It seems that my last post on Emmanuel Burriss — Considering Manny Burriss — touched off something of a debate in the comments section. Amongst the debate, Otis asked an interesting question: “I wonder if any modern player has been a reasonable success with that low of an XBH rate.” Otis’ question piqued my interest, and I decided to do a quick (and admittedly rough) search on Baseball-Reference.
Here’s what I did: I ran a search of all player careers that accumulated at least 2,000 plate appearances since 1980. Then, I calculated the percentage of all hits for extra bases ([2B + 3B+ HR] / H) and then dumped that into an Excel sheet, sorted them by extra base hit percentage, and took the bottom 20 finishers.
Here’s the list (as ranked by WAR per 600 PAs) …
Also, keep in mind that since 1980, the league average rate for X/H% has been ~30% for each season.
So … that’s an interesting list. Luis Castillo comes out as the best player over our time period. Castillo is famous in his career for lack of power, but consider this: he did hit 28 career home runs over his 15 year career, which seems like way too many to me now. Castillo’s calling card was his ability to get on base (he posted an above average OBP in 12 of his 15 seasons) and run (+26 career runs on the basepaths).
Five out of the bottom 20 (by X/H%) had WAR600PA rates of greater than 1.5 or more — making them fringe starters, or solid bench players; if you expand it to 1.0, 10 averaged WAR600PA rates of 1.0 or greater — making them useful, but clearly not starting material; and nine out of 20 had WAR600PA rates that were one-half win, or less — the worst being Doug Flynn, who won a gold glove award in 1980 for his play at second base, but did little else in his 16 year career.
(I thought it was kind of neat that the tail-end of Pete Rose’s career made it into this list. Over Rose’s last seven seasons, he averaged a 92 OPS+ over 894 games.)
In Burriss’ case, he owns a career X/H% rate of 10%. That’s three percent less than Otis Nixon’s career rate, and if he would have qualified, it would have placed him at the bottom of the list for extra base hits.
I don’t think a player needs to hit gobs of extra base hits to be a successful player. Luis Castillo is probably the archetype for being a successful player without much power (or in this sense, the ability to get extra base hits). However, Castillo had some legitimately great years. He had three seasons that were worth four wins or more, and his five win season in 2003 is a truly excellent year. There’s no doubt that Castillo had a game plan of taking pitches, hitting the ball on the ground, and running the bases really, really well. This is what you have to do if you’re a player without the ability to drive the ball — which Burriss appears to be. By the time Luis Castillo was 27 — Burriss’ current age — he had already accumulated 3,117 PAs and appeared in 704 games.
So while I’m skeptical on Burriss’ continued future in the majors, I can also realize that his development path hasn’t been a straight shot, either. He was rushed to the majors prematurely and he’s battled a good bit of injuries already in his career. From the way the Giants are talking right now, Burriss could be a very real candidate to open the year as the starting second baseman. It’s not necessarily a smart move, but I’d wager there is a 75% chance it might happen. If it does happen, I’ll sit back and watch with interest.