Miami Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna was recently in jail. Not actual jail; Triple-A New Orleans, which according to Ozuna was “like a jail”. Ozuna was sent there after a particularly dismal streak and spent more than a month with the Zephyrs, a demotion that both Ozuna and agent Scott Boras suggested was more to do with delaying arbitration eligibility than performance. Here’s what Ozuna told the Miami Herald in that article:
“They tell me you’re going down for work, get your feeling back and you come back,” Ozuna said Saturday. “I know what happened when they sent me down. I knew that’s coming. I don’t go there for work, because they know me. I don’t need the work. One for 36, 1 for 100, every big-league player has it. I have it and everybody has it.”
It’s hardly surprising that Ozuna would suspect he was demoted for financial reasons rather than his on-field exploits; after all, he does play for a club owned by Jeffrey Loria. The part of the quote that was of real interest – should your interests include answering questions about obscure baseball statistics – was the second half, when Ozuna suggested that major leaguers often go 1-for-36, or indeed 1-for-100.
Obviously MLB players do go 1-for-36; Ozuna did it a couple of months ago. 1-for-100? That’s something altogether different. I’ll grant that there’s a small possibility of Ozuna trying to make a point using hyperbole; frankly, that’s irrelevant, because it brought up a question that myself, members of the Effectively Wild Facebook group, and indeed Ben and Sam themselves all pondered: has a major leaguer ever gone 1-for-100? It’s time for another adventure through the record books.
The obvious leader, without needing to do any research, is Jon Lester. The left-hander’s long hitless streak to start his career was well publicised, and he is now 1-for-81 in his career at the plate, with his move to the NL really bolstering his stats. Of course, unlike Ozuna, he’s not really expected to know what he’s doing with the bat. Given the different standards expected at the plate for pitchers and position players, this quest ought to answer three potential questions:
Has any non-pitcher ever gone 1-for-100?
Are there any pitchers who have?
What is the worst 1-for streak by a non-pitcher?
The first is particularly simple to answer. Some readers may be familiar with Bill Bergen, a catcher of the early 20th century who was renowned for his excellent defensive skills and equally remarkable inability to hit. If you weren’t familiar with Bergen’s name before Brewers infielder (and now manager) Craig Counsell went 0-for-45 in 2011, you probably would have heard it mentioned then, because Bergen was famous for having the worst non-pitcher hitless streak at 0-for-46. Upon further review, it appeared that this was in fact one at-bat too many, due to an unclear entry in Bergen’s game log. SABR’s Joe Dittmar therefore confirmed that Counsell had in fact tied Bergen, and infielder-turned-broadcaster Dave Campbell, on 45 at-bats without a hit, a mark that was broken later the same year by Eugenio Velez, who did indeed reach 46.
We’ll return to Velez later, but it doesn’t take a great deal of statistical analysis to determine that even a streak as long as this doesn’t get us to 100 when multiplied by two. Unfortunately for Marcell, that means that there are no position players who have ever gone 1-for-100 in the major leagues.
Aside from making this an incredibly short article, that would also be a somewhat disappointing end to this quest, which brings us to the second and third questions. While it’s clearly impossible for any position player to hit this badly and still stick around long enough to reach a hundred at-bats, pitchers should have no such impediment.
Normally, streak questions would be easy enough to answer using the Play Index Streak Finder (after subscribing with the coupon code BP). The problem here is we’re not looking for the longest streak with no-hits; having that single hit makes it impossible to search for the whole streak at once. Nevertheless, finding long streaks of hitless games is still presumably going to help; even a player with a hit exactly in the middle of a 1-for-100 slump would need to have 50 hitless at-bats either side. A more stat-savvy baseball fan than myself with a full Retrosheet play-by-play database would no doubt be able to create a query to look for such a streak automatically, which would be a much neater approach that wouldn’t require any adventures through game logs and player pages, but would require learning how to utilise the data and some much more advanced commands than the simplicity the Play Index offers (just to tease to my upcoming series in which I muddle my way through Retrosheet data files).
So, Play Index it is. The second issue is that the Streak Finder doesn’t really like it when you try to search for 30 or 40 years of hitless streaks; there’s a little too much to look through. I therefore had to split the query into multiple runs, then collate them in one spreadsheet to identify whether any player had two hitless streaks both long enough, and in close proximity. This runs the risk of a streak spanning the two periods, but again, even if I was to split one exactly down the middle, there should still be evidence of enough of a streak to warrant further investigation.
Finally, the streak finder looks for games, not the individual at-bats. That meant that there could potentially be a few extra hitless at-bats that weren’t showing up in games which did include hits, so I’d just have to check those play-by-play records if it was close.
The results turned up 34 streaks of 50 at-bats or longer. They included Lester’s 0-for-66 to start his career, and a whole lot of other pitchers. Top of the list, with the longest 0-for in MLB history, was a right-handed starter from the 1940s and 50s, Karl Drews, who had a 48-game, 86 at-bat hitless streak early in his career. After notching a hit just a few games into the 1947 season, Drews failed to record another until September of 1951, a 1-for-92 streak. Then, on September 22nd, Drews ruined his chance at 100 by singling off Dodgers reliever Bud Podbielan in his third at-bat, missing out on his first major league RBI when Eddie Waitkus was thrown out at home. The play is recorded as 5-3-2, suggesting that Drews barely beat out an infield single to Billy Cox at third, with Gil Hodges immediately throwing down to Roy Campanella to catch Waitkus at the plate. So close. Drews would single again two games later, this time off Carl Erskine.
So despite a hitless streak of almost 90, Karl Drews couldn’t get it done. What about second place: Bob Buhl?
An All-Star in 1960, Buhl had a fifteen-year major league career, primarily as a starter for the Braves, Cubs and Phillies. In total he pitched 2587 innings with a 3.55 ERA, 111 complete games and 20 shutouts, and almost 30 WAR. All that time on the mound also meant plenty of time at the plate, which was not quite such a strong point for Buhl: he had a career .089 batting average and .220 OPS (that’s a -38 OPS+). The high(low?)light came in 1962, when he went 0-for-70 in his 35 games, a mark that still stands – and will likely do so forevermore – as the most at-bats without recording a hit in a single MLB season. That forms part of the second-place streak on the leaderboard, which covered 38 games and 85 at-bats.
So what happened after Buhl broke his streak at 86 AB in his second PA on May 8th, 1963? He dashed our hopes. Buhl turned into a hitting machine, waiting just two more at-bats to hit a line drive single in his very next game, turning that 1-for-88 into 2-for-89. Buhl would collect two more hits that May, matching his total from all of 1961 in a single month.
Wait, all of 1961? If Buhl only recorded four hits all year, there’s still a chance. The 1961 gamelog was initially discouraging; a hit on September 1st, adding just two AB to our 86 AB run from the start of 1962 to May 1963. Then: triumph. Buhl failed to record a hit from his last at-bat on July 14th until that September hit: another 24 at-bats. The result? A 1-for-110 streak from July 19th, 1961, to May 8th, 1963.
Buhl, unlike Ozuna, did not get sent to ‘jail’. He would throw another 200-inning season in 1963, his sixth, and do the same as a 35-year-old in 1964, for his seventh season worth at least three wins. So Bob Buhl, we salute you, for proving Marcell Ozuna sort of right. Who said pitchers used to be able to hit? Below, you can see Buhl doing what he did best: not hitting.
So we have one, and it was pretty tough. If Buhl is renowned for having the most ineffective season at the plate, and he just made it to 100, the chances seem slim for finding another. Still, there were another 32 players with 50 or more AB hitless streaks, and third-placed Dean Chance had an 0-for-76 streak that promised much. Chance’s streak ran from August 1966 to July 1967, and as soon as his 1966 gamelog loaded, Bob Buhl’s mark looked pretty insignificant.
Chance singled in his second at-bat in 1966, and then went 1-for-72 to finish the year, recording just that solitary hit in August. He then proceeded to go 0-for-53 to start 1967, giving him an incredible 1-for-125 streak that was only snapped with a bunt single against Jim Lonborg in a July 28th romp over the Red Sox. Chance was an even more dreadful hitter than Buhl, with a .183 career OPS (-46 OPS+, for those of you enjoying these negative OPS+ marks) but had some exceptional seasons, including his 1964 Cy Young campaign: 207 strikeouts, a 1.65 ERA and 278 1/3 innings pitched, good for a 9.3 WAR season. On an entirely unrelated note, Chance is also from Wooster, Ohio, home to part of the Cespedes Family BBQ team. Here’s a fresh-faced Chance, our new 1-for-100+ champion:
Next up is three-time All-Star and long-time Pirate Bob Friend, who went a full year, and 74 at-bats, without a hit between July 1966 and 1967. Friend unfortunately book-ended that streak with more hits, stopping him just short of the 100 mark. The 16-year-veteran wasn’t as bad a hitter as Chance or Buhl, and so never mustered another comparable streak. After Friend, our opportunities begin to run out. Next up is Lester, who obviously isn’t at 1-for-100 yet (although he could clearly still make it). Bill Wight tied Lester at 0-for-66, including an 0-for-61 season in 1950, the second-most at-bats for a hitless season after Buhl. However, he had 14 hits the year before, including in the last game of the season, and snapped the streak early in 1951. As the at-bats in the streak started to drop, I instead started to look for players who might have two streaks in the 40-50 AB range, who could have made 100 with a hit right in the middle of the streak. That led to Ron Herbel.
A San Francisco Giant for seven years, Herbel was solid if unspectacular as a pitcher, the majority of his appearances coming out of the bullpen. Where Herbel did distinguish himself – even from our previous contenders – was with the bat: he hit .029/.065/.039 in his 227 major league PA, a minus seventy OPS+. It took Herbel a year and a half, and 56 at-bats, just to get a hit, an RBI single off the Astros’ Don Nottebart on May 21st, 1965. That would be his only hit of 1965, and it would in fact be another year until his second career knock, against the Phillies’ Larry Dierker on June 9th, 1966. Altogether, Ron Herbel started his career with a 1-for-108 streak, making him the third member of this exclusive club. Herbel would go on to get just four more career hits in his next five years in the majors, but as he was predominantly a reliever in the second half of his career, he also had just 81 PA in that span. Here’s Ron Herbel’s Topps card from that year he finally got his second hit; surprisingly, he does not appear to have a bat in his hand:
After Herbel, there are plenty of other pitchers with multiple long hitless streaks, often of 40 or 50 AB, including some notable names; Nolan Ryan, Dutch Leonard and Vida Blue among them. However, there are no others who have two such streaks in close enough proximity to rack up a 1-for-100 stretch. Question Two can reasonably confidently be answered with just three names: Dean Chance, Bob Buhl and Ron Herbel.
Ozuna, and most people who heard his quote, probably didn’t expect anyone to actually be in that club. Perhaps more pertinent to the actual intent of his statement is the final question: what is the worst 1-for streak of any position player?
Eugenio Velez is unsurprisingly a good starting point. A Giants player for his first four years in the majors, Velez moved to the Dodgers for the 2011 season and failed to record a hit in any of his 37 at-bats, the most at-bats in a hitless season for any position player in history. That made up the bulk of an 0-for-46 streak that also signalled the end of his time in MLB to date, so sadly there’s nothing to look beyond (although perhaps it might make Marcell feel a little better that he only had to stay with the Zephyrs for a month). Looking back, Velez recorded his last hit before the streak on May 18th, and prior to that his previous hit was April 20th, adding another 20 AB to our streak to make it a remarkable 1-for-66.
(Incidentally, that one hit was a decisive RBI single off current Angels reliever Cesar Ramos, in the twelfth inning of a Giants-Padres marathon that finished 7-6).
The previous record holders are less fruitful. There is no detailed game log or box score data isn’t complete for Bergen online, but we do know that he had 48 hits in his 346 at-bats in 1909, of which 45 – between the end of June and mid-July, were obviously hitless. It’s possible that there could have been an additional 22 at-bats either side of the streak to top Velez’s mark, but there’s no evidence of it. Counsell had three hits in three at-bats in the last game before his streak began, and lasted just four more at-bats after he snapped it, so he fell short at 1-for-50. Campbell ended his 45 AB drought with a multi-hit game, and had hits in both of the games preceding it, including a single off Giants great Juan Marichal. Campbell therefore went 1-for-49 from May 16th to September 18th of 1973, a span during which he played for three teams: the Padres, Cardinals and Astros.
Other players got close to a Velez-esque streak. Len Matuszek, who spent 7 years in the majors but never recorded more than 309 PA in a single season, went 1-for-57 for the Phillies between April 1982 and September 1983. As you can probably tell from the dates, Matuszek did get sent down during his streak, including a near five-month spell between April 1983 and that September, forcing him to wait almost a year and a half between big-league hits. Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio once had an 0-for-44 streak, almost breaking that record, which was part of a 1-for-55 slump spanning three weeks in May and early June of 1971. Five-time All-Star Cookie Rojas went 1-for-58 during an August 1975 swoon, including an 0-for-41 stretch. Naturally, neither Aparicio nor Rojas had to suffer in the minors. Some may remember Justin Ruggiano’s 0-for-39 run for Ozuna’s own Marlins in 2013; that made up two-thirds of a 1-for-56.
None, however, could match Velez. Even 1-for-50s are quite difficult to find. Many players have, of course, gone 1-for-36 or worse, including Hall of Famers like Aparicio and Joe Morgan. There have been three 1-for-36 months in MLB history: Skeeter Shelton (August 1915); Dan Meyer (June 1983) and Jackie Bradley Jr (September 2014). Special mention goes to Faye Throneberry, who recorded the only one-hit month of 40 at-bats or more in May 1957, when he went 1-for-42. Throneberry went 1-for-49 to start 1957, a period during which he was dealt from the Red Sox to the Washington Senators after a single at-bat.
In short, outside of pitchers, a major league hitter has never got anywhere near to going 1-for-100. Position players don’t get to fail that often and still take up a place on a roster. There’s only one hope for the Ozuna Conjecture to ever come true: Eugenio Velez, who is still technically an active player, and as recently as last offseason was invited to spring training. Maybe, just maybe, a team – or teams – will give him a shot to accumulate another 34 hitless at-bats. I’ll leave any interested front offices with some tantalising viewing material: Velez’s last major league hit, in May 2010; a testament to the fact that it is really, really hard to go 1-for-100.Next post: Effectively Wild: Essential Works (updated 12/29/17)
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