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A rendez-vous with destiny? Some historical perspective on Luke Maile's hitting (or lack thereof)

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday night, Luke Maile flew out to right for the second out of the 11th inning, marking his 100th plate appearance of the 2017 season. There's nothing inherently special about that, other than it being a nice round milestone moving from double to triple digits (like 100 pitches in a game or throwing 100 MPH). However, given that on average only about 15 players per team record 100 plate appearances in a given season, it represents a reasonable dividing line between players who have a significant role and those that do not.

In those 100 PA, Maile is hitting .116/.150/.189, which works out to an abysmal -19 wRC+. Starting from the Atlanta series in mid-May to exclude his 1 for 36 start, it's still only a .161/.172/.274 batting line, for a 7 wRC+. Even for a catcher who does a very nice job defensively, this is very anemic production.

The combination of the 100 PA milestone and the lack of production got me wondering about where Maile's 2017 ranked historically. I started by simply looking at the recent past, going back to the year 2000 (another "milestone" year). As of this morning there have been 7,864 player-seasons of 100 PA by non-pitchers. Here's where Maile ranks by various measures:

  • Batting average3rd worst, behind 2003 Brandon Larson (.101) and 2006 Antonio Perez (.102).
  • On base percentageThe worst, significantly trailing J.B. Shuck's .168 in 2014. Maile would need to reach in his next three plate appearances to pass him (though he'd then have enough margin to not reach in his next four PA after that and still not fall behind).
  • Slugging percentage11th worst, thanks to those two home runs.
  • wRC+: Maile's -19 is the worst, and it's not even that close, with Kevin Cash's 2003 coming in next closest with a -10 wRC+. That means the two worst marks of the millennium belong to Blue Jay backup catchers.

wRC+ is the best metric, since it measures total offensive output, and is benchmarked to the league average which allows for apples-to-apples comparison across years. Maile is in the midst of the worst offensive season of the new millennium among players whose trips to the plate are in the triple digits.

This is already a quite ignominious distinction, considering the size of the sample. But baseball history extends much further, so I went back to 1946 (post-WWII, essentially the beginning of the modern, integrated era). In those 71+ seasons, there have been 24,801 player seasons of 100 PA by non-pitchers. Maile's -19 wRC+ is the second worst mark, edged out by Mike Laga's -20 wRC+ over 102 PA for the 1988 Cardinals. His BA is 7th worst, and OBP 3rd worst.

It's also worth noting most of the players at the top of the list barely make it over 100 PA. This makes sense, given that players who don't perform usually don't get a lot of playing time, and those that perform at a historically bad levels usually get replaced on the roster. Maile's 100 PA have come in basically two months, and it doesn't appear that he's in any immediate danger of being replaced.

If Maile got to 150 PA, and that became the comparison threshold, the three worst player seasons other than Maile drop away. That would leave Pat Rockett's 1978 -14 wRC+ as the mark to beat. Which frankly, shouldn't be too hard, one good game (and by that I mean one extra base hit for reaching a couple times) should put him above. Just having a positive wRC+ (even in the single digits) over the next 50 PA would be enough. Rockett was a shortstop whose doesn't score well retrospectively by defensive metrics, so Maile shouldn't challenge his mark of -2.7 fWAR (-3.0 bWAR).

If Maile sticks around for the rest of the season, 200 PA would become a realistic outcome. At this threshold, the mark is Tony Pena for the 2008 Royals, who put up a .169/.189/.209 line for a -8 wRC+ in 235 plate appearances. That works out to 31 runs below average with the bat (Maile is currently around -15). Again, it would be very difficult for Maile to surpass this level of sustained ineptitude - but not out of the question either.

One final point of historical comparison. The utility of comparing modern day baseball to the dead ball era or the 19th century is very limited, but we can go back all the way to the beginning of the major leagues in 1871. That's 37,604 non-pitcher seasons of 100 PA. Maile's wRC+ currently ranks 4th worst.

Thus far in 2017, Luke Maile's bat is flirting with history.