Thursday, September 8, 2011


One of the members of the Angels has clearly had his wings clipped. Ironically, even as he wobbles woozily toward earth, his team is making a race of it in the AL West--possibly the only actual "pennant race" with a do-or-die story attached to in 2011.

But let's stick with the lede, waddya say? Who is that fallen Angel? That's not hard--it's Vernon Wells, a convenient target of derision due to his fat contract and his sleepwalking performance.

But Vernon did something the other day that puts him in line to set a major league record--he hit his 20th home run of the season.

How the heck does that put him in position to rewrite the record books? Well, because at the moment, Vernon has the lowest on-base plus slugging (OPS) of any player in baseball history to hit at least 20 HRs in a season.

As the chart shows, Vernon has just slipped below Willie Kirkland, who is the current holder of the record. Kirkland, a problematic slugger from the early 60s (part of an avalanche of hitting talent that the Giants produced and largely squandered during that time frame), chugged home with a .649 OPS in 1962 to go along with his 21 HR. (Full disclosure: Kirkland achieved this dubious feat not with the Giants, but with the Cleveland Indians.)

Wells is currently at .648, so he's in range to be a record-holder. If the Angels come back to win the AL West (and despite the Red Sox' recent struggles, it seems that this is the only way they can make the post-season), he'll join Joe Pepitone, Brooks Robinson and Frank White as the only players who pulled off this feat while playing for a post-season team.

Note that Wells doesn't have the lowest adjusted OPS (OPS+) of any player with 20+ HRs in a season. That "honor" belongs to Marquis Grissom, who chugged his way to the record (71) back in 2001. What this actually points up is the fact that Wells has a chance to pull off a daily double in terms of this record--not only can he capture the lowest OPS, he's right on the cusp of setting the record for lowest on-base percentage (OBP) as well. Grissom is currently the record holder at .250 (yep, that was his OBP, folks), but Vernon is right down there with him.

Only three men have made this list twice--Dale MurphyJoe Carter and Juan Uribe. And only one man has managed to hit more than 30 HRs with less than a .700 OPS--the inimitable Dave "Kong" Kingman. There are two Hall of Famers on this list--Brooks Robinson and Gary Carter.

Murphy's two appearances on this list (in 1978 and 1989) bookend his career. Uribe is the only man to do it in consecutive seasons.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have an entire lineup built around a group of such hitters? Let's take a look at the "fantasy team" that's possible from this group...

Juan Uribe, sad that he and Vernon Wells couldn't be
on the same team and thus become the first teammates
to join the "anemic slugger club"....
C--Jeff Newman, Rudy York
1B--Joe Pep, Steve Garvey, Richie Sexson, Eric Karros
2B--Frank White, Aaron Hill
SS--Juan Uribe, Alex Gonzalez
3B--Brooks Robinson, Matt Williams, Charley Smith, Ed Sprague,Tony Batista
OF--Dale Murphy, Joe Carter, Ruben Sierra, Gorman Thomas, Kingman, Kirkland, Grissom, Rob Deer
UT--Frank Thomas (OF-3B-1B)

There's enough talent here to put up a passable offense, but this is clearly a team of hackers: you're looking at a squad that's going to draw less than 400 walks in a season.

It would be interesting to calculate the average number of future games played by those who've landed on this list, but we'll leave that to someone else. Keep an eye on Vernon for the rest of the month as his "quest for glory" continues, and then keep the other eye open in the off-season to see what the Angels do with him.  It promises to be something less than angelic...