There are a lot of stats in baseball history that kind of surprise you because of how absurd they are. In 2004, Barry Bonds had 373 at-bats and 232 walks. He reached base at a .609 clip. I mean, what in the world? That shouldn’t happen outside of video games. A six-oh-nine OBP is what I came up with when I kept stats in Baseball Stars on my old NES (God rest her soul).
In 2000, in the midst of an offensive explosion and playing in a hitter’s park in a hitter’s division, Pedro Martinez had a 1.74 ERA. How ridiculous was that? The man can throw Yankees geriatric coaches on the ground all he wants.
Not to be outdone, in 1989, Andres Thomas received 571 plate appearances and had a .228 on-base percentage.
Okay, maybe that’s not quite as noteworthy as Bonds and Pedro, but damn, it sticks with me and I wasn’t even a fan of the Braves in 1989. Or really watching baseball on television. I was 7-years-old and baseball couldn’t keep my attention like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But looking at that number now, it just boggles my brain.
Rafael Belliard was never paid to hit, but even he on-based .270 during his career. And Belliard wasn’t ever considered an unquestioned starter. 137 times during the 1989 season, Russ Nixon said, “Andres, you’re starting at shortstop.”
Oh, but Tommy, the Braves were terrible in 1989! I absolutely realize that, but the even bad teams don’t start guys like Andres Thomas that often. They move on. They try other guys. Of the remaining 24 games Thomas didn’t start, two went to Ed Romero, a utility player with a grand total of seven total games with the Braves. The other 22 went to Jeff Blauser and you might be thinking…wait, why not start Blauser at shortstop?
Thanks for asking. Blauser won the third base job in 1989 and even put up a nice triple slash of .270/.325/.410. He came up as a shortstop, though, and started 50 games there during the ’87 season for the Braves. Why, two years later, did he moved to third base and second base, but rarely shortstop? Why did Andres Thomas have a stranglehold on the position?
To be fair, the Braves weren’t exactly strong at third, either. Ron Gant got the second-most starts there and let’s just say…um…he wasn’t a third baseman. He committed 16 errors in 449 innings. Errors aren’t that meaningful of a stat to me, but one every 28 innings (or one almost every three games) is a little bit worrisome. Just a tad damning. Ed Whited started the third-most games at third base and when I saw his name, I spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking, “I thought he was a pitcher?” That was Ed Whitson. I had 20 of the same Donruss cards with him on it.
That little story is more noteworthy than Whited’s career, by the way. Not to be mean or anything. I wish I could have played 36 games in “The Show” where you never handle your luggage while hitting .162 with a homer off Craig Lefferts. Also, is someone else carrying your bags really that big of a perk?
So, depth was an issue. But the 1989 Braves could have brought up Mark Lemke to play third. It wasn’t ideal, but neither was starting Andres Thomas that often, now was it? Honestly, they could have also brought up Chris Shady from Richmond. Who is Chris Shady? Well, clearly, you are not a follower of the 1982 Medicine Hat Blue Jays. I didn’t make up that town, by the way. Shady played one year in Richmond. It, unfortunately, was his final professional career. Where he is now? I like to believe he headed back to Medicine Hat.
Of course, there are a few things I am leaving out here. One is that in 1989, on-base percentage meant a lot less than it does now. Sure, it “existed.” It may have even been on a baseball card or two. But, it wasn’t a stat many people put much stock in. This was the era of the triple crown stats and that’s about it. So Thomas, who did belt 13 homers in 1989, looked a little better. Maybe? I guess?
But the idea that a team willingly would play Andres Thomas as often as the 1989 Braves could speak to a darker, more sinister thought process. Were the Braves…
Surely, that could not happen! That’s only something soy-drinking, hyper nerds who never played baseball a day in their lives and were always picked last in gym class would decide to do. Bobby Cox was the general manager of the 1989 Atlanta Braves and he was a real baseball man. He played the game. He managed the game. He went to the Hall of Fame. He even had a domestic abuse issue, but we don’t talk about that because he’s Bobby Friggin’ Cox.
But…the Braves chose not to replace Andres Thomas before or even during 1989. Or really try anything different. Anything at all. Literally, you could have called in a ringer from the stands. You might get lucky and find a guy who played two years at Berry College in the crowd. He might be better than Andres Thomas. Check that – he would have been better than Andres Thomas. But the Braves didn’t make that decision and it’s not like Thomas was some newbie getting his sink-or-swim moment. He was in his fourth year. You kind of had to know by then what you had.
Atlanta didn’t change shortstops. No, they played Andres Thomas every day to get Chipper Jones and we all know it. Why this fact didn’t cause people to think twice about Bobby Cox in the Hall of Fame truly is beyond me. I mean, we now ridicule teams for tanking and don’t give me any of that, “it makes the team better long-term” horseshit. Teams should never tank. They should only try to win. It’s what God intended.
Okay, so I’m kind of kidding about the tank job idea. Shortstop, at least offensively, wasn’t even their biggest problem and that’s amazing to think about. In 1989, Braves catchers hit a combined .185/.258/.246. I checked that number five times just to make sure I was right and didn’t enter a typo. Pinch-hitters out-hit catchers for the team and that’s just not something that should happen. So, as bad as shortstop was – and it was damn terrible – at least they out-produced catchers. That’s something. Right? Possibly?
So, maybe the Braves weren’t tanking, though they did get the #1 pick the next June and selected Chipper Jones and that worked out okay. But still…you have to think the Braves completely gave up trying when you don’t even consider a replacement at shortstop. Seriously, there had to be someone.
But the truly amazing thing is that Andres Thomas, at least according to fWAR, wasn’t historically bad in 1989. Sure, he was bad, but he equaled his fWAR from the previous year = -1.2. And if you think that’s bad, Sonny Jackson (1971) and Marty Perez (1972) each reached new lows with a -2.0 fWAR for the worst franchise mark since 1970. Still…Jackson was sent to the bench the next season. Perez added .053 points to his wOBA the next year to keep playing regularly. Nobody got a second chance to equal his horrible play from the previous season.
Nobody but Andres Thomas.
Braves fans thought that Rafael Ramirez‘s 1984-85 was as bad as it could get. Thomas showed them that they didn’t know how bad it really could be.
And if you’re asking yourself why I typed up 1,250 words on Andres Thomas in 2020 – or why I find myself writing his full name like a weird parent – you don’t understand how desperate I am for actual baseball in this Coronavirus nightmare we are in.