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Adam Dunn and the Worst Designated Hitter Seasons in MLB History

Adam Dunn has never been what you might call a five-tool player. He is dreadfully slow and poor defensively, but he could always do one thing — hit the ball really hard while waiting for his pitch. This year, though, that has disappeared, and Dunn has been absolutely dreadful. Joe Posnanski wrote about him yesterday, starting “[y]ou could argue — what the heck I will argue — that Adam Dunn in 2011 is the single least enjoyable player to watch in baseball history.”

He’s already struck out 100 times, and is hitting only .173. As Posnanski points out, his current strikeout rate is worse than Mark Reynolds from the last two seasons. No matter how you try to look at it, Dunn has been dreadful. It’s made worse by the fact that he has been such a consistently good hitter for the last decade, and the White Sox brought him in for what seemed like the ideal spot for a player of Dunn’s talents–or lack thereof in certain areas–an American League Designated Hitter.

So I thought I would take a look back at other bad DH performances, to see where Dunn’s 2011 season ranks. As we will see, if he keeps it up, and continues to get plate appearances, he will be a strong contender for #1. Now, when I compiled this list, I didn’t just go by who played DH in a season. If that was our standard, then the worst season probably belongs to Leroy Stanton, who managed to slug .248 for the Mariners in 1978 in 93 games, but I don’t think the expectations were the same. Leroy Stanton may have been nominally a designated hitter, but he was not a Designated Hitter like Adam Dunn, a guy with expectations to hit and a history of success. With apologies to the likes of Dave Revering and Chris James, my starting 9 of bad designated hitter seasons includes guys who had expectations and some reputation as hitters, and like Dunn, were supposed to provide some pop. These guys were so bad at DH that they almost were as bad as pitchers hitting, and almost forced AL managers to use high level strategy. Almost.

9. George Bell, 1993, White Sox (.217/.243/.363). It’s fitting that we start this list with a White Sox player. The free-swinging Bell had signed with the White Sox in 1992 as DH, and fell apart in 1993. His stint with the White Sox will forever be memorialized on Youtube for his bunt single off the wall in Sega’s Tony LaRussa Baseball, which was unrealistic not because of the bunt, but because the result was implausible in 1993.

8. Alvin Davis, 1991, Mariners (.221/.299/.335). Alvin Davis was a sweet hitting first baseman/designated hitter for the Mariners until it all fell apart at age 30. He managed only 40 more games with the Angels after this season.

7. Willie Horton, 1980, Mariners (.221/.306/.328). The Mariners own this list, as Seattle has seen the highs of Edgar Martinez and a lot of lows. Horton twice won the AL’s Outstanding Designated Hitter Award in the 1970’s, including the year before, when he also won the AL Comeback Player of the Year in his first season in Seattle. He declined rapidly in 1980 and retired after the season.

6. Carl Everett, 2006, Mariners (.227/.297/.360). The Mariners signed the volatile hitter and noted paleontologist before the 2006 season to be their everyday designated hitter. His hitting kept getting worse as the season went on, culminating with a yelling match with manager Mike Hargrove on the fourth of July. Everett was given his outright release on July 26th and never played baseball again.

5. Ken Singleton, 1984, Orioles (.215/.286/.289). Singleton, current contributor on the YES Network, had a big year in 1983 as the Orioles reached the World Series, getting on base 39% of the time. He hit the wall at age 37 the next year, and retired after the season.

4. Bob Hamelin, 1995, Royals (.168/.278/.313). “The Hammer” won the AL Rookie of the Year the season before, hitting 24 home runs in 101 games, and looking like the heir apparent to Steve Balboni as the Royals single season home run leader. Instead, he managed only 15 total extra base hits in the strike-shortened season, and hit a dreadful .168.

3. Greg Vaughn, 2002, Devil Rays (.163/.286/.315) Never one to hit for a high average, Vaughn had still hit 40 home runs in three different seasons in his career. In 2002, he had a shoulder injury and hit a dreadful .163 with only 8 home runs before being shut down for the season. He got his unconditional release from Tampa after the season, and played 22 more games with the Rockies in 2003, then retired.

2. Reggie Jackson, 1983, Angels (.194/.290/.340). In 1982, Reggie left New York and signed with the Angels as a free agent, and promptly led the league with 39 home runs as the Angels won the division. In 1983, though, Reggie missed baseballs as badly as he later missed on his attempts to kill the Queen four years later.

1. Ted Simmons, 1984, Brewers (.221/.269/.300). Ted Simmons is the only DH to play in more than 120 games with an OPS+ below 75, which suggests that Adam Dunn probably won’t get there unless he starts hitting better. If he does, though, he should displace Ted on this list. Simmons was a member of Harvey’s Wallbangers in 1982 as the Brew Crew went to the World Series, and had put up slugging percentages over .450 in each of the previous two seasons. He was almost exclusively a DH by 1984 (the team had acquired Jim Sundberg to catch) and in 532 plate appearances, he managed a .300 slugging percentage, and grounded into 23 double plays.

[photo via Getty]

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