.

    OPS is bad enough, but when it comes to pinch-hitting, the game-context is everything. A walk is either almost worthless to very valuable.

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  8. Joe R says:

    I thought Dobbs’ whole value as a human being was pinch hitting?

    wakka wakka. He actually had a good small sample season defensively.

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  9. H. Felton says:

    Does anyone know where I can find full 2009 MLB pinch-hitting stats, listed by player, or team-by-team? They used to be available in the defunct Sporting News Major League Fact and Record Book, but I’ve been unable to find them anywhere since.
    Thank you.

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  10. john mcdonald says:

    does anybody know what a combined batting average for pinch hitters was?

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