When the American League adopted the designated hitter to start the 1973 season, it was a move designed to introduce more offense into a league that had suffered from stagnant numbers ever since the pitching mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches in 1969.
The National League has steadfastly refused to adopt the DH in play between its own teams, and only utilizes the designated hitter during interleague road games and road games during the World Series.
Connie Mack, the Hall of Fame manager for the Philadelphia Athletics, originally wanted to adopt the designated hitter rule all the way back in 1906, when he got tired of watching pitchers Eddie Plank and Charles Bender consistently record automatic outs. His idea at the time however was considered “theoretically wrong.”
Nonetheless, the AL finally made its decision to adopt the rule to start the 1973 season, and they have consistently had a higher cumulative batting average over the National League ever since.
There may be nothing more frustrating than to see a National League team load the bases with the potential to put up crooked numbers, only to see the pitcher striding toward the plate.
While the DH rule can be debated ad nauseum, we’ll reserve that discussion for another article and another time. For now, we will look at the futile flailings of major league pitchers over the years and rank the 20 worst hitting pitchers of all time.
For clarification purposes, pitchers must have accumulated 200 plate appearances to have their names placed on this dubious list of honor.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.
Starting pitcher Al Leiter may have racked up 162 wins during his 19-year career, but hitting was clearly not his lot in life.
In 530 career at-bats, Leiter collected a total of eight extra base hits while striking out 290 times.
Leiter did accumulate 48 sacrifice hits, however, one of the higher totals on this list overall.
For 17 seasons, Wilbur Wood made his living on the knuckleball and is one the very few pitchers in the history of baseball to record 20 wins and 20 losses in the same season (24-20, 1973).
Wood could certainly float a ball up to the plate pretty well, but the ball used to float by his bat on a regular basis as well. In 322 official at-bats, Wood totaled exactly two extra base hits and whiffed a staggering 189 times, equaling an eye-popping 58.9-percent strikeout rate.
And you thought Baltimore Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds struck out a lot…
Karl Drews was essentially a journeyman pitcher, playing for four different teams during his eight-year career, with an overall record of 44-53 and a very mediocre 4.76 lifetime ERA.
However, what was even more putrid was his attempts at batting. In 254 total at-bats, Drews collected just 21 hits, scored only 10 runs and only dropped down eight successful sacrifices.
When pitcher Jeff Fassero debuted in 1991 with the Montreal Expos, he showed a lot of promise on the mound, and in his first full season in 1993, Fassero showed he could be dominant as a starter as well, posting a 12-5 record and 2.25 ERA.
Later in his career, Fassero was mainly a reliever, and it was probably a good thing he didn’t get many more opportunities at the plate, considering his lifetime .083 average and his complete inability to meet ball with bat. Fassero struck out 151 times in 276 career at-bats for a whiff rate of 54.7 percent.
For the bulk of Doug Davis’ 13-year career in the majors, he has basically been employed as a fourth or fifth starter, never having a season during which he had higher than a .520 winning percentage.
As far as hitting goes, Davis was not blessed with good batting genes, either. In 408 total at-bats, Davis has compiled exactly six total extra base hits, and has only walked four times in his entire career.
Apparently, Davis can’t find the strike zone as a batter, either.
For the first six years that Bruce Ruffin was in the majors pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies, he was mainly employed as a starter. However, after never achieving a winning record in any season, Ruffin was moved to the bullpen with the last two teams he played for, the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, where at least his damage could be kept to a minimum.
There was no escaping the damage that Ruffin caused at the plate, however. In 295 total at-bats, Ruffin hit an anemic .081 and had an even more embarrassing .095 slugging percentage.
When the Florida Marlins first got a look at young teenage pitcher Claudio Vargas in the Dominican Republic, they were so impressed that they signed the 16-year-old. Vargas did not debut in the majors until eight years later, after he had been traded by the Marlins to the Montreal Expos.
Vargas never showed the promise that prompted the Marlins to sign him in 1995, posting a 48-40 record with a 4.83 ERA before finally retiring on Monday after being unable to pitch well enough to make the Colorado Rockies roster.
At the plate, Vargas just plain never showed any promise at all. In 188 at-bats, Vargas collected a grand total of 15 hits, scoring just five runs and walking just three times, proving once again that pitchers generally have no knowledge of the strike zone from a close-up view.
One only has to look at the total futility of Lee Stange at the plate to rail against the idea of pitchers ever being allowed to hit.
In 305 total at-bats, Stange totaled a grand total of two, count ‘em, two, extra-base hits. While his exploits on the mound will never be considered terrific (62-61 record over 10 seasons), it’s certainly a far sight better than what was seen of Stange whenever he had a bat in his hands.
During the late 1960s, Bill Hands was an effective pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, even winning 20 games in 1969 and 18 games the following year. However, as Hands got older, his effectiveness waned quickly, and he was out of baseball at 35 years of age.
At the plate, Hands certainly didn’t have good hands. In 472 lifetime at-bats, Hands hit a putrid .078, accumulating a 52.7-percent strikeout rate along the way. He did, however, at least have some type of a discerning eye, walking 48 times during his career.
For the four years that Mike Bielecki toiled for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was largely ineffective, prompting the Bucs to trade him to the Chicago Cubs just before the start of the 1988 season. The change of scenery certainly did Bielecki well, as he posted a 18-7 record in his second season with the Cubbies, along with a 3.14 ERA, good enough to garner a ninth-place finish in the Cy Young award balloting for the 1989 season.
As a hitter, Bielecki was downright offensive. In 282 total at-bats, Bielecki totaled 22 singles and zero extra-base hits.
I mean, wow, not even once could the guy leg out a double?
Sheets struggled through his first three years in the majors. However, in 2004 he enjoyed a breakout campaign, posting a 2.70 ERA with 264 strikeouts in 237 innings, prompting the Brewers to sign him to a four-year, $38 million contract, at the time the largest in team history.
Sheets never came close to his 2004 season, suffering a series of injuries that limited his ability to command his fastball. While Sheets did make the All-Star team in 2007 and 2008, his strikeout rate had dropped significantly and the constant injuries eventually took their toll.
At the plate, Sheets was completely clueless. In 436 total at-bats, Sheets collected three extra-base hits and struck out a whopping 206 times against just 18 walks.
In a 13-year career, pitcher Dick Drago had his moments of glory, especially in 1975 when Drago was a driving force in the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox and helped them reach the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
However, as a hitter Drago would have been better off just asking the umpire to call him out instead of wasting time in the batters’ box. In 274 total at-bats, Drago had 21 total hits, just four of them for extra bases.
For parts of five seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates waited patiently for pitcher Tom Gorzelanny to realize his potential on the mound. The Pirates finally got tired of waiting, trading Gorzelanny to the Chicago Cubs just before the trade deadline in 2009.
Gorzelanny is still trying to find some semblance of mastery, now with the Washington Nationals. At the plate, Gorzelanny never found any semblance of anything. In 182 total at-bats, Gorzelanny has collected 14 total hits, all of them singles.
I’ll say it one more time—are you really that bad that you can’t leg out at least one double?
Clem Labine gained fame during the magical “Boys of Summer” season for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, providing 13 wins mostly out of the bullpen and helping the Dodgers to win their first-and-only World Series championship while in Brooklyn.
As a batter, however, Labine was a train wreck, with a lifetime .075 average. One thing that Labine had going for him at the plate was that he did hit three home runs, giving him the overall lead among all pitchers on this list.
Hey, that at least has to count for something, right?
If you don’t remember this particular pitcher, we’ll give you a pass.
During six mostly mediocre seasons pitching for historically bad teams (San Diego Padres, Houston Astros), Bill Greif compiled a record of 31-67 with a 4.41 ERA, and was out of baseball by the time he was 26.
Compounding his troubles on the mound, Greif was even more egregious with a bat in his hands. In 166 total at-bats, Greif collected 12 hits, all singles.
What is it with these pitchers that can’t even make it to second base? Greif even had trouble traversing the bases, scoring just six runs during his, um, illustrious career.
Good grief, Greif.
For one magical season in 1964, Dean Chance put together one of the finest seasons ever for the Los Angeles Angels, with a 20-9 record, a 1.65 ERA, 15 complete games and 11 shutouts. Chance was the easy winner of the American League Cy Young award that year.
Over his 11 seasons, Chance put up a 2.92 career ERA, showing that he was a master at preventing runs from scoring. However, at the plate Chance was a master at doing absolutely nothing.
In 662 career at-bats, Chance struck out a staggering 422 times, totaling a 63.4-percent strikeout rate, easily the highest on this list.
Imagine going to the plate 20 times and barely averaging one hit. That’s what the remainder of this list looks like.
Luke Walker pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates during eight of his nine seasons, and mercilessly pitched for the Detroit Tigers in his final season, 1974, during which he didn’t have to pick up a bat.
Considering his lifetime .059 average, that was certainly good news for the Tigers. In 188 total at-bats, Walker struck out 107 times and was another of that incredibly slow list of pitchers who couldn’t leg out a double—collecting just 11 singles during his career.
During his 10-year career, pitcher Mark Clark was the epitome of an average pitcher—a 74-71 lifetime record with a 4.61 ERA with five different teams.
Where Clark really showed mediocrity, however, was in the batters’ box. Clark, in 242 official at-bats, totaled 14 total hits, but at least one of them went yard, making him one of only two pitchers on this entire list who can claim they went out of the ballpark at least once.
When pitcher Don Carman broke through with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1983, he showed promise as a guy who could be used out of the bullpen or as a starter. In 1986, Carman showed off that versatility, compiling a 10-5 record with a 3.22 ERA and making 14 starts.
Carman never fully blossomed as a starter, going 23-25 over the next two seasons, mainly in the starting rotation, shifting back to the bullpen in 1990 after a disastrous 1989 campaign during which he was 5-15 with a 5.24 ERA.
It was probably a good thing that Carman made his way back to the bullpen, because as a hitter every fifth day, Carman was as good an automatic out as anyone who ever played.
In 209 total at-bats, Carman collected 12 hits, and yes, you guessed it—all singles.
In 1986, Carman managed to get through the entire season hitless in 31 total at-bats.
During his 15-year career, pitcher Brian Moehler spent the first six-and-a-half seasons with the Detroit Tigers, meaning he rarely had to pick up a bat. Considering his overall futility at the plate, he should have stayed in the AL.
In 202 total at-bats, Moehler couldn’t even break the double-digit mark in hits, ending up with nine. Moehler did at least hit two doubles, keeping him off that dubious list of Punch-and-Judy singles hitters.
And here we are, at the top of our list with a pitcher that had absolutely no idea what to do with a bat in his hands.
Ron Herbel, pitching most of his career with the San Francisco Giants, certainly didn’t get any tips on hitting from teammates Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds or Willie McCovey.
In 206 total at-bats, Herbel collected a whopping total of six hits. Herbel struck out 125 times and only walked eight times, giving him an on-base percentage of .065, easily giving him the honor of the worst-hitting pitcher in Major League Baseball history.