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Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Gordon Beckham's good awful season

By David Schoenfield

Gordon Beckham looked like a future star after an excellent rookie season in 2009, when he hit .270/.347/.460 with 14 home runs in 378 at-bats and solid walk and strikeout rates. That he did this just a year after the White Sox drafted in the first round out of the University of Georgia was even more impressive.

Beckham
Beckham
He hasn't matched those numbers since, but he is at least hitting for more power this season -- 16 home runs, after hitting just 19 the previous two seasons combined. Still, his overall batting line of .239/.297/.387 is hardly impressive with that sub.-300 OBP and sub-.400 slugging.

Christina Kahrl wondered if Beckham hits 20 home runs where his year would rank on the all-time list of worst 20-homer seasons. We figured a Dave Kingman season would have to rank up there. So we checked the Baseball-Reference Play Index to find out.

There have been 30 seasons where a player hit 20 home runs but produced an OPS under .700. Kingman does appear on the list -- in fact, his 35 home runs in 1986 are the most ever for a player who OPSed under .700. The lowest OPS, however, belongs to Willie Kirkland, who hit 21 home runs for the 1962 Indians, but a .200 batting average dragged his OPS down to .649. Vernon Wells' 2011 season (25 home runs, .660 OPS) is third on the list. The worst by OPS+ is Marquis Grissom's 2001, when he hit 21 home runs for the Dodgers, but hit .221 with an anemic .250 OBP.

Dale Murphy made the list twice -- once at the beginning of his career (1978) and once at the end (1989) -- but my favorite might be Joe Carter, who made the list twice in seasons he managed to drive in 100 runs. In 1990, he hit .232/.290/.391 with 27 home runs and 115 RBIs, and in 1997 he hit .234/.284/.399 with 30 home runs and 102 RBIs. Joe Carter, RBI machine! His WAR those seasons, from Baseball-Reference: -2.0 and -1.1. Carter had some good seasons; those two were not among them.

As for Beckham, he's a second baseman, so the tradeoff of power for a low batting average is a little more acceptable. He's not the hitter he was in 2009, and he's not much better than replacement level, but the White Sox didn't do what some organizations do, which is punt on a player without having a better option on hand.