One of the players on the Orioles offseason hype train was Ryan Flaherty. At Fanfest, when reporters spoke to J.J. Hardy, he said that he thought that Flaherty, given a full season, could hit 15-20 home runs. It looked like he was sure to be the regular second baseman and you could talk yourself into believing he'd do OK.
When he started the 2014 season with no hits in his first four games, reality crushed those dreams, and instead of wondering if he'd hit 20 home runs, instead you had to wonder whether he is the worst hitter ever to play for the Orioles, because that's the kind of hyperbole that you can engage in after four games. There's nothing else to talk about. He's no longer batting .000/.000/.000, but he's still scuffling at the plate after two weeks of baseball, and when you watch him, it still feels like he might be the worst.
Flaherty has made 480 plate appearances as an Oriole. There are 166 players who have at least as many plate appearances in Orioles history. A top of the order hitter who plays every day will get around 700 plate appearances in a season, so he doesn't even have a full year's worth of plate appearances under his belt, but it's enough to figure that he is something close to what we've seen so far. This is particularly true since he's 27.
As it turns out, Flaherty is not the worst-hitting Oriole ever, or even in recent memory. One quick and dirty way to compare players against both their contemporaries and players in the past is a statistic called OPS+, which takes a player's OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) and adjusts for ballpark and league, then gives you a number. An average, OK number is 100. More is good. Less is not good.
Flaherty's career OPS+ on this date is 74, which means he's been 26% than league average during his career. This places him in 143rd place on the O's career list. The bottom four on the list are all pitchers, so he's really 143 out of 162. He has the same number of career triples as Jim Palmer, which is one.
Here's how Flaherty stacks up against the worst of the worst-hitting Orioles of all time.
You may have noticed a little trend here, in that these names are nearly all crappy, light-hitting infielders who spent a few years in a utility role with the Orioles. There are also a couple of crappy-hitting catchers. Among the players ranked 144-152 are Billy Ripken, Robert Andino, and Deivi Cruz. You see the pattern here. Flaherty fits right in with this lot. The only thing surprising about Flaherty is that we (by which I mostly mean I) ever tricked ourselves into believing him to be anything else. Hope is a funny thing.
There are a couple of other surprising finds on this list. The fact that Izturis was not the worst-hitting Oriole of all time is the real shocker. I also never remembered that Reboulet was so terrible, probably solely because of that home run he hit off of Randy Johnson in the playoffs. Man, that was fantastic.
In case you were curious about where some others among this season's Orioles rank, there are six players in addition to Flaherty with enough plate appearances to qualify. They are: Chris Davis (6th, 140 OPS+), Nick Markakis (39th, 113), Adam Jones (50th, 110), Matt Wieters (79th, 100), Manny Machado (80th, 100), and J.J. Hardy (90th, 96).
So, the next time someone tells you that Ryan Flaherty is the worst-hitting Oriole of all time, you can tell them that, no, he isn't the worst, just near the bottom of the list. If he heats up, he might even get to pass luminaries like Lenn Sakata and John Shelby.