Was Travis Hafner the worst DH in Yankees history?


A DH hits the end of the road, leaving a footnote as his legacy.

With Travis Hafner going to the DL, Alfonso Soriano acquired, and players like Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez (Possibly? Maybe?) returning, his reign as the team's designated hitter is likely over. The designated hitter's only responsibility is to hit. At .205/.300/.384, Hafner failed to do this despite averaging .318/.438/.667 in April. The frequently-injured 36-year-old hit an awe-inspiring .167/.249/.286 the rest of the way.

Having a designated hitter who doesn't do any designated hitting represents a special failure on the part of a team given that the DH is baseball's version of Free Parking on the Monopoly board. In acquiring Hafner, Brian Cashman took what seemed like a good risk in the same vein as his signing of Raul Ibanez a year earlier. In absolute terms, Ibanez wasn't great in the regular season, but he was able to take special advantage of Yankee Stadium's lefty-loving tendencies to give the Yankees a power boost at home. Hafner seemed like a good candidate to do the same thing. Whether because of injury or age, it was not to be.

This isn't the first time the Yankees have had a DH swing and miss for a whole season. Hafner was certainly one of the worst designated hitters in baseball this year, but was he the worst in team history? Here are the 10 worst pinstriped designated hitters who had a minimum of 200 plate appearances at the position as ranked by OPS+.

10. Steve Balboni 1990: .192/.291/.406 in 266 PAs (94 OPS+)

The affable right-handed slugger had only one skill, power. When he was able to keep his batting average in the .240s he had some value, but between injuries and impatience he couldn't do it very often. In '90 he did almost all of his damage against left-handed pitching, hitting .211/.340/.497 against them versus .162/.205/.267 against right-handers.

9. Ruben Sierra 2004: .260/.322/.428 in 338 PAs (94 OPS+)

This was Ruben Sierra II: The Revenge. Even though Sierra was one of the few veteran players that Joe Torre didn't bond with, the Yankees nevertheless brought him back, because who cared what Joe Torre thought about anything anyway? Other than a fluke half-season in 2001, Sierra hadn't been all that useful since the early 1990s, but that was no deterrent to the Yankees, who from 2003 to 2005 received .249/.295/.429 rates from Sierra in roughly one full season (708 PAs) of playing time.

8. Jorge Posada 2011: .236/.315/.398 in 387 PAs (90 OPS+)

As with almost all of the players listed here, Posada was a great hitter in his prime. Unfortunately, he was 39 and well past that point in 2011.

7. Cliff Johnson 1978: .184/.307/.351 in 205 PAs (88 OPS+)

Johnson was an excellent hitter. He had two strikes against him. First, he was an African American catcher coming up with the Houston Astros at a time when that organization was not exactly being run in an egalitarian state of mind. Second, he wasn't a very good defensive catcher, so they had a baseball reason for continually sending him back to the minors despite his hitting .256/.370/.471 (146 OPS+) in the majors and .294/.380/.546 at Triple-A. At 6'4" and 215 pounds, he had to wedge a lot of body behind the plate, and his journey to the outfield corners, first base, and ultimately designated hitter, was probably inevitable. Traded to the Yankees in 1977, he hit .297/.407/.584 in 107 games split between the two teams. Unfortunately, 1978 was one of a few times in his career when he slumped in part-time play. The next year he got into a clubhouse scuffle with Goose Gossage and the Yankees banished him to Cleveland.

For more on the Yankees read The Pinstriped Bible

6. Danny Tartabull 1995: .224/.335/.380 in 230 PAs (87 OPS+)

Though he hit 262 home runs and had two .300 seasons in the majors, Tartabull was a terrible fundamental hitter who refused to make the slightest concession to the pitcher if he got behind in the count. Think of the classic "great at-bat" in which the pitcher gets two strikes on the hitter but the hitter fouls off pitch after pitch, gradually working the count even, then to 3-2, before finally drawing a walk or getting a hit. Tartabull didn't have those. From 1994-1995, the average American League hitter had an average of .183 in at-bats after an 0-2 count and .196 after 1-2. Tartabull hit .085 and .125, respectively in those situations. In 1994, Tartabull hit an even .000 when swinging at an 0-2 pitch.

Travis Hafner (Patrick Smith)

5. Travis Hafner 2013

4. Bill Sudakis 1974: .232/.296/.344 in 293 PAs (85 OPS+)

Bill Sudakis was a valuable 25th-man type in that he could both catch and substitute at all four corners and could switch-hit with a bit of power and patience, albeit one with a heavy bias towards the right side of the plate. As with all players, Sudakis was vulnerable to wide swings in productivity due to the outsized role luck plays in small samples. He had one of those years in 1974, which he climaxed by getting into a hotel scuffle prior to a key late series against the Brewers in which team MVP Bobby Murcer had this thumb broken. They don't cover that when they calculate WAR, but they should.

3. Ruben Sierra 1996: .258/.327/.408 in 407 PAs (83 OPS+)

This was Ruben Sierra I: More Fool You. The Yankees got the dregs of Sierra's career in return for the A's carting away Danny Tartabull's spent carcass. The Yankees then got to enjoy about a year of watching Sierra stand as far away from home plate as a hitter possibly can while still being within the same zip code, then take futile hacks at pitches on the outside corner that he couldn't possibly reach with a bat twice regulation length. After Torre demanded the Yankees rid of him his dysfunctional DH, general manager Bob Watson was able to swap him to the Detroit Tigers for the last year and a half of Cecil Fielder's contract. Fielder was just about done, but had a little more to give than Sierra did, playing very well in the postseason. As for Sierra, after being traded he said, "All they care about over there is winning."

2. Carlos May 1977: .227/.292/.309 in 203 PAs (66 OPS+)

The 1977 Yankees were a great team, a championship team, but it had weaknesses, among them the death of Mays' bat at age 29. May reached the majors with the White Sox at 20 and hit terrifically well, if inconsistently. He finished third in the 1969 Rookie of the Year voting after hitting .281/.385/.488, which in that time and place was worthy of a 137 OPS+. In 1972, he hit .308/.405/.438 for a 148 OPS+. In between he was merely solid. He also lacked a defensive position, bouncing between first base and left field. His home run total peaked at 20 in 1973, then dropped to eight the next year and refused to budge. Early in 1976, the Yankees traded two players to get him. They were unable to revive his bat, and his major league career ended shortly thereafter.

1. Roy White 1979: .215/.290/.288 in 236 PAs (59 OPS+)

Roy White was a great player. Offensively he was basically Bernie Williams Mk I, with less power but better baserunning. This season, much like Posada's 2011, was simply an excellent hitter coming to the end of the road.

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