June 22, 2005

Chasing the Dream

If you're going to be bad, be historically bad. That's what I always say. After going 2-for-4 with two infield singles last night (and having a couple close calls with me in attendance Tuesday night), Luis Rivas has now gone 91 plate appearances this season without a single extra-base hit.

Now, 91 plate appearances is not a huge sample and Rivas has certainly never been considered a power hitter. However, his complete lack of power this year is rather amazing. Consider that Rivas had averaged one extra-base hit for every 13.9 plate appearances coming into this season, a rate that would give him 6-7 extra-base hits this year. Instead, he has none.

The only other hitters still stuck on zero extra-base hits while getting even 50 plate appearances this season are Willie Harris, who is a utility man for the White Sox, and Charles Thomas, who was so bad as an outfielder for the A's that they sent him down to Triple-A earlier this month. Harris has gone 74 plate appearances without an extra-base hit, while Thomas has gone 55.

The real question is whether or not Rivas' complete inability to hit a ball into the gap this season is unique, not just in the context of this season, but throughout baseball history. Believe it or not, it is. Here is a list of the hitters with the most plate appearances in a season without any extra-base hits in the history of the sport:

                         YEAR       PA
Herman Pitz 1890 346
Bill Holbert 1879 245
Jim Donahue 1886 199
Jack O'Connor 1906 184
Charlie Bastian 1889 180
Vic Willis 1902 161
John Keefe 1890 161
Art Whitney 1882 158
Joe McGinnity 1899 157
Mike McNally 1916 151

The first thing you'll notice about the above list is that all the seasons are from before 1920, and nearly all of them are from before 1900. Comparing Rivas' 2005 season with, for instance, how many plate appearances some guy named Herman Pitz had without an extra-base hit in 1890 doesn't interest me very much, so let's adjust the parameters a little.

Here's a slightly revised list, this one showing the hitters with the most plate appearances in a season without any extra-base hits during the last 80 years (which coincides nicely with the end of the Deadball Era):

                         YEAR       PA
Dwain Anderson 1973 144
Dave Nelson 1969 137
Pat Corrales 1972 135
Mike Gallego 1995 132
Bob Swift 1951 118
Paul Casanova 1974 113
Frankie Baumholtz 1956 112
Doc Farrell 1933 112
Tom Egan 1974 109
John Simmons 1949 107

Ah, much better. That list shows the top 10, but in all a total of 18 non-pitchers have finished a season with zero extra-base hits and more than 91 plate appearances since 1925. Dwain Anderson holds the modern record at 144 plate appearances in a 1973 season that saw him hit .121/.232/.121 in 71 games between the Padres and Cardinals. With 91 plate appearances already under his belt, Rivas is nearly two-thirds of the way to Johnson's pathetic mark.

The Twins' team record belongs to Dean Chance, who went 108 plate appearances without an extra-base hit in 1967 and then followed it up with 106 plate appearances and zero extra-base hits in 1968. Of course, Chance was a pitcher and won 36 games during those two seasons, so the fact that he didn't have any power was fairly irrelevant.

The Twins' team record for non-pitchers belongs to Luis Gomez, who went 81 plate appearances without an extra-base hit in 1975. Gomez was a utility infielder who played eight seasons in the majors, the first four with the Twins, and finished his career with zero home runs in 1,391 plate appearances. In 1975, he hit .139/.182/.139 and got just 81 plate appearances in 89 games. In other words, he was being counted on to hit about as much as Chance was.

Unfortunately, we can't do an "Extra-Base Hit Watch" for Rivas. Well, we could do it, but it wouldn't make much sense beyond providing a daily opportunity to mock him (as if I needed that). This is the sort of record that Rivas could "break" in July and then ruin with a bloop double down the right-field line in August. Because until the final day of the season, the streak will always be in jeopardy. Hopefully it won't take that long.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Dave Studeman)

Today's Picks (61-54, +$615):
Florida (Willis) -140 over Atlanta (Sosa)

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