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Searching for the Mendoza Line of on-base percentage

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Mario Mendoza is inextricably linked with baseball history because he struggled to hit .200. Is there a comparable player with OBP?

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Mario Mendoza hit .215 for his career. That’s the cruel twist. He didn’t just surpass the Mendoza Line in his nine seasons; he blew past it. While other suckers were hovering around the Mendoza Line, the actual Mendoza was collecting an average of 15 extra hits for every thousand at-bats. He showed the world, dang it.

Except he’s still known as the guy who inspired the Mendoza Line, which is the official unofficial term for someone hitting around .200. The term has such staying power because it filled a void. Even with the rise of advanced statistics, we will never get the idea of the .300 hitter out of our heads. And if that’s going to exist, we need something more evocative than a .200 hitter. We need the Mendoza Line.

It’s 2018, though, and batting average is something of a relic. We can still use and appreciate it, of course, but it’s definitely not the hippest stat these days. On-base percentage is the coin of the realm now, and while it’s not the best single stat available, it’s certainly a much better quick-’n’-dirty stat to show on the scoreboard than batting average. And OBP certainly is being shown on scoreboards, which means the casual fan knows just how good a .400 OBP is.

Which means we need a way to describe a .300 OBP.

There’s a void, you see. So let us search for the Mario Mendoza of OBP. It’s 2018, and we need something for these modern times.

But just how do we define a Mario Mendoza of OBP? There are at least a few options.

A player with a career OBP of exactly .300

There are a lot of them! You can even do a ranking of the best names for players who finished with a career OBP of .300.

  1. Skipper Friday
  2. Mother Watson
  3. Brian Asselstine
  4. Rabbit Warstler
  5. Chappie Geygan

All real, and there wasn’t even room for Welcome Gaston. You’d better believe there’s some poetry to the Skipper Friday Line. Or even ...

Here comes Juan Lagares, who is in danger of falling under the Mother Watson Line with another out.

Heck yeah. There’s a list of players 139 deep if you want to dig through. Larry Bowa had the most plate appearances, by far, of any player to finish with a career OBP of .300, so that’s an option.

For my money, though, I like the sound of the Belanger Line. It’s not a cruel description, considering that Belanger was a truly brilliant defender, so we don’t have to feel guilty using it, as if we’re defining his career. And Belanger is a unique enough name to avoid confusion, just like Mendoza is.

The Belanger Line is on the short list.

A player who flirted with a .300 OBP the most

Remember, Mendoza didn’t finish his career with a .200 average. He just flirted with a .200 average in three straight seasons, and that’s all it took. Well, that and some help from Chris Berman:

“My teammates Tom Paciorek and Bruce Bochte used it to make fun of me,” Mendoza said in 2010. “Then they were giving George Brett a hard time because he had a slow start that year, so they told him, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to sink down below the Mendoza Line if you’re not careful.’ And then Brett mentioned it to Chris Berman from ESPN, and eventually it spread and became a part of the game.”

So it’s not about hitting .300 on the nose. It’s about the struggle, man. We’ll look for the players with the most seasons between a .290 OBP and a .310.

There are two players who did this 10 times. Both of them are in the Hall of Fame.

[rubs eyes]

Wait, that’s not how this is supposed to work.

It’s true, though! Bill Mazeroski was constantly flirting with a .300 OBP, and he finished with a .299 OBP for his career. Which is just under the ... Mazeroski Line?

It doesn’t work, though, because Mazeroski will always, always, always be known for something different. He’ll be known for the walk-off homer to win the World Series, as he should be. Those don’t come around too often. So if you start saying “The Mazeroski Line,” people are going to think you’re referring to hitting a walk-off dinger in the World Series somehow. You’ll have to explain it to them for a couple of years and, look, we’re going for simplicity.

The other Hall of Famer is Rabbit Maranville, and either the Rabbit Line or the Maranville Line has a ring to it, but he had too many seasons above .340 for my tastes. I do respect the fact that he finished second in the 1914 MVP voting with a .306 OBP and 632 OPS, though. That must have been some glove.

Neither of these Hall of Famers work for me. Bill Russell and Joe Carter were next, with nine seasons between .290 and .310, so let’s look there. Bill Russell is an immediate disqualification because he shares his name with a much more famous athlete, and Carter works only if you use the full name. The Joe Carter Line is a great, evocative name. The Carter Line is a show on CNBC.

In the end, Joe Carter’s name is just too plain, dang it. Royce Clayton and Bert Campaneris had eight, but I’m not feeling either of those, either. There’s something that we’re missing, and I can’t put my finger on it.

Wait a sec, I think I have it. I think I have it!

A current player who flirts with a .300 OBP the most

Yes! This is the part of the Mario Mendoza legend that was missing: He was active. People were more familiar with him than they were of Rabbit Maranville, even though the latter was a Hall of Famer. Mendoza was a part of his team’s story when the phrase was coined. He was forever struggling to get over .200, and his struggle became a part of baseball lore.

We need a current player who has that same struggle, year after year. Someone we know. And, preferably, someone with a name that rolls right off the tongue when paired with the word “line.”

We have someone.

  • Career OBP of .300 in six seasons
  • Three seasons above .300
  • Three seasons below .300
  • A name that pairs really well with the word “line”
  • Just enough of a known quantity to make it stick.

Friends, I would like to introduce you to ...

Minnesota Twins v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

... the Gattis Line.

Yes, this will do just fine. The Gattis Line is evocative and impossible to confuse. It takes its name from a player who contributes to his team winning, so we don’t have to feel too bad for him, and it’s a player that most baseball fans have heard of. (At least, they should have heard of him.)

It’s settled, then. Does your team have a catcher who can manage the game well? What about a shortstop prospect who has a big-league glove but a questionable bat? Well, they seem like assets to a major league team, alright, but you’ll have just one question for them:

Can they get over the Gattis Line?