UPDATE 7/27/2012, 7:30 PM EST: In his 95th PA of the season, Vizquel smacks a double to end his run at the record. Congratulations, Omar!
UPDATE THE SECOND 7/27/2012, 9:30 EST: Inexplicably, Jim Leyland brings in Octavio Dotel to face a couple of lefties, including Vizquel. Vizquel mashes a triple to put an exclamation on his evening.
At 45, Omar Vizquel is an anomoly in the baseball world. Four of his teammates this season were not even born when he made his major league debut on April 3, 1989. So he's doing well to be even playing at this point. But it also turns out he's in the midst of a potentially historic season.
I was scanning over the team offence this morning, and noticed that Vizquel had a .200/.250/.200 triple slash line in 81 plate appearances this season. Having a slugging percentage equal to the batting average is pretty rare, and sure enough, all 15 of his hits this year are singles. Which got me thinking that 81 PA is a lot to have without an extra base hit, and wondering how rare or common this was.
Since 2012 is not over, I started with 2011. I started with all players with 20 PA or more without an an extra base hit, but there were a lot of pitchers, and that's not really a fair comparison. So I upped the minimum to 50 PA, which gave 579 qualifying players in 2011. Of those, 16 had no extra base hits and 14 were pitchers. In 2011, only Tommy Fields of the Dodgers (51 PA) and Josh Bell of the Orioles (65 PA) were position players without an extra base hits. Omar Vizquel is well over both of them this year.
So I looked further backwards. From 2000 to 2011 (inclusive), there were 6,592 player seasons of 50 PA or more. 173 of those featured no extra base hits, but 159 of those were by pitchers. Of the 14 non-pitcher player seasons, only Mark Grudzielanek for the 2010 Cleveland Indians had more PA without an extra base plate. He came to the plate 119 times (110 AB), and recorded 30 hits, all singles. So Vizquel is still 28 PA short of Grudzielanek's mark of millenial futility, and would seem to have a good shot at getting enough opportunities to surpass him.
I wasn't going to look further back than this, because I figured that for large stretches of the 20th century, baseball featured a lot less power hitting than in the first 12+ years of the 21st century. So, there would have been a larger role for the "punch and judy" type singles hitters who would have a better chance of doing this type of thing. Not to mention that until the DH came in pitchers always hit, and in the past they started more games and pitched more innings, so they would have come to bat more often, and they're not really a fair comparison. Nonetheless, on a whim, I set the minimum season PA to 100, and searched back to the beginning of modern baseball.
It turns out that according to Fangraphs, since 1900, there have been 32,772 player seasons featuring 100 or more PA. Of those, only 105 player seasons featured no extra base hits. In 1906, Jack O'Connor of the St. Louis Browns, a career .263/.307/.336 hitter, came to the plate 184 times and managed 33 singles, to set the modern record he holds to this day. Trailing significantly behind him are Vic Willis of the 1902 Beaneaters (161 PA), Mike McNally of 1916 Red Sox (151 PA) and Dave Davenport of the 1915 Terriers (147 PA).
Significantly, all of these seasons occurred during the dead ball era (usually dated to pre-1919). If we start with the beginning of the live ball era (which omits great names such as Kaiser Wilhelm of the 1908 Superbas), then the co-leaders are pitcher Wilbur Wood of the 1972 White Sox and Dwain Anderson, a shortstop for the 1972 Padres and Cardinals. Both came to the plate 144 times, with Wood managing 17 singles and Anderson 15.
If Omar Vizquel comes to the plate 64 times or more in the rest of 2012 without recording an extra base hit, he will set a record for the nearly century old post-World War I live ball era.
What are the chances of that? Vizquel has recorded 81 PA in 93 Blue Jays games, or 0.87 PA/game. Assuming that he is not injured, and that the Jays do not release or trade him, we can pro-rate that to 141 PA over the whole season. However, it's possible he gets fewer playing opportunities in September, when the rosters expand. So I figure maybe something 125-130 PA is more likely, which would make him unlikely to reach Anderson's record. But he should still get enough opportunities to pass Grudzielanek for the millenial mark (who like Vizquel, was in his final season in 2010 at age 40, but playing everyday until being released in early June).
For his career, Vizquel has managed 607 extra base hits in 11,931 plate appearances, or roughly 1 every 20 PA. However, considering he's at the end of his career, that's probably not the best indicator. From 2010-12, he has had 654 PA and 22 extra base hits, or 1 every 33 PA roughly. We can use to these rates to try and estimate the chance of not getting an extra base hit over various numbers of PA (assuming each PA is an independent event)
If Vizquel got exactly 28 more plate appearances, there would be roughly a 23% of getting no extra base hits at his career rate of getting extra base hits, or roughly 38% at his rate over the last 3 years.
At his current playing rate of 0.87 PA/game, he would get another 60 PA this season, and there would be a 4 to 13% of getting no extra bases, depending on one believes as the true ability of getting extra base hits. If the rate at which he gets PA increases a little bit, he'd get enough PA to have a shot at the modern day record.
It's a longshot, but nonetheless, Omar Vizquel has a shot at setting the modern day record for most plate appearances in a season without an extra base hit in the live ball era. Like Brondon Morrow's inability to generate a ground ball double play last year and unsuccessful run at the record books, it might be a bit of a notorious feat, but a feat nonethless and something to make it worth watching everytime Vizquel steps to the plate.
UPDATE: Minor Leaguer passes along a link from Baseball Reference's Play Index showing the longest streaks of extra base hitless games for Blue Jays players (including between seasons, so not exactly the same thing). Interestingly, Vizquel had a double in his last game of 2011, so his streak started at the beginning of this year. Also, it appears Eddie Mayo in 1943 has the longest extra base hitless streak in MLB history, with 252 AB.