MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays

Once Upon a Time, There Were Pinch Hitters

Tuesday night, Kendrys Morales pinch hit for Ian Kennedy in the fifth inning. It was a somewhat bold and creative move by Ned Yost and almost paid off as Morales came within mere feet of blasting a three run homer. There were all sorts of baseball reasons to make that move at that time, but I was still impressed Yost – a manager who seldom pinch hits – used that role so creatively.

Of course, managing the bulk of his time in the American League with a lineup that has, until injuries this year, been set for the better part of four seasons gives Yost little cause to use pinch hitters. Still, the Royals are notorious even among American League teams for disdaining the pinch hitter.  They used that role just 40 times last season, a full 32 times less than the next lowest team. The Rays, by the way, lead the AL with an almost National League-ish 217 pinch hit appearances.

All of that, however, is just a lead in to a look back at pinch-hitters in Royals’ history.  That may make me subject to some type of ‘burying the lead’ criticism, but you shouldn’t worry so much about things that don’t matter.

The appearance on Tuesday was Morales’ second pinch-hit appearance of the year and with more National League games on the horizon, certainly not his last.  In 2015, Kendrys led the Royals with 8 pinch-hitting appearances: producing one hit and one walk. The previous season, Raul Ibanez led the way, pinch-hitting 10 times.  The year before, George Kottaras and Miguel Tejada each pinch-hit 12 times and David Lough another 11 times.

All of those numbers pale in comparison to the all-time highs in team history. The highest of those is owned by a team legend, Hal McRae.  In 1986, McRae pinch-hit 54 times, hitting .317 with 6 walks and 6 runs batted in.  That surpassed the previous two team highs for a season, both held by Hawk Taylor, who I am almost certain had a baseball card back in the day that listed his position as ‘Pinch Hitter/Catcher’.  Taylor pinch-hit 52 times in 1969 and 53 more times the following season.

There is nothing really surprising about numerous pinch-hit appearances in the pre-designated hitter era, but it may surprise you to learn that four of the next five highest individual pinch-hit totals in team history occurred post-DH:

  • Thad Bosley in 1987 with 49 appearances (12 hits)
  • Scott Pose in 1999 with 46 appearances (7 hits and 7 walks)
  • Bill Bucker in 1989 with 41 appearances (10 hits)
  • Warren Cromartie in 1991 with 40 appearances (8 hits and 5 walks)

Sandwiched between those four is Steve Hovley and 42 appearances in 1972, the same year that Gail Hopkins logged 39 pinch-hit appearances to make it to 9th on the list.

Should you choose to dabble only in this century, your leaders are Scott Pose with 30 (2000), David McCarty with 29 (2001) and 28 (2000) and Raul Ibanez, on the opposite end of his career than in 2014, with 26 appearances in 2001. Esteban German also had 26 appearances in 2007, striking out in half of those.  That was also the same year Shane Costa pinch hit 25 times.

How fickle is the art of pinch-hitting? McCarty hit .391 with 9 RBI in 2000, only to hit a scant .080 the next season. McRae hit just .160 in 1985 before being an asset in the above described 1986 campaign. Brayan Pena hit .263 with a double and a home run in 20 appearances in 2009, but then went 0-12 in the same role the following year.

The best pinch-hitting seasons? Billy Butler fans might remember he went 4 for 6 with 1 walk and a sacrifice in 2014. Mike Fiore also went 4 for 6, but with 4 walks in 1969, while Clint Hurdle was 5 for 8 with 2 walks in 1978. Let’s also not overlook a 2010 season in which Wilson Betemit was 4 for 7 walk with 2 doubles and three walks.

Raising the bar a bit to only look at those players with 20 or more pinch-hit appearances, we find our leader is another well known Royals:  Kevin Seitzer.  In 1991, Seitzer hit .550 (11 for 20), with 2 doubles, 1 triple and 2 walks. Keith Lockhart hit a cool .400 as a pinch-hitter in 25 appearance in 1996. Next in line is McCarty’s 2000 run, followed by Esteban German’s 2006 season where he went 7 for 18 with 4 walks.

Home runs?  Steve Balboni had two pinch-hit round trippers among his 16 appearances in 1987.

Runs batted in?  Sure, not a great stat, but a bit more valid when reviewing pinch-hitting appearances only. How about Kurt Bevacqua with 11 in 23 appearances in 1973.  McCarty, Taylor and Hopkins follow him with 9 RBI, all three with more appearances than Bevacqua.

How about futility? Twenty-four Royals received at least 6 pinch-hit chances in a season and did not manage a hit.  Dave Nelson went 0 for 15 with 4 walks. Lynn Jones also went 0 for 15, with just a hit by pitch and a sacrifice in 1985.  Jason Smith managed a complete zero, never reaching base in 10 pinch-hit tries in 2007.

Strikeouts?  As bad as German striking out in half of his tries in 2007, Ken Phelps (if you didn’t flash to the Seinfeld episode just now, you’re lying) struck out 10 times in 16 tries in 1981.

Perhaps we just went down a rabbit hole to explore a role that the Kansas City Royals seldom use anymore. I found the trip interesting and, given that Yost is unlikely to change tactics now, these historical leaders are unlikely to change.

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1 comment on “Once Upon a Time, There Were Pinch Hitters”


Perhaps the biggest pinch hit in recent history…Willingham PH for Moose in the bottom of the 9th of the 2014 AL Wild Card and got a single. Dyson was brought into pinch run and later scored the tying run on Aoki’s sac fly. As a long time suffering fan, I still look back in wonder at what a fun ride it’s been since that game…

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