This annotated week in baseball history: Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 2011

In honor of the blackouts caused through the East Coast by Hurricane Irene, Richard looks at some hitters who were lacking power themselves.

So, full disclosure: I’m writing this column (mostly) on Saturday night, in anticipation of Hurricane Irene arriving and knocking out my power. So if New York City is very lucky and dodges the storm—or the loss of power is minor at best—this whole conceit may seem a little foolish. But I’ll take that chance.

Having gotten that out of the way, we’re here to discuss some of the worst power seasons of all time.

Now, if we’re doing this exercise for the entirety of baseball history, it isn’t really much fun, because the results (and I did look this up) will largely be from the early days of baseball when, such as in 1908, Honus Wagner could lead the NL with a .542 slugging percentage. That’s not a bad figure, especially from a 34-year old shortstop, but in the 2000 National League it would have tied Edgardo Alfonzo for 21st place.

So in that spirit, I will instead look at the worst slugging seasons—full seasons only, so no 2011—by batting title qualifiers of what is, of course, the most important period—my lifetime.

I debated whether to present this strictly by the bottom 10, but given the differences in position, I thought it more appropriate to do a team. So here we go.

Catcher: Brad Ausmus, 2006: .285 SLG

Technically speaking, the lowest slugging percentage by a catcher is Matt Walbeck in 1994. Given the shortened nature of that season, I’m reluctant to give Wallbeck the position.

So it instead falls to Ausmus. The Astros’ catcher was awarded a Gold Glove that season, an award of which I am cynical given that he was 37-years old and caught just 27 percent of base stealers, well below the figures he had set earlier in his career. Perhaps voters figured that excellent defense was the only explanation for running out a catcher who had just 18—18!—extra-base hits the whole season.

First Base: Keith Moreland, 1988: .331 SLG

In isn’t often that a .331 slugging percentage is the best on a team, but in this collection Moreland has the honor. The ’88 Padres were another Jack McKeon turnaround special, going 16-30 under Larry Bowa to start the season and then 67-48 under McKeon.

Moreland played in 40 of the 46 games under Bowa, or 86 percent. Under McKeon, the non-slugger started even more often—103 of 115 games, or 89 percent. So whatever the key to Trader Jack’s success, it was despite Keith Moreland.

Second Base: Billy Ripken, 1988: .258 SLG

The 1988 Orioles featured not only Billy Ripken—who complimented his.258 slugging percentage, which included just 21 extra-base hits—with a .207 average but also the likes of Jay Tibbs (ERA: 5.39) and Pete Stanicek (OPS+ of 78 in left field). In a related story, the O’s lost their first 21 games and finished 54-107. But at least they could say they had brothers as their double-play combination.

Nick Punto doing something he didn’t do much of in 2007—hitting (Icon/SMI)

Third Base: Nick Punto, 2007: .271 SLG

In 2006, Nick Punto had the best year of his career. Playing all over the diamond—he logged at least 100 innings everywhere in the infield save first.

In 2008, Punto stepped in and played shortstop full-time for the Twins, doing a respectable job.

In between, Punto had his worst season, topped off by this, the worst slugging percentage ever posted by a third baseman.

I don’t know what happened to Punto in ’07, but I’m sure he hopes it never happens again.

Homestretch: The 1967 AL Pennant Race, Part 3
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Shortstop: Alfredo Griffin, 1990: .254 SLG

It is not unexpected that the single lowest slugging percentage posted by anyone in my lifetime is a shortstop. Short is a position where offense is often sacrificed for defense. By even those standards, though, Griffin’s season was miserable. He managed the rare (and unfortunate) feat of having his on-base percentage (itself a pathetic .258) better his slugging percentage.

Left Field: Vince Coleman, 1986: .280 SLG

Power was never, of course, Coleman’s game. Even at his best, he never managed better than a .400 slugging percentage, and his career average was under .350. But in 1986, he took that to a ridiculous extreme, when Coleman failed to hit a single homer and—despite his speed and playing on the turf in St. Louis—managed just 13 doubles and eight triples.

Coleman was still a useful player, as he stole 107 bases with a success rate over 88 percent. But it was not until Coleman re-discovered his power the next season that he was truly a solid contributor.

Center Field: Gerald Young, 1989: .276 SLG

Gerald Young is the only player on this list whose career I couldn’t mentally summarize. So if you’re like me, here’s the brief bio on Gerald Young: Didn’t hit for any power, didn’t reach base enough, got caught stealing bases too often when he did.

The worst example of this trend was 1989, when Young posted a .326 OBP to go along with his .276 SLG and managed to get caught stealing 25 times—leading the league—in 59 tries. It should be no surprise that Young’s 1989 was his last full season as a regular.

Steve Finley in his slugging days(Icon/SMI)

Right Field: Steve Finley, 1990: .328 SLG

Like a surprising number of players on the list—particularly the man coming up next—Finley was a pretty decent player once he developed. Into his late 30s, Finley was posting strong offensive seasons, even finishing in the top 15 in MVP voting at age 39.

In his youth, though, Finley struggled. He was actually even worse during his rookie season the year before (he slugged .318 and had an on-base percentage under .300), but upon leaving Baltimore Finley began hitting and didn’t really stop until he was 40.

Designated Hitter: Ted Simmons, 1984, .300 SLG

You only get, as the cliché goes, one chance to make a first impression. But in baseball, you can have a lot of chances to make a last impression. And sometimes that does you no favors.

The year before, Simmons posted a .799 OPS while catching, but that was the last good year of his career.

While 1984 represents rock bottom—he was nearly three wins below replacement, a swing of almost seven wins from the season before—Simmons had just a .669 OPS from 1984 on.

If you want to know why a catcher who compares favorably to the likes of Jorge Posada and Mickey Cochrane fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year, his last impression has something to do it with it.

By the time you read this—hopefully—New York will have its power restored and the after-effects of Irene will be largely in the past. For the players on this list, though, the blackout lasted a whole season.

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Chris J.
Chris J.

Oh – and congrats on article #200.