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10 players who made the most of low averages

January 16, 2019

Curtis Granderson apparently isn't ready to hang up his spikes just yet. The veteran free agent outfielder has no plans to retire and "fully intends to play" in 2019, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal tweeted on Tuesday.Should Granderson find work heading into his age-38 season, it would keep alive one

Curtis Granderson apparently isn't ready to hang up his spikes just yet. The veteran free agent outfielder has no plans to retire and "fully intends to play" in 2019, MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal tweeted on Tuesday.
Should Granderson find work heading into his age-38 season, it would keep alive one of the best careers in MLB history for a player with a low batting average. Over 15 seasons in the big leagues, Granderson has hit only .252, but that hasn't stopped the three-time All-Star from filling up a stellar resume.
Batting average, of course, is a poor tool for evaluating players. It ignores walks (unlike on-base percentage), extra-base hits (unlike slugging percentage), the effects of ballpark and league environment (unlike OPS+ or wRC+), and defense (unlike WAR).
Granderson's career has overlapped with a dramatic change in how teams, media members and many fans view the importance of batting average. He was drafted by the Tigers in 2002, the season the forward-thinking A's were chronicled in "Moneyball." In the 17 years since, this formerly fundamental stat has lost much of its stature but remains a ubiquitous presence in boxscores, broadcast graphics, scoreboards and heated baseball debates.
With that in mind, let's give a tip of the cap to those who have squeezed the most production out of their hits and look at the 10 best low-average players of all-time. To qualify, a career average below .260 and an OPS+ of at least 100 (league average) were required.
1. Harmon Killebrew
Career stats: .256/.376/.509, 143 OPS+, 60.4 WAR (per Baseball-Reference.com)
Only three hitters have made it to the Hall of Fame with a sub-.260 batting average: Killebrew, Rabbit Maranville and Ray Schalk. The latter two played up-the-middle defensive positions, partially during the dead-ball era. Killebrew, by contrast, was a fearsome slugger whose overwhelming power overcame everything else. "Killer" captured six American League home run titles with the Senators/Twins, and upon his retirement in 1975 ranked fifth all-time with 573 big flies.
2. Andruw Jones
Career stats: .254/.337/.486, 111 OPS+, 62.8 WAR
A brilliant center fielder in his prime with the Braves, Jones captured 10 National League Gold Glove Awards. He is one of six outfielders to reach double digits in that category and ranks first all-time at the position in defensive WAR. Jones also enjoyed success at the plate, with 10 straight seasons of 25-plus homers from 1998-2007, including 51 in '05. The five-time All-Star finished with 434 homers, but his lack of production after age 30 may hinder his chances at Cooperstown.

3. Jim Wynn
Career stats: .250/.366/.436, 129 OPS+, 55.9 WAR
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds but capable of putting a charge into the baseball, Wynn earned the nickname "The Toy Cannon" over a 15-year career spent mostly in Houston. He rarely topped the .270 mark but reached triple digits in walks six times. Adjusting for his pitcher-friendly home ballparks and era, Wynn had eight qualified seasons with at least a 130 OPS+. That's the same number as Hall of Famers Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Hank Greenberg, Willie McCovey and Carl Yastrzemski.
4. Graig Nettles
Career stats: .248/.329/.421, 110 OPS+, 68.0 WAR
Third base tends to be an underrated position, and Nettles is a great example. He ranks third all-time in games played at the hot corner (2,400 from 1967-88) while combining a slick glove with a steady bat. A six-time All-Star, Nettles was far from flashy but had enough patience and power to post an OPS+ between 97 and 135 in 16 consecutive seasons. He ranks in the top five in WAR among position players who aren't in the Hall but are eligible and don't remain on the ballot.

5. Darrell Evans
Career stats: .248/.361/.431, 119 OPS+, 58.8 WAR
Evans put together a successful career from 1969-89 as a corner infielder for the Braves, Giants and Tigers. In some ways, he was ahead of his time. Evans finished in the top 10 in his league in walks in 15 different years and ranks 12th on the all-time list (1,605), just ahead of Stan Musial. While he didn't come anywhere close to 3,000 hits, the free passes allowed Evans to reach base safely more times than Lou Brock or Ichiro. Yet Evans hit .265 or better just twice in his career, made only two All-Star teams, and fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year.
6. Sal Bando
Career stats: .254/.352/.408, 119 OPS+, 56.2 WAR
It's fair to say Bando was another third baseman who didn't quite get his due, although it's not as if he was completely dismissed. Bando made four All-Star teams, finished in the top five in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting three times, and helped Oakland win three straight championships from 1972-74. He displayed durability by averaging 156 games played from 1968-78, twice walked more than 110 times, finished his career with more walks than strikeouts, and had seven seasons with better than a 125 OPS+.
7. Gene Tenace
Career stats: .241/.388/.429, 136 OPS+, 46.8 WAR
Bando's teammate for that glorious A's run homered four times in the 1972 World Series to take MVP honors. That was the year before Tenace broke out as an everyday player, ultimately splitting his time between catcher and first base. Of the 263 modern players who have come to the plate at least 3,000 times and hit .250 or below, Tenace has by far the highest OBP. His OPS+ trails only Mike Piazza among players who have spent at least half their careers behind the plate.

8. Curtis Granderson
Career stats: .252/.340/.470, 116 OPS+, 47.7 WAR
Early on with the Tigers, Granderson was a dynamic center fielder. In 2007, he and Jimmy Rollins became the first and so far only players besides Willie Mays (1957) to have a season with 20-plus home runs, triples and stolen bases since 1911. Granderson's game has shifted as he's aged, but he socked more than 40 homers for the Yankees in both 2011 and '12 and now has 332 in his career. Renowned for his presence in the clubhouse and the community, Granderson also remains valuable as a platoon/bench bat who has produced a 111 OPS+ for four different teams over the past three seasons.
9. Mike Cameron
Career stats: .249/.338/.444, 106 OPS+, 46.7 WAR
Cameron certainly had an eventful career, especially for a guy picked in the 18th round of the Draft (1991). Early on, he was traded from the White Sox to the Reds for Paul Konerko, then from the Reds to the Mariners as part of a package for Ken Griffey Jr. On May 2, 2002, he became the 13th player to homer four times in a game. Ultimately, despite never batting higher than .268 in a full season, Cameron carved out an impressive career by drawing walks, hitting homers, running the bases well, and playing a strong center field.

10. Darryl Strawberry
Career stats: .259/.357/.505, 138 OPS+, 42.2 WAR
Strawberry was a standout in his prime, but never because of his average. The top overall pick in the 1980 Draft led the Majors with 280 homers over his first nine seasons, during which he took NL Rookie of the Year Award honors and then made eight straight All-Star teams. Strawberry also stole more than 200 bases during that stretch. Unfortunately, injuries and off-the-field troubles prevented him ever again playing a full season.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.