Believe it or not, Dunston not worst DH ever

Shawon Dunston was the DH for the Giants in Game 2. That begs the question: Is he the worst DH in World Series history?

Originally Published: October 20, 2002
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

As exciting as Game 2 was, my mind kept coming back to one question ... Is Shawon Dunston the worst designated hitter in World Series history?

To find out, I made a list of every player who ever started a World Series game as a DH (this eliminates a fair number of players who are officially listed as a DH because they pinch-hit or pinch-ran for the "real" designated hitter). Next, I entered each player's OPS during that season, and also his career OPS.

Not exactly rocket science, but it got the job done.

Looking just at what the World Series DH's did in that particular season, Dunston is on the short list of unlikely candidates for the job. However, his 536 OPS is not the worst for a World Series DH. No, that honor instead goes to Mike Davis, who DH'd for the Dodgers in 1988 after posting a 530 OPS during the regular season. And to nobody's surprise, Davis did not fare well as a designated hitter, going hitless in five at-bats over the course of Games 3 and 4.

Dodger fans will always forgive Davis, though. Because in Game 1, he pinch-hit for Alfredo Griffin with two outs and nobody on base, somehow coaxed a walk out of Dennis Eckersley, and then scored moments later on Kirk Gibson's famous home run.

Still, one might reasonably ask why the Dodgers would use Davis as their DH in a World Series. The answer is that he was, believe it or not, perhaps the best man for the job. The Dodgers had only two left-handed hitters on the bench that season. Davis was one, Danny Heep was the other, and Heep was nearly as bad as Davis.

Looking at what the World Series DH's did in their careers, we find a number of them worse than Dunston. Heep, for example. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Dusty Baker's choice in Game 1, for another. The list of other Series DH's who might someday rise eyebrows includes Barbaro Garbey (1984), Ernie Riles (1989), Dane Iorg (1982) and Keith Lockhart (1999). Yes, Dunston's 712 career OPS is poor. But it's not historically poor.

And you know, before this season there was reason to think that Dunston could still hit. Not a lot, but from 1999 through 2001 he slugged .488 against left-handed pitchers.

There are only three flies in that ointment. One, Dunston's .274 OBP against lefties over that same span serves to cancel out the power. Two, Dunston didn't hit lefties at all this season; granted, it was a limited number of at-bats. And three, Kevin Appier is not a left-handed pitcher; Dunston's hopeless against right-handed pitchers, and he's been hopeless for a long time. It's all well and good for Baker to tell Tim McCarver, and for McCarver to tell us, that Dunston is a good low-fastball hitter. But hopeless is hopeless, and if Dunston was really so great at hitting low fastballs he probably wouldn't have posted a 536 OPS this season.

But as we all know, Dunston is merely the worst of a bad lot, when Baker is making out his lineup card in the visiting manager's office. Forced to choose between Dunston, Shinjo, and Pedro Feliz, there really isn't a right answer.

Has any manager been faced with such lousy choices? Tommy Lasorda in 1988, maybe. And in 1987, the Cardinals were almost as bad. They had to play four games in the Metrodome, and here are the three DH's they used:

 
                  OPS                   
              1987  Career   Starts          
T. Pendleton   772    707      2 
T. Pagnozzi    583    658      1 
Tony Pena      588    673      1 

Pagnozzi and Pena have the third- and fourth-worst that-season OPS's among all World Series DH's. Pendleton did all right that season, but for most of his career he was a light-hitting glove man. (He was DHing only because he was injured and couldn't play third base.)

The Cardinals lost that World Series, of course, but you can't blame their designated "hitters." That group went 6-for-13 in the Series with a couple of RBI, and the Cardinals were blown out in three of the four games in Minneapolis. In Game 7, the only non-blowout, Pena went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.

That just goes to show, you never can tell. By any measure, one of the all-time worst World Series DH's was Kurt Bevacqua, who started three games for the Padres in 1984. Bevacqua's 601 OPS that season is sixth-worst ever. His 632 career OPS is the worst among World Series DH's.

And yet Bevacqua enjoyed one of the greatest World Series that any designated hitter has ever enjoyed. His team lost, but Bevacqua -- who had homered just once during the regular season -- tied for the Series lead with two doubles and two home runs, and paced everybody with an .882 slugging percentage.

There's a good chance that Dusty Baker will have to choose a DH in at least one more game. But whomever he chooses, it's unlikely that his eyebrows-raising selection will make anybody forget Dirty Kurt Bevacqua.

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