Top ten part-time batter seasons from the last 30 years

Here’s an interesting set of players–these are guys with at least 20 batting runs, no more than 400 plate appearances, and a ratio between the two of at least 8 batting runs per 100 PAs.

Rk Player PA Rbat Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Kevin Mitchell 380 36 1994 CIN 95 310 57 101 18 1 30 77 .326 .429 .681 1.110 *7/3
2 Justin Morneau 348 34 2010 MIN 81 296 53 102 25 1 18 56 .345 .437 .618 1.055 *3/D
3 Jim Thome 340 32 2010 MIN 108 276 48 78 16 2 25 59 .283 .412 .627 1.039 *D
4 Hubie Brooks 338 28 1986 MON 80 306 50 104 18 5 14 58 .340 .388 .569 .956 *6
5 Mark McGwire 321 39 2000 STL 89 236 60 72 8 0 32 73 .305 .483 .746 1.229 *3/467
6 Matt Williams 318 30 1995 SFG 76 283 53 95 17 1 23 65 .336 .399 .647 1.046 *5
7 Gary Sheffield 274 26 1995 FLA 63 213 46 69 8 0 16 46 .324 .467 .587 1.054 *9/7
8 Jack Clark 249 22 1984 SFG 57 203 33 65 9 1 11 44 .320 .434 .537 .971 *9/3
9 Johnny Grubb 243 20 1986 DET 81 210 32 70 13 1 13 51 .333 .412 .590 1.002 *D79
10 Frank Thomas 240 20 1990 CHW 60 191 39 63 11 3 7 31 .330 .454 .529 .983 *3/D
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/30/2012.

Pretty interesting, huh?

A few random notes:

  • It’s awesome to see two members of the 2010 Twins on the same list.
  • Kevin Mitchell (1994), Matt Williams (1995), and Gary Sheffield (1995) all did it in strike-shortened seasons.
  • Johnny Grubb rarely played full-time. After his Age 27 season, he had 10 years where he didn’t top 400 plate appearances, and only 1 where he did. The guy finished with a 121 OPS+ in his career.
  • Hubie Brooks put up his best season (rate-wise, at least) in 1986, posting a 161 OPS+ despite a career mark of 100.

42 thoughts on “Top ten part-time batter seasons from the last 30 years

  1. 1
    Brandon says:

    Johnny Grubb, always a fan favorite in Detroit, caught fire that summer.
    It was incredible to watch as a guy who usually pinch hit and rarely started. IIRC Grubb initially got playing time for an injured Kirk Gibson and did well. Later he earned some at bats as a DH and just went nuts at the plate. From July 1 to Aug 17, a stretch that included his 38th birthday, Grubb batted .378/.438/.745 with 9 HR in 112 plate appearances.
    The next year he batted .202.

    • 10
      Hartvig says:

      He was a favorite of mine as well during his Detroit tenure, at first largely because of his name. But his “breakout” season is also about the time I was first introduced to Bill James and eventually I became aware that in his seasons in Detroit leading up to that year he was considerably more valuable than I had thought because of the excellent job he had done at getting on base.

      I also find the Morneau/Thome appearance on this list kind of doubly satisfying because without the injury to Morneau Thome may not have had sufficient at bats to reach that level.

    • 18
      John Autin says:

      I better remember Grubb in ’84 as part of the Tigers’ terrific trio of backup outfielders. Grubb, Ruppert Jones and Rusty Kuntz all had OPS+ of 125-137 and played about 80 games but had just 168-237 PAs.

      So I just did a search for teams with the most players with 150-300 PAs and OPS+ at least 120. Fifteen teams in modern history had 3 such players, but none since 1998, obviously because of more roster spots used for relievers.

      Four of those 15 teams were in 1984: the Tigers, Expos, Reds and Phillies, the last of whom had four such players — including the ex-Tigers John Wockenfuss (who by all rights should have remained a Tiger for life!) and Tim Corcoran.

      It’s ironic that Sparky Anderson, after first making his mark with a team that he openly stratified into “stars” and “turds,” won his last championship with a team whose greatest strength was depth. Fifteen members of the ’84 Tigers had 150+ PAs, which is in the top 10% of all teams in modern history, and 14 of those had OPS+ of at least 95, which is the most in history.

  2. 2
    Dr. Doom says:

    2010 with the Twins was an interesting one. Thome was a surprise signing, with people thinking he was done already. That 2010 season basically earned him jobs the last 3 years. Morneau, as you’ll recall, was having a season for the ages (he was on pace for something like 10 WAR) before he got concussed on what seemed like a routine slide into second base. He’s never been the same. And, by the way, that Twins team STILL won their division, and nearly had the best record in the AL, in spite of their two most productive offensive players getting so few PAs.

    • 3

      The two best part-time seasons of all time (by this metric) were teammates in the same year. That is amazing.
      (I’m saying this while throwing out the Kevin Mitchell case – 95 games out of a possible 115 just isn’t part time. Really, we should just throw out all statistics from 1994. Just a mess to put them into any meaningful perspective.)

      • 5
        bstar says:

        True about 1994. Here’s a couple close calls from ’94 and ’95 that had just over 400 PA:

        David Justice ’94 Atlanta 28 Rbat, 424 PA
        Mark McGwire ’95 Oakland 51(!) Rbat, 422 PA

  3. 4
    Ed says:

    For a guy with a career 121 OPS+, Johnny Grubb has a surprisingly low number of runs and RBIs relative to his plate appearances.

    • 7
      Jason Z says:

      I love a list like this. The best thing on this list is Johnny Grubb.

      My first reaction was that Grubb does not belong. At first glance my
      thought was that he must be the worst offensive player on this list.

      My first shock was Ed pointing out that Grubb has a career 121 OPS+.

      I realized right there that I had underestimated Grubb from his playing

      Upon further research I learned something. In fact, I usually do learn
      something when I come here. I guess that is why I am here so frequently.

      In any event, what I learned is that Johnny Grubb is one of only three
      players on this list to finish his career with more walks than strikeouts.

      More walks than strikeouts, very impressive. Any player who does this
      is a valuable offensive addition to any team in any era.

      Oh yeah, the two other players on this list who can make that claim
      are both HOF’ers, at least they should be…

      Gary Sheffield and Frank Thomas.

      Good for you Mr. Grubb. Sorry I underestimated you. It won’t happen

      • 20
        John Autin says:

        Grubb didn’t hit lefties, so he was lucky to come along at a good time for platoon players. After near full-time play in his first few years, it was clear that he wasn’t effective against lefties, and he was pretty strictly platooned after that.

        He wound up facing a RHP in 85% of his career PAs, which helped him compile that 121 OPS+. Had he remained a full-timer — and considering that the percentage of innings thrown by southpaws was higher than normal during his platoon years — it probably would have dropped his OPS+ by 5 to 10 points.

    • 16
      Ed says:

      More on Grubb and his inability to score or drive in runs. There are 246 players with an OPS+ between 116 and 126 and more than 3,000 PAs. Only 16 of those players, Grubb being one of them, drove in less than one run every 10 plate appearances. Now, the other 15 are hardly a list of guys you wouldn’t want to be associated with. It includes Pete Rose and Tim Raines for example. However, of the 16, Grubb had the lowest rate of scoring runs. His runs/PAs ratio is .115. Next lowest is Johnny Bates at .123. At the other end, Earle Combs had by far the highest rate at .182.

      So what accounts for Grubb’s inability to score or drive in runs? No idea. His numbers with RISP look fine. He didn’t have a consistent position in the lineup but the plurality of his plate appearances were as a leadoff batter which gave him opportunities to score runs. He was probably “done in” by a combination of:

      1) playing on poor teams
      2) playing in a relatively low run environment
      3) lack of speed
      4) good but not great power

      • 21
        John Autin says:

        Grubb’s teams’ rank in league scoring:

        1973 Padres — last, waaaaay last, 3.38 R/G
        1974 Padres — last, waaaaay last, 3.34 R/G
        1975 Padres — last, waaaaay last, 3.41 R/G
        1976 Padres — next-to-last, 3.52 R/G
        1977 Indians — 9th, 4.20 R/G
        1978 Indians — 10th, 4.02 R/G
        1979 Rangers — 9th, 4.63 R/G
        1980 Rangers — 7th, 4.64 R/G
        1981 Rangers — 5th, 4.30 R/G
        1982 Rangers — last, waaaaay last, 3.64 R/G

        1973-76 were Grubb’s 4 busiest years, accounting for 42% of his career PAs — and those teams averaged less than 3.5 R/G.

        The 1983-86 Tigers had strong offenses, and his RBI & Run rates were just fine with Detroit.

        BUT … Grubb’s career performance with RISP was significantly worse than with nobody on. Counting sac flies as ABs, he hit just .252 and slugged .370 with RISP. With bases empty, .266 and .407.

        • 22
          Andy says:

          Grubb certainly moved around the lineup a lot. Over the course of his career, he had at least 7% of his career plate appearances in EACH batting order position 1 through 7. The most he had in any one position was 19.7%, batting leadoff, which may also partially explain his low R/RBI totals.

  4. 6
    no statistician but says:

    For a little quiz, here’s a line that could fit in Andy’s chart. It’s from the live ball era, but not that of a power hitter.

    Whose is it?

    PA: 283 Rbat: 21 R: 48 H: 92 HR: 7 RBI: 48 BA: .368 OBP: .436 SLG: .564 OPS: 1.000

    • 9
      John Nacca says:

      Grrrr, am not a subscriber to bbref……..

    • 11
      Hartvig says:

      I thought perhaps Debs Garms in the year he won his disputed batting title but the Plate Appearances and looked a little too low and OBP a little too high. Turns out I was right.

    • 14
      no statistician but says:

      A hint or two:

      This player was an important part of three WS teams as a player and hit one of the most famous home runs in WS history.

      • 15
        no statistician but says:

        Oh. And he’s also in the HOF.

      • 23
        Hartvig says:

        I came back to this thinking maybe I had the answer- at least until I read your hints & saw Richard’s post. My guess would have been Smoky Joe Wood. Which, of course, was also wrong.

        But I still like playing.

    • 17
      Richard Chester says:

      I got the answer right away by using the PI but I thought I would give other people a chance to solve it. It was Casey Stengel. And if you’re smart enough you can find the answer without being a PI subscriber.

      • 19
        no statistician but says:

        Let’s not always see the same hands. I almost said you were disqualified, R.C. But, since no one else seemed up to speed, you win the free, no expenses paid, trip to Paducah.

        • 25
          bstar says:

          Off-topic, sorry. nsb, you’re a Kentucky boy? I was born in Lexington and my parents went to UK, and my sister lives in Bardstown.

          • 30
            no statistician but says:

            Nope. Born in Indiana but grew up in Danville, Illinois, which I consider my home town, even though I drove through it for the first time in 25 years last spring. Paducah? Well, it’s south of Danville, I guess. First place with a funny sounding name that came to mind. Paris, Illinois, might have been
            a better choice. It’s south of Danville, too, and would make an even better prize.

          • 31
            Jason Z says:

            Off-off topic, It is hard to a free trip to Paducah, Kentucky.

            My suggestion is located less than 175 miles away. A small town called Santa Claus, Indiana.

          • 39
            bstar says:

            That’s Jay Cutler’s hometown, isn’t it, Jason?

          • 40
            Jason Z says:

            yes it is. I used to drive through it every day when I was working up that way during summer break, back in 1988.

  5. 8
    Artie Z. says:

    To me, only Thome, and maybe Grubb, really qualify as “part-time” players. Thome played 108 games, starting 78 and coming off the bench (probably for defensive purposes) in 30 other games. The most consecutive team games he missed was 8, near the end of the season. He missed 3 consecutive team games one other time, and then it was either 1 or 2 games.

    Everyone else on the list can be classified as (1) strike year player (Mitchell), (2) rookie call-up (Thomas), or (3) injured for a good chunk of the season (everyone else including Sheffield and Williams in 1995; Grubb missed the Tiger’s first 32 games in 1986 so I’m assuming he was injured).

    Take Justin Morneau for example – he meets the search criteria but he really wasn’t a part-time player – he played 81 of the Twins first 84 games before he was injured (I think he had concussion issues that year). It’s not like he was coming off the bench to pinch hit or filling in as a defensive replacement or even playing as a platoon player. He just got hurt – if he wasn’t hurt the Twins keep playing him.

    Same thing with Hubie Brooks – I believe he broke his thumb in 1986. I can find an 80 game span in 1984 (from May 1st to August 4th) for Brooks where his triple slash line is .323/.380/.454 with 31 runs, 15 2Bs, 1 3B, 7 HRs, and 34 RBI. His Rbat probably isn’t as high as it was for his half season in 1986 because he hit with less power over these 80 games in 1984, but it’s fairly close and he might have a better 80 games somewhere else.

    Same thing with Jack Clark. In 1987 from April 13th to June 18th Clark hit .337/.462/.703 with 49 runs, 15 2Bs, 1 3B, 19 HRs, and 61 RBI (and he walked 47 times) in 57 games with 249 PAs. Again, I don’t know what his Rbat is but it has to be pretty decent because those are pretty ridiculous numbers (hitting a HR every 3rd game), so if he was “lucky enough” to be injured in 1987 and only amass those stats then he would be captured by the search criteria. To me, other than Thome, the list doesn’t seem to capture the essence of a part-time player, but rather a player who was on a hot streak and was injured. When I think of a part-time player I think of someone like a Manny Mota or even a platoon guy like Wally Backman, or a guy like Thome at the end of his career.

    I think it’s a good list to start from but to really get at the core of the best part-time player season (beyond Thome) you would need to do a little manual filtering to eliminate players who were injured or strike year players or even rookie call ups who played regularly once they were called up. But those are just my thoughts.

    • 12
      Hartvig says:

      Prior to Morneau’s injury Thome was used in large part just as a pinch hitter. He started DHing more often after that point. He didn’t play a single game in the field that year. He’s actually played less than a couple of handfuls of games in the field since the 2005 season even though he spent one of those years in the National League.

  6. 13
    e pluribus munu says:

    Interesting group of players, Andy. Is it purposely limited in time span? I notice that Dusty Rhodes, for example, has 21 Rbat in 1954, with only 186 PA (.341/.410/.695).

    • 26
      e pluribus munu says:

      Oh. Just saw the headline. Must have read the text ten times — the headline, not so much. (Not mention missing it a dozen times in the “recent comments” bar.)

    • 28
      kds says:

      Also, Willie Mccovey’s rookie year, 1959. 23 Rbat in 219 PA. (.354/.429/.656).

  7. 27
    Doug says:

    For a different take on “part-time” players, I looked at the 180 players with 5 or more seasons of 200 to 400 PAs, since 1983. These guys (includes lots of backup catchers) produced just 7 seasons combined, with 20+ batting runs in one of their part-time seasons.

    Rk Player Rbat PA Year Age Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
    1 Matt Williams 30 318 1995 29 SFG 76 283 53 95 17 1 23 65 30 58 .336 .399 .647 1.046 *5
    2 Tim Teufel 25 351 1987 28 NYM 97 299 55 92 29 0 14 61 44 53 .308 .398 .545 .943 *4/3
    3 Tony Clark 24 393 2005 33 ARI 130 349 47 106 22 2 30 87 37 88 .304 .366 .636 1.003 *3/D
    4 Jim Leyritz 23 305 1993 29 NYY 95 259 43 80 14 0 14 53 37 59 .309 .410 .525 .935 39D2/7
    5 Rance Mulliniks 22 399 1988 32 TOR 119 337 49 101 21 1 12 48 56 57 .300 .395 .475 .870 *D/5
    6 Rondell White 20 357 2001 29 CHC 95 323 43 99 19 1 17 50 26 56 .307 .371 .529 .900 *7
    7 Bill Spiers 20 355 1997 31 HOU 132 291 51 93 27 4 4 48 61 42 .320 .438 .481 .919 *56/34
    Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
    Generated 10/31/2012.
    • 29
      leatherman says:

      Although he doesn’t qualify under either your terms or the terms of the original post, this thread isn’t complete without mentioning Ken Phelps. Phelps was certainly a part-time player for his entire career, with the possible exception of 1986 and 1987, where he played at least 120 games and had 400 PAs (he never had 400 PAs in any other season). In 1984, he had 18 batting runs in 360 PAs, and in 1988, he had 23 batting runs in 371 PAs (for two teams). During the peak of his career from 1984-1988, Phelps had 93 batting runs in just 1736 PAs, for an average of 19 batting runs and 347 PAs per season.

  8. 34
    Wayne says:

    Matt stairs bluejays 2007. Rance mulliniks bluejays 1985 and tony Clark diamondbacks 2005 I believe should be on this list. Look up the numbers. I don’t have them handy but great seasons and they were bench or platoon players

    • 35
      John Autin says:

      Wayne — Those were all terrific partial seasons, but they didn’t fit the list criteria.

      Stairs in 2007 had 405 PAs, so he was just above the cutoff for this list. Ditto Mulliniks in ’85 with 427 PAs.

      Tony Clark missed the list because he had only 6.1 WAR batting runs to per 100 PAs. The list required at least 8 runs per 100 PAs. The same thing kept Mulliniks from making this list for his best season, 1988. (By the way, the list doesn’t show OPS+, but they were all at least 161, whereas Clark’s was 154, Mulliniks ’88 was 143 and Stairs ’07 was 138.)

      In a broader sense, Mulliniks didn’t have quite the power needed to make the list, who all slugged well over .500. He slugged .454 in ’85 and .475 in ’88. Clark was short on walks, and Stairs on BA. It’s a tough list to crack.

  9. 37
    Mike A. says:

    I don’t think McGwire really played any second or short in 2000, as entertaining as that might have been to watch.

    • 38
      John Autin says:

      Mike A, you’re right, of course, in the big picture — McGwire had no defensive innings at SS or 2B in 2000, nor any other season.

      However, he did officially start four games at 2B, one game at SS and one in LF. In those games — all in September, after a long DL stint — he batted in the top of the 1st and then was replaced by a real fielder. They were trying to get him tuned up for the postseason; he was not able to play in the field at all that month, and ultimately, his six postseason appearances all came as a PH.

      Anyway, because he was listed on the lineup card at those positions, they turn up in the search.

  10. 41
    FClingenpeel, Jr. says:

    I am somewhat surprised not to see Tito Francona on this list anywhere. His 1959 season must certainly fit in here somewhere.

  11. 42

    Después de su relación con Anne Heche, Ellen ahora está casada con Portia
    de Rossi, actriz de “Arrested Development”.

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