A record that is increasing rapidly.
As of 1967, the single-season record for the most home runs by a batter hitting below .200 (and qualifying for the batting title at the modern pitching distance) was 4, set by Frankie Crosetti in 1940, when he batted .194.
Tom Tresh nearly tripled the record to 11 in 1968 when he batted .195.
Rob Deer shattered that record in 1991, when he swatted 25 homers while batting a puny .179. (This remains the record for the most home runs hit by a batter below .180.)
Deer’s sub-.200 record held nearly 20 years until Mark Reynolds smashed 32 homers in 2010 with a .198 batting average.
Joey Gallo pushed the mark up to 38 in 2021, when he batted .199.
And Kyle Schwarber raised the record again this year, when he hit 47 home runs while batting .197
So the record lasted 28 years, then 23, then 19, then 11, then 2. In the process, it grew from 4 to 47.
Some other similar records:
The lowest batting average for a 60+ homer season is Roger Maris’s .269 in 1961.
The lowest batting average for a 50+ homer season is Pete Alonso’s .260 in 2019. Schwarber should destroy this record if he can reach 50 dingers some year.
Chris Davis holds the record for the most homers by a batter hitting below .170. (16, while batting .168 in 2018)
Adam Duvall holds the record for the most homers by a player with an OBP below .300. (38, with a .281 OBP in 2021)
Only one player who qualified for the batting title at the modern pitching distance has hit even a single home run in a season with a batting average below .160 – and he went way below .160. That was the legendary Bill Bergen in his epic 1909 season when he batted .139 with that one home run. Of course there was not much competition for this record, since it is unlikely that a player hitting below .160 could get enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. There is only one other season that met the criteria at the modern pitching distance – and that was also a Bill Bergen season. He batted .159 in 1906, but he hit no homers at all that year.
Among players with long careers (3000 or more plate appearances), Bergen was easily the worst hitter in history. In 11 major league seasons, his lifetime average was .170 with two home runs and an OPS+ of 21. His season high in extra base hits was 11. The guy must have been a helluva catcher to last that long in the bigs with no stick.
If we drop the minimum number of plate appearances to 900 and exclude pitchers, Ray Oyler gives Bill Bergen a little competition. His lifetime batting average was .175 with an OPS+ of 48. Oyler is not from the distant past. He was a shortstop in the 1960s, mostly with the Tigers, and I can remember watching him play for the Syracuse Chiefs against my home town team, the Rochester Red Wings. I wish I had some colorful anecdotes about his ineptitude, but he actually seemed to know what he was doing at the plate in the AAA International League. In 1964 he batted a respectable .251 with a more-than-respectable 19 homers, which added up to a very solid year for a shortstop in that era, solid enough to get him promoted to the majors. Unfortunately for Ray, he reached his level of incompetence when he had to hit against major league pitchers.
If we include pitchers, then the worst hitter ever to get 900 plate appearances was Bob Buhl, who was a good pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves in their glory years. He was a solid third starter behind Spahn and Burdette, and led the entire National League in W-L percentage in the Braves’ championship season of 1957. Buhl’s athletic prowess did not extend to his stick work. The man simply could not hit. In 1962, as a regular starter with 216 innings pitched, Buhl’s hit total was a cool zero. He went 0-for-70 that season, part of his all-time record of 87 consecutive at-bats without a hit. In 15 years in the majors, he amassed two doubles, no triples, no homers, and batted .089 with a slugging average of .091. In 242 career road games, he never got a single extra base hit.
Buhl discussed the game when he finally broke his 0-for-87 streak: “I didn’t feel any pressure. Everybody knew I couldn’t hit. The infielder was backing up (for a weak pop-up), caught his spikes and fell down. The ball fell. They called time to give me the damn ball. I was embarrassed.”