- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Jon Lester of the Chicago Cubs went 0-for-2 on Wednesday night. No shame in that. A lot of hitters go 0-fer against Max Scherzer. But Lester is now 0-for-23 with 13 strikeouts in 2015 and 0-for-59 in his career. That's the most hitless at-bats of any player in major league history at the start of a career, surpassing the 0-for-57 start for former San Diego Padres pitcher Joey Hamilton.
Lester is still a long way from the most hitless at-bats in a season, however: Bob Buhl went 0-for-70 for the Braves and Cubs in 1962 (although somehow managed to draw six walks).
In honor of Lester's futility, let's do a list of the all-time worst hitters at each position for players who had real careers.
P -- Dean Chance (1961-71)
Buhl was an .089 career hitter with no home runs, but that's not quite enough to get "worst" honors. Chance not only has the lowest career batting average given at least 300 plate appearances at .066, but he struck out 420 times in 662 at-bats and never hit a home run. He did manage two doubles in his career, so the record for most at-bats without an extra-base hit is the 373 of Jim Deshaies (he hit .088 in his career).
A couple of honorable mentions: Fred Gladding, a reliever in the 1960s and '70s, went 1-for-63; Aaron Heilman and Rick van den Hurk each went 1-for-47; and Ron Herbel, who pitched for the Giants and other clubs in the 1960s and early 1970s, was 6-for-206 with 125 strikeouts for an .029 career average.
C -- Bill Bergen (1901-11)
They've written poems about Bergen's offensive ineptitude, or if they haven't, they should. He came to bat more than 3,000 times in his career and hit .170/.194/.201. Yes, that's a .201 slugging percentage. Even in the Deadball Era, that's lower than terrible. His career OPS+, which adjusts for the offensive context of the time, is 21. The second-lowest for a player with at least 2,000 plate appearances is Warren Spahn at 43, and he was a pitcher. So how was Bergen able to last so long as a starting catcher when he topped a .200 batting average just once? Obviously he was an outstanding defensive catcher. His Society for American Baseball Research bio includes this quote from Sporting News: He "ranks with the best receivers in modern baseball. He is an intelligent student of the points of a batsman, a true and fast thrower and is without a peer in judging and capturing foul flies."
1B -- Todd Benzinger (1987-95)
A switch-hitter, Benzinger debuted with the Boston Red Sox in the rabbit-ball year of 1987 and hit an acceptable .278/.344/.444. From that, he milked a nine-year major league career. He had one full season as regular, with the Cincinnati Reds in 1989, and did hit 17 home runs but also hit .245 with a .293 OBP. He did win a World Series with the Reds in 1990, but from there he drifted to the Royals, Dodgers and Giants. He finished with a .301 career OBP and just 66 home runs in 2,856 at-bats, giving him an OPS+ of 88. Not exactly horrible -- if you're playing middle infield.
2B -- Doug Flynn (1975-85)
He played 11 seasons in the majors, five of them as a more or less full-time starting second baseman. He hit .238 with a .266 OBP and had just seven career home runs. He was also just 20-for-40 as a base stealer. So he couldn't hit for average, didn't draw walks, had no power and couldn't run. He did win a Gold Glove with the Mets in 1980, but Baseball-Reference rates him as 20 runs below average in the field for his career. Baseball was amok with Doug Flynn types in this era, and the list of worst-hitting second basemen is littered with guys from the 1970s -- Doug Griffin, Dave McKay, Sandy Alomar Sr., Mike Tyson, Denny Doyle and so on. Yuck.
3B -- Garth Iorg (1978-87)
It's funny how you remember things. Iorg was part of a third-base platoon with Rance Mulliniks for several years with the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember that being an effective platoon, but Iorg was actually mostly awful except for 1985, when he hit .313/.358/.469. But his career OPS+ was 72 as he hit just .258/.292/.347.
SS -- Hal Lanier (1964-73)
Honorable mention to Rafael Belliard, who had a slightly lower career OPS+, but Lanier also spent a lot of time at second base and Belliard was mostly a backup while Lanier started for the San Francisco Giants for seven seasons. Man, was he horrible. He hit .228/.255/.275. He was also from the Doug Flynn school: no power (8 career home runs), no speed (11 career steals) and drew 136 career walks in 3,940 plate appearances. At least, unlike with Flynn, the metrics do regard him as a good fielder, with 49 runs above average. Lanier later managed the Astros in the 1980s and, get this, he's still managing at 72.
What about Mario Mendoza, you ask? He didn't meet my qualifying standard with only 1,456 PAs (he was only a regular for one season), but he was indeed awful. With a .215 career average, however, he ended up above the Mendoza Line.
LF -- Vince Coleman (1985-97)
Left fielders are known for their bats, but I was still a little surprised to see that Coleman showed up as the left fielder with the worst career OPS+ (minimum 2,000 plate appearances) at 83. He hit .264/.324/.345 in his career, which doesn't seem terrible, but he had no power (28 home runs) and a mediocre OBP at a position where more power and OBP is expected. Coleman was definitely one of the most overrated players of his time -- he finished 11th and 12th in the MVP votes of 1985 and 1987 as he stole 100-plus bases -- but he didn't really offer much value in most seasons.
CF -- Willy Taveras (2004-10)
I'll go with the numbers and give Taveras the honors. His career OPS+ of 68 beats out Brian Hunter (72), Tom Goodwin (73) and Darren Lewis (73), all sort of contemporaries from the 1990s and 2000s who fit the same profile: fast, no power, didn't walk. It didn't help that they were putting up their numbers in an era of inflated numbers. Taveras was a good fielder and led the NL with 68 steals in 2008 but could hit only .251 while playing for the Rockies that year.
RF -- Mike Hershberger (1961-71)
OK, I wanted to put Jeff Francoeur here and he is sixth-worst all-time in adjusted OPS among right fielders (again, 2,000 PAs) but Hershberger was worse. I'm not exactly sure how he lasted six seasons as a starter with the Chicago White Sox and then the Kansas City A's. He hit .252 with just 26 home runs. He was good enough defensively to play some center field and had a strong arm, but the bat never came around.