Jerry Lynch 1930-2012

 Jerry Lynch passed away recently. Lynch was an outfielder for the Pirates and Reds in the 1950s and 60s. He also caught a few games (and did so without a passed ball or error).

But, Lynch is remembered mostly for his prowess as a pinch-hitter. After the jump, I’ll look a bit more into how Lynch ranks among the game’s premier pinch-hitters.

Here are the leaders in most pinch-hit appearances in the game-searchable era. Note that, to avoid including non-PH appearances, I have limited the search to games appearing as a pinch-hitter and having exactly one PA, and stats shown are for just those appearances. For completeness, I’m also showing the PH appearances omitted from the stats and resulting total PH appearances (except those without a PA, when the pinch-hitter was pinch-hit for).

Rk Player Omitted and Total PH games   PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Lenny Harris 75 / 883 Ind. Games 808 737 191 33 4 5 81 58 84 .259 .314 .335 .649
2 Mark Sweeney 27 / 799 Ind. Games 772 658 166 37 0 14 95 95 172 .252 .348 .372 .720
3 Dave Hansen 30 / 705 Ind. Games 675 574 130 21 3 15 77 95 150 .226 .335 .352 .687
4 Greg Gross 90 / 733 Ind. Games 643 527 111 13 1 0 49 99 47 .211 .333 .239 .572
5 John Vander Wal 36 / 624 Ind. Games 588 507 116 30 4 17 90 78 147 .229 .330 .404 .735
6 Smoky Burgess 31 / 601 Ind. Games 570 486 137 25 0 15 134 73 42 .282 .375 .426 .801
7 Manny Mota 54 / 597 Ind. Games 543 457 133 14 2 4 101 55 45 .291 .366 .357 .722
8 Red Lucas 1 / 485 Ind. Games 484 436 116 22 4 2 69 40 40 .266 .328 .349 .676
9 Elmer Valo 12 / 491 Ind. Games 479 376 87 15 2 3 72 87 45 .231 .376 .306 .682
10 Gates Brown 24 / 500 Ind. Games 476 405 101 13 5 15 68 66 58 .249 .353 .417 .770
11 Jerry Lynch 38 / 507 Ind. Games 469 415 105 12 3 16 79 49 87 .253 .331 .412 .743
12 Greg Norton 26 / 489 Ind. Games 463 394 88 17 2 13 67 66 118 .223 .337 .376 .713
13 Orlando Palmeiro 64 / 525 Ind. Games 461 404 103 19 2 2 45 41 58 .255 .324 .327 .651
14 Jim Dwyer 46 / 501 Ind. Games 455 385 90 16 2 10 68 55 73 .234 .323 .364 .687
15 Mike Lum 23 / 475 Ind. Games 452 396 97 14 2 8 56 45 89 .245 .324 .351 .675
16 Matt Stairs 42 / 490 Ind. Games 448 380 92 19 1 20 76 58 101 .242 .348 .455 .803
17 Terry Crowley 46 / 494 Ind. Games 448 385 99 16 1 5 64 56 45 .257 .348 .343 .691
18 Steve Braun 44 / 482 Ind. Games 438 374 101 19 3 4 54 59 55 .270 .368 .369 .737
19 Tim McCarver 27 / 456 Ind. Games 429 356 80 9 2 4 46 59 41 .225 .327 .295 .622
20 John Cangelosi 45 / 469 Ind. Games 423 359 67 7 1 3 11 52 82 .187 .297 .237 .534
21 Jose Morales 66 / 486 Ind. Games 420 386 111 22 2 12 85 26 75 .288 .333 .448 .782
22 Jay Johnstone 36 / 452 Ind. Games 419 376 81 6 2 10 55 38 56 .215 .290 .322 .612
23 Gerald Perry 16 / 429 Ind. Games 413 353 93 16 1 6 62 54 66 .263 .356 .365 .721
24 Jerry Hairston 23 / 434 Ind. Games 411 346 86 15 1 8 50 57 56 .249 .349 .367 .716
25 Rusty Staub 19 / 418 Ind. Games 399 343 94 20 0 7 87 46 38 .274 .353 .394 .747
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/19/2012.

Omitted PH appearances arise from times when a pinch-hitter remains in the game and has subsequent PAs. Those with larger numbers in the Omitted column (e.g. Greg Gross) may indicate PH appearances that include mid-game platoon substitution. I have my suspicions about the low Omitted numbers for Red Lucas and Elmer Valo – the older data may not be entirely compelete and/or accurate. 

So, Lynch ranks 9th all time with 507 plate appearances as a PH. And, he performed quite well in that role. Here are his rankings among the 225 most frequently used pinch-hitters (min. 200 PAs) since 1918.

  • HR – 3rd
  • RBI – 9th
  • SLG – 18th
  • OPS – 24th
  • BB – 27th

The rate stat rankings may be a bit misleading since Lynch did hit in a lower run scoring environment.

Happily for comparison purposes, Lynch appears next to Gates Brown on the list. Brown did walk more and strike out less, but otherwise the numbers are eerily similar. While Brown did hit in a tougher offensive environment, their career OPS+ are nevertheless identical 110 scores. Yet, my sense is that much more has been made of Brown’s skill as a pinch-hitter. Any contrary views on that? 

Lynch had a 167 OPS+ in the 1961 season, playing a key role for the pennant-winning Reds. His pinch-hitting stats that year were exceptionally strong.

I Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
  as PH 59   59 47 11 19 4 1 5 25 12 5 .404 .525 .851 1.376
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/19/2012.

Incidentally, that  167 OPS+ is tied for 5th best (min. 200 PAs) among the 130 players with career (min. 3000 PA) OPS+ of 108 to 112. 

Gates Brown also had a similar monster year in the Tigers championship season of 1968, with a 234 OPS+ that included this PH split.

I Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
  as PH 48   48 40 7 18 5 1 3 7 8 1 .450 .542 .850 1.392
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/19/2012.

Selective evidence to be sure, but these two seasons are at least indicative of the value of a reliable pinch-hitter.

In today’s game with 12 and 13 man pitching staffs and resulting ultra-short benches, pinch-hitting specialists could become a vanishing breed. Consider this list of pinch-hit appearances by year since 1998 – you’ll see the 3 lowest totals are the past 3 seasons, and the 4 highest totals are the first 4 seasons in this period.

Rk Year #Matching
1 2000 5778
2 1999 5774
3 1998 5750
4 2001 5743
5 2007 5742
6 2008 5716
7 2003 5700
8 2005 5632
9 2002 5616
10 2004 5615
11 2006 5612
12 2010 5541
13 2009 5451
14 2011 5266
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/19/2012.

What future do you see for the pinch-hitting specialist?


Comments

Jerry Lynch 1930-2012 — 29 Comments

  1. When you factor in the era in which he played and everything else, Lynch has a reasonable argument for being the best pinch hitter of all time. He’s certainly in the top 10 and I would put him in the top 5, I think. But he would be behind Gates because he is a Tiger after all.

    I’ve stated my belief before that the notion of 12 & 13 man pitching staffs isn’t just ridiculous I think it’s actually counter-productive, mostly because teams can no longer carry a pinch hitter. I keep hoping that someone will come to their senses and cut back to a 10 man rotation, have someone have a huge season as a pinch hitter like Lynch did and win the World Series. I suspect that within a few years everyone would be back to staffing that way again. I just don’t know who’s going to do it.

    Makes me sad that so many of the heros of my youth are dying. Thanks for the post, Doug.

  2. Table is interesting, although to a certain extent self-selecting. Not a single hitter over .291, with majority below .250. Only 7 of 25 above .350 OBA. Only a small bit of power-60% had fewer than 10 HR’s. Can you make an argument that PH’s are like relief pitchers-some talent, but not good enough to start?

    • I would say pinch hitters are like relief pitchers in that they have weaknesses that are exposed with increased playing time.
      Relievers usually have a great pitch or two good ones, rarely three. In the same way good pinch hitters are usually skilled at contact and/or power but are not starters because they lack the skills to play everyday either because of age, health, or their defensive shortcomings.

    • Matt Stairs on this list ranks 10th in OPS as a PH (min. 200 PA). Leader is Cliff Johnson at .902 in 280 PA. Willie McCovey is 3rd at .840 in 289 PA during a low offense era – I would guess his PH OPS+ would be tops.

      Manny Mota on this list ranks 4th in BA (again, min. 200 PA). Leader is Alex Arias at .321 in 226 PAs (195 AB), followed by Greg Colbrunn .315 and Bob Fothergill .304.

      Like the list in the article, above are games as a PH with exactly one PA.

        • That’s right. Stairs has 23 PH home runs, so 3 were hit in the games “omitted” from the stat list because of other non-PH PAs in those games.

          The previous record holder was Cliff Johnson with 20.

          • Thanks, Doug. One thing I’ve noticed on your recent articles(and this may just be my screen) is that when you put a table next to the baseball card of the player, it cuts off the table at the right margin. BA is visible, but it cuts off after that(I assume that’s OBP next to it but I can only see only letter.)

          • Sorry you’re having difficuties, bstar. Everything looks fine on my browser. But, I’ll remember that for future posts, and move the tables furher down in the article.

          • Doug, FWIW, I also see the right-most column of the table running over the margin, when I’m using Mozilla Firefox. When I use Google Chrome, it looks fine.

    • In Smoky Burgess’s last season at age 40 he went 8 for 60 exclusively pinch hitting. Without that season his PH average would be .303. What’s true for Smoky is true for several others: they were kept on because of their pinch hitting ability, and as soon as that died, so did their careers.

      A second point: pitchers used to be used as pinch hitters on occasion, certainly far more than today when the occurrence is next to nil. Strange, when so many pitchers clog the rosters. (Please note—irony.)

      • Ditto for Matt Stairs in 2011. He had similar anemic BAs in 2010 and, especially, 2009, but could still deliver the long ball. Once he could no longer do either, he was done.

        Irony is duly noted. To Hartvig’s point @1, it does seem rather ridiculous to have so many pitchers when the last guys in the bullpen probably aren’t going to give more than 30 or 40 innings, if that. And, they provide nothing else, save possibly for a very occasional pinch-running stint. No pinch-hitting, no versatility to fill-in for an inning here or there in different defensive positions. Seems like an awful waste of roster spots for the contribution obtained.

    • Thanks, Brandon. I see from the Obit that two of Lynch’s PH home runs were in the “omitted” games in my stat list. I’ll update the HR ranking noted in the article.

    • Brandon, thanks for sharing that obit.

      I noticed that the author quoted a passage from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. Unfortunately, he missed the point:
      __________

      In his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James made a case for Lynch being named MVP for his 1961 heroics.

      “He hit over .400 as a pinch hitter with power and played 44 games in the outfield. His slugging percentage of .624 and 50 RBI in 181 at-bats was a far better rate than Roger Maris had that same season, hitting 61 home runs,” James wrote. “More than that, Lynch had big, big hits; game after game, when the Reds were in danger of falling short, Lynch came up with the big hit to put them back in front, and the Reds, picked to finish sixth, won the pennant.”
      __________

      That’s obviously praise, high praise. But James wasn’t making a case for Lynch as MVP. He was using Lynch’s pinch-hit heroics to illustrate the absurdity of giving the 1992 AL MVP Award to Dennis Eckersley, who pitched 80 innings and faced 309 batters.

      • “Lynch had big, big hits; game after game,” etc. Seems like hitting in the clutch isn’t all baloney to Saint James.

        Ooops! That’s the other discussion.

          • I agree in that while a Dick Radatz-type reliever, with 130-160 IP, would be a somewhat worthy MVP candidate, an Eckersley (’92) or Fingers (’81) year, with about 80 IP, just doesn’t have enough playing time to be seriously considered for the MVP award.

        • NSB, is it your position that a person who denies that there are significant differences in “clutch” ability loses the right to talk about a big hit?

          I mean, I dug the clever quip and all, but at the end of the day, I’d like to know whether you meant what you implied.

          • JA:

            First, I’d like to say that your comments overall are to my mind the most apt and penetrating at HHS. I’m always looking for your input.

            As for my reply above, it was a joke: I saw a fork in the road and I took it, as that sage Yogi once remarked to the enlightenment of all.

            However, I do think clutch hitting exits, but only in a situational context. You apparently have played the game. Graham’s experience of hitting a triple with the bases loaded in a tight finish must be paralleled in your own experience someplace—I remember four times in mine—they are vivid after fifty years. I don’t remember all the other at bats—some I do, good and bad—but I remember quite clearly when I came through to help win the game—because I helped win the game, not because it upped my stats.

            I’ve not answering your original question, I know, but that’s the best i can do.

          • Thought of an answer:

            A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.—RWE

            Bill James has a big mind. Hope the rest of us do as well.

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