An article from Dugout Central
Published by Steve Caimano on November 10, 2008 07:25 am
My assignment is to identify the worst hitter to ever play major league baseball. This is exactly the kind of article nobody wants to write. As soon as you pick a name somebody will argue that the player was a great fielder or that he was a clubhouse leader or an outstanding human being, and you’re just a big fat jerk who couldn’t hit a major league fastball with an oar. All of that might be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that somebody has to be the person who was the worst at every human endeavor. So with the understanding that I am making no judgments on any other aspects of this man’s life other than his ability to hit, let’s identify the worst hitter in history.
The first thing we have to do is identify how long you have to have played to qualify. It certainly isn’t enough to just be historically bad for a few at bats, or even a year or two. No, to be the worst hitter ever you need to have longevity as well as ineptitude. In order to qualify for this "award" a player has to have a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances.
Next comes the harder part: how do we measure "worst"? What I decided was that I would use career OPS+ to whittle the field down, then do a more detailed analysis on this (hopefully) small number of players. I used OPS+ because it’s adjusted for the era in which the player played and their home park and also because it only deals with hitting. The problem with using some of the advanced stats (VORP or Runs Created) is that these include stolen bases and I didn’t want to muddy the waters.
So I went to baseball-reference.com and used the "Play Index" to give me a list of the players with at least 3,000 plate appearances and a career OPS+ less than 75 (the average OPS+ is 100). What I found shocked me. There would be no need for a detailed analysis of a group of closely matched players for the title of "Worst Hitter Ever". No, the answer was clear, and his name is Bill Bergen.
Bill Bergen was a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Superbas/Dodgers from 1901 to 1911. He played in a total of 947 games and had 3,028 at bats. His career OPS+ was 21 … that’s right, 21. The next lowest career OPS+ was the 49 posted by Hal Lanier. Hal Lanier’s lifetime slash stats (AVG/OBP/SLG) were .228/.255/.275. Bill Bergen was a far worse hitter than Hal Lanier. Bill Bergen’s BEST hitting year was 1903 when he went .227/.252/.266, which equates to an OPS+ of 41 and is worse than Lanier’s career numbers. He had four doubles, two triples and seven walks in 207 at bats.
It’s difficult for me, quite frankly, to find words that do justice to how bad those stats are and, again, that was Bergen’s best year. It was the only time in his eleven major league seasons that he managed to hit for an average above .200. In 1909 he hit .139 in 346 at bats. In 1911, his final year, he hit .132. He had four extra base hits and a slugging percentage of .154. His OPS+ was -1. I didn’t know it was possible to have a negative OPS.