Back in April, I was watching a Pirates games and Josh Rodriguez, a Rule-5 draftee, came to the plate for his first major league plate appearance. This is how slow I am at writing things up at times. Anyhow, I started thinking about first at bats and was thinking it would be great if he hit a homerun, joining a semi-exclusive club. He didn’t hit a homerun in his first plate appearance, but it isn’t that surprising. Of the over 17,000 players to appear in a game, only 106 have done it, leaving it an astronomical .00062 chance of doing it. Failure, at this particular task, is an option.
For some strange reason, because that’s how my mind works, I started thinking about this particular event and just wondering how unlikely it really it is. Then I started thinking about who was the most likely of all the players who have done to homer in their first plate appearance. Along with that, I wondered about who was the least likely to have done it. Then I wondered what happened to my life and why I’m writing about something like this.
So I devised a simple little formula to figure all of this out. It’s so easy it can be done at home. If for some reason you wanted to. Take a player’s total number of plate appearances and divide by the total number of homerun’s he hit. I’m using plate appearance instead of at bats, because a plate appearance can be any unique event, from a homerun to a sacrifice fly, catcher’s interference, reached on error, or a dozen other plays. The higher the number, the less likely the player was to hit a homer. The lower the number, the more likely.
I didn’t leave it at just that, because even those new-fangled statistics show that pitchers are involved in homeruns. Not much else, but at least that. So I looked at all the pitchers who gave the homerun to see how often they give up dingers. Simply take all of their batters faced and divide by total number of homeruns allowed. The higher the number, the less likely to give up a homer; the lower, the more likely.
So add those two numbers together. Add 10 points if the batter was a pitcher. This is my anti-designated hitter bonus. (We'll call this the Kevin Graham rule). Add 10 points if it was on the 1st pitch. Add another 10 points if it was the only homerun that particular batter hit. 10 more points if it was a pinchhit homerun, because it’s hard enough to do it normally. 10 points if it was a “clutch” homerun (you know, late innings, extra innings, gave the team a lead late in the game, put them ahead, something with a little stress to it), 10 points if it was grand slam, and 10 points if it was hit in the first inning or led of the game. Add all of those points together, and you get the list.
The top-10 least likely guys to hit a homerun are listed below:
10 - Ace Parker (211.6) 2 homeruns in 228 plate appearances over 2 seasons
A utility infielder for the Athletics in the late-30’s. He hit only 33 in 11 minor leagues seasons, only hitting double figures the season after he was done in the majors. Spent time in the minors after the homerun, but ended up finishing the season with the big club, and got a full year in the next year. Still alive at the age of 99. Member of the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame. Coached football at Duke University.
Hit his homerun off of Wes Ferrell
9 - Buddy Kerr (219.1) 31 homeruns in 4056 plate appearances in 9 seasons
A shortstop for the Giants throughout the war years into the early 50’s, where he finished with the Braves. Hit 5 homeruns in over 1700 plate appearances in the minors. Played a then-record 68 consecutive games without an error. Won 2 league championships as a minor league manager.
Hit his homerun off of Bill Lee (no, not that Bill Lee, the other Bill Lee)
8 - Cuno Barragan (233.4) 1 homerun in 190 plate appearances in 3 seasons
A catcher for the Cubs in the early 60’s. Hit 25 homeruns in over 1600 plate appearances in the minors. Even playing in a park like Wrigley, he couldn’t get much power. Didn’t get to the bigs until he was 29, so he was never much of a prospect. This was obviously his only homerun.
Hit his homerun off of Dick LeMay
7 – Daniel Nava (2345.7) 1 homerun in 188 plate appearances in 1 season
A leftfielder. This only happened in 2010, so Nava could have another shot at the majors. Actually showed homerun ability in the minors, but couldn’t duplicate in the majors, which is surprising considering he played his home games in Fenway. Only the 4th player to hit a grand slam for his first homerun.
Hit his homerun off of Joe Blanton
6 - Dustin Hermanson (241.8) 2 homeruns in 384 plate appearances in 12 seasons
I almost left Hermanson off of the list, but only because he pitched in 40 games before ever coming to the plate. While he is a pitcher and hadn’t swung a bat, he didn’t really have the stress of doing it in his first game. I’ll leave him, however, as it’s still got to be hard to hit a homerun not matter how you go about it, and this is my anti-designated hitter pick. Didn’t hit one in the minors, but he only got to the plates 10 times. Won a World Series with the White Sox in 2005.
Hit his homerun off of Shane Reynolds
5 – Luke Stuart (254.4) 1 homerun in 3 plate appearances in 1 season
A second baseman who only had 3 plate appearances in the majors, but hit it off of a Hall of Famer who rarely gave up homeruns. The first one to do this in American League history, taking 20 years to get it done. It was obviously his only homerun. Hit quite a few homeruns in the minors, topping out with a high of 20 in 1923. Stuart might not belong on this list to some people, as he could hit homeruns, but he did it off a pitcher who only game up a homerun every 8 games or so, which accounts for his high score.
Hit his homerun off of Walter Johnson
4 – Gordon Slade (261.1) 8 homeruns in 1504 plate appearances in 6 seasons
A National League infielder for 3 teams in the 30’s, he has the second most homeruns of any player in the bottom 10. Hit homeruns at about twice the rate in the minors, but not too many. Topped out at 4 homeruns in 1934, which was his only season as a full-time starter, when he finished 15th in the MVP voting.
Hit his homerun off of Bob Smith
3 – Bill Duggleby (331.1) 6 homeruns in 686 plate appearances in 8 seasons
A pitcher who played in the deadball era, he never played any other position. He hit like modern pitchers, not deadball era ones, so he belongs on the list. Just the second player to do this (there is no box score for the first guy, so I don’t know who he hit it off of); he was the first to hit a grand slam in his first plate appearance. To top it off, it was a pinchhit shot. How’s that for a debut. Hit 3 in the minors, but that was after his debut. There is no data for prior to that. Hit if off of a pitcher who would go on to later fame as an outfielder who hit 53 homeruns in his career.
Hit his homerun off of Cy Seymour.
2 – Walter Mueller (332.1) 2 homeruns in 369 plate appearances in 4 seasons
An outfielder and pinchhitter, he was a Missouri boy who hit his on the first pitch he saw, in the top of the first inning. He barely edged out Bill Duggleby for second place on the list. The highest rated non-pitcher on the list, he had absolutely no power at all. Father of Don Mueller, right fielder with the Giants in the ’54 World Series. He didn’t have much power either, but was a better hitter than his father. Played in Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, which probably accounted for his low total.
Hit his homerun off of Pete Alexander.
1 – Hoyt Wilhelm (539.0) 1 homerun in 493 plate appearances in 21 seasons
If you know anything about baseball, this shouldn’t be a surprise to you. He did pitch in 4 games previously to getting to the plate, but I will count it regardless. The highest Hall of Famer on the list (the entire list), but the only one to make it as a pitcher. Hit it off a pitcher who didn’t give up many homeruns, which just padded his score, as he would have topped the list without it. Went 21 years without another homerun. Earned a Purple Heart during the Battle of the Bulge.
Hit his homerun off of Dick Hoover
So that’s the list of the 10 most unlikely players to hit a homerun in their first plate appearance. Only 3 pitchers on the list, so I was pleased by that. Looks like you needed to be a middle infielder between the war years to have the best shot to make this list. Next up, the 10 most likely to hit a homerun in their first plate appearance.