Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jason Bergmann can make history this season, setting a record of a most dubious nature. (And no, it has nothing to do with 2-10 record on the mound.)
On the mound, and at the plate, Bergmann is having a rough season.
Thirty-eight times Bergmann has come to the plate, and 38 times he has been charged with an unsuccessful at-bat. Not only has he not hit safely, he has drawn no walks, been struck by no pitches, lofted no sacrifice flies and, perhaps what's most glaring for a pitcher, produced no sacrifice bunts. If Bergmann does so much as lay down a sacrifice, the record will revert back to Ellis Kinder of the 1952 Red Sox, whom he passed earlier this year. Kinder batted 32 times that season without benefit of a solitary positive outcome so far as we know.
Bergmann is nowhere near the record for most at-bats without a hit, and he has no chance of getting there in 2008. Even though he probably has another five or six starts to go, he will probably fall about 20 at-bats short of that mark. The man who holds that record is Bob Buhl, who was traded by the Braves to the Cubs early in the 1962 season and infamously went 0-for-70 between the two teams. Compared to Bergmann, though, he was practically Rickey Henderson. Buhl walked six times, got hit by a pitch, scored twice, laid down seven sacrifices, and also hit a sac fly. He even stole a base (although he was caught once, too). A dozen men have had more plate appearances than Bergmann without getting a hit, and all of them have one thing in common that he does not share: They at least did something other than make an unintentional out every time up.
In all, 20 players since 1901 have posted a minimum of 35 plate appearances without managing a safe hit. Of those 20, there were three who did not draw a single walk: Bergmann, Vicente Palacios of the 1994 Cardinals and an obscure player from the '30s named Hal Finney. Palacios, unlike Bergmann, had three sacrifices to his credit. Finney drove in three runs and scored three times. He also had the lowest whiff rate of the group -- but then again, that stands to reason: He is the only nonpitcher in the bunch! (If you lower the threshold to 25 plate appearances, you bring in a ton more pitchers but also three more position players: Larry Littleton, an outfielder with the 1981 Indians, 0-for-23 with three walks; Don Slaught of the 1997 Padres, 0-for-20 with five walks, and, like Finney, was a catcher; and none other than David Ortiz of the 1999 Twins, 0-for-20 with five walks.) The most productive player to ever go hitless in more than 35 plate appearances remains Ernie Koob, a pitcher with the 1916 St. Louis Browns, who made 41 outs but also walked 15 times.
Has Bergmann even had one so-called "productive at-bat" this year? That is, one wherein he at least moved a runner over in some fashion? A glance at his plate appearances for 2008 shows at least four obvious blown sacrifice attempts, including one that resulted in a double play. It also turns up this: an at-bat on Aug. 7 against Jeff Francis of the Rockies, with Willie Harris on second base and one out. Bergmann managed to hit a slow roller to shortstop that moved Harris to third. So, yes, contrary to what was stated at the outset, some small good has come out of Bergmann batting this year. (That is, if you ignore the fact that the next batter, Emilio Bonifacio, hit a triple, which would have scored Harris from any base he happened to be on.)
Of course, nothing Bergmann does at the plate is going to matter in the long run as long as he's getting the job done on the mound. Just ask the pitcher who struck out his first 12 times up in the majors and then, two years later, endured an 0-for-26 season in which he whiffed two-thirds of the time. His name? Sandy Koufax.
|MLB players with 35 or more hitless plate appearances in a season|
Jim Baker is a regular contributor to Page 2.