Can Drew Butera Break the Record?

Two years ago, Twins fans watched in suspense as catcher Joe Mauer chased a hallowed batting record. As late as June 21st, his average stood at .407, and for a few weeks it looked as if Mauer might be the first man since World War II to hit .400 in a season. Mauer didn’t make it, though his .365 mark at the end of the year was still pretty impressive.

While most Twins fans would love to see the 2009 team instead of the dreadful group of players on the field this year, there is some good news. Twins fans can once again watch their catcher chase a batting average record, because Drew Butera has a legitimate shot to post the lowest single-season batting average by any Major League player. Ever.

The question on everyone’s mind: can he do it?

Butera has racked up just 10 hits in 87 at bats this year, good for a .115 batting average. As long as he can keep up that paltry pace, he has no need to worry, because the record will be his by a large margin. Instead, the big question iswhether Butera will have enough plate appearances to qualify for any sort of record. Through 46 games, he has 90 plate appearances, which puts him on pace for 317 for the season. If Mauer stays on the Disabled List for a long time, it’s conceivable that Butera could reach 400 PAs. On the other hand, if the Twins somehow decide that it isn’t a brilliant idea to have a player hitting .115 in the lineup everyday, Butera might not finish with much more than 200.

Among players who qualified for the batting title, which requires 503 plate appearances or more, the record holder is former Tiger slugger Rob Deer, who swung his way to a .179 average in 1991. It takes a special kind of player to hit for such a low average and still get in the starting lineup on a regular basis, and Deer was that kind of player. By most accounts, Deer was a pretty strong defender in the outfield, much like Butera is behind the plate. Unlike Butera, Deer had significant power. He smacked 25 home runs in 1991.

Alas, Deer’s mark is probably safe. So let’s take a look at some other marks Butera might reach:

  • For 400 PAs or more, the record holder is Dal Maxvill, who hit .175 in 1969
  • For 300 PAs, the winner is Bill Bergen, who hit .139 in 1909
  • For 200 PAs, Frank O’Rourke’s .122 mark from 1912 is the standard
  • For 100 PAs, the record belongs to former Twins pitcher Dean Chance with an incredible .033 batting average

Chance somehow managed just 3 hits in 108 at bats in 1967 – a feat that defies the laws of, well, chance (sorry for the pun). He struck out 58 times that year, but it’s hard to imagine how only he managed to sneak the ball by a defender only 3 times in the 50 that he hit the ball. Interestingly, Chance and Butera have one thing in common. In 1967, Chance pitched a no-hitter. Earlier this year, Butera was behind the plate for a no-hitter. But by my calculations, Butera would have to go hitless in his next 213 at bats to equal Chance’s mark, so that feat is out of the question.

O’Rourke’s record seems less safe, because it is quite likely that Butera will reach 200 plate appearances this year. 1912 was O’Rourke’s rookie season with the Boston Braves, and he was just 17 or 18 years old (depending on the source). After the season, the third baseman took a four year hiatus from the Majors, but then returned in 1917 and enjoyed a long and prosperous career with the Dodgers, Senators, Tigers, and Browns until his retirement in 1931. He finished with a .254 career average.

Any baseball fan who expects Butera to hit .254 needs to have his head examined. So if he’s going to best O’Rourke, it will have to be the single season number. The countdown to .122 has officially begun! Do you think Butera can do it? Use the comment field below to tell us your opinion.

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