Jon Lester, Eugenio Vélez, and Hitlessness
I was reminded of my second-favorite joke, which is only mildly mathy, while watching the Cubs-Nationals game last night…
What do you do with an elephant who has three balls?
Walk him, and pitch to the rhino.
(If you’re wondering what my favorite joke is, read all about it in Make Your Own (Math) Joke.)
When it comes to pitching and hitting, Jon Lester is clearly better at one than the other. His ERA is an impressive 3.30, but his batting average is .000. That’s right, he’s never gotten a hit in 9 Major League seasons. With two more outs last night — the first, a deep fly ball that was caught by Denard Span, which you can watch on Yahoo sports; the latter, a strikeout — he “improved” to an incredible 0-for-59, a Major League record for futility with the longest hitless streak to start a career.
Lester’s hitless streak is the longest ever by a pitcher. But pitchers aren’t paid to hit. The dubious distinction of the longest hitless streak for a position (non-pitching) player in the Major Leagues is held by Eugenio Vélez, who didn’t get a hit in 46 consecutive at-bats during the 2010-2011 seasons.
A starting player averages 3.3 at‑bats per game, so Velez’s record is equivalent to 14 games without a hit. Assuming that a player is actually trying to hit the ball, a 14-game hitless streak is an impressive accomplishment; and probabilistically, it’s damn near impossible. Not withstanding the likelihood that very few sane general managers would let such a player continue to bat, it also defies the odds that the sun wouldn’t shine at least once on this slumping hitter’s behind.
A while back, I created an Excel file (XLS) to analyze hit streaks. But you could also use it to analyze hitless streaks by changing a couple formulas.
Using Eugenio Velez’s career batting average of .241 (which is deflated, because it includes his record-breaking streak), a hitless streak of 14 games didn’t occur even once in 500,000 games using the Excel sheet model. With 162 games per season, that’s more than 3,000 seasons. Only the very best pro baseball players have a career that spans 20 seasons; those players who hit only .241 have careers that are far shorter, so 46 consecutive at-bats without a hit is impressive, indeed.
Have fun playing with the spreadsheet. Now for a trivia question…
Who is the only Major League player to have 7 hits in one 9-inning game?
Rennie Stennett, Pittsburgh Pirates, September 16, 1975. The Pirates won the game 22‑0 against the Cubs. (Johnny Burnett had 9 hits in an 18-inning game in 1932; three other players have had 7 hits in a game, but all of them required extra innings.)
And a joke…
Why was the calculus teacher bad at baseball?
He was better at fitting curves than hitting them.
And a quote…
Slowest pitch in baseball to reach the catcher? 30 mph, thrown at a 45° angle. Any slower at any other angle hits ground.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson