In 2000, the average Major League player drove in about 0.125 runs per plate appearance. Luis Castillo of the Florida Marlins drove in about 0.072 runs per … hit. That’s right — in a year where he broke Jeff Conine’s then-franchise record for single-season hits, Castillo parlayed 180 of ’em into just 13 RBI.
In other words, you can pick out of a hat any of MLB’s 189,635 plate appearances from that season not taken by Castillo, and it would be expected to generate nearly twice as much run production as the average hit by Florida’s second baseman in 2000.
Now, his RBI total was a bit higher than 13, as he did drive in four runs on groundouts, giving him 17 RBI overall for the season.
So. 180 hits. 17 RBI. Trust me when I tell you that that deserves to be broken down and dissected in every way conceivable. Let’s start here:
Castillo’s 180 hits were tied for 28th in MLB, alongside folks you’ll know, like Edgar Martinez and Chipper Jones. His 17 RBI were tied for 371st alongside folks … you won’t know, like Jorge Fabregas and James Mouton. This amounted to over ten hits for every run he drove in:
None of the other 213 players with at least 400 plate appearances that season had even five times as many hits as RBI. And even dropping the threshold to include the other 228 players with just 100 plate appearances, only Red Sox/Rockies part-time second baseman Jeff Frye topped five hits per RBI.
Nowhere in the annals of time, not even when baseball games featured two umps and spitballs, have we seen anything like this. No one else in MLB history with as many hits as Castillo has ever even had as few as 25 RBI. Here’s every such player’s RBI total since the dawn of the 20th century:
Tip of the cap there though to 1927 Lloyd Waner with his 223 hits against 27 RBI. Speaking of which, you can also see that most of the smaller RBI totals had occurred many, many years earlier:
And, as you might be able to deduce, those double-digit hits for every run driven remains in its own solar system across time:
That Waner season is the only other one even above seven, with good ol’ 1904 Patsy Dougherty getting the bronze.
It’s a rate so astounding, that we don’t even need to limit ourselves to the volume of only those who recorded at least 180 hits. Here are the hit totals and RBI of every individual season with 150+ hits:
We still do not encounter someone that drove in so few runs, with obviously the overwhelming majority of the additional 4,398 dots to the left of Castillo’s (in other words, the hit range of 150-179) racking up far, far, far more RBI. Here are those totals plotted by year:
Again we see many of the lower totals stemming from the dead-ball era over 100 years ago, with 1912 Morrie Rath the only other 150-hit season that was accompanied by an RBI total under 20. Since 1960, Castillo at 17 is the only RBI total under 25, despite allowing players with up to 30 fewer hits to infiltrate our sample. Even the lowered threshold doesn’t unlock anyone new in Castillo’s hits-per-RBI zip code, especially in the last 100 years:
The dead-ball era of this vastly expanded sample contains a few more seasons with over seven hits per RBI, including 1912 Rath who overtakes 1927 Waner for (distant) runner-up. Since that Waner season, though, only the 1959 seasons of Richie Ashburn (exactly 150 hits) and Don Blasingame have produced a mark above seven. And they’re still nowhere remotely close to 2000 Castillo.
So we know none of the player-seasons with at least 150 hits generated so few RBI as Castillo’s 180-hit season. But here’s how low we have to go with hits before we find guys who failed to exceed 17 RBI starting to emerge:
1910 Clyde Milan is our closest ‘challenger’ — but in the live-ball era the drop-off’s even steeper, with 2011 Jamey Carroll’s 131 hits the next-most of anyone with ≤ 17 RBI. A full 49 hits fewer. Awesome.
If you’re curious about how low you have to go hit-wise before finding someone in 2000 Castillo’s hits-per-RBI stratosphere, here ya go:
The runner-up had just 72 hits, done by 1965 Dick Howser (who had six RBI). It is the only one of the other 29,289 all-time individual seasons with even 50+ hits to feature as many hits per RBI (of the 17,329 all-time individual seasons with 100+ hits, the only other one that even came close was 1971 Enzo Hernandez with 122 hits and 12 RBI).
To repeat, Castillo had 180 hits.
Sure 87.8 percent of ’em were singles — ’00 Castillo is one of just three players with a percentage that high on that many hits in the last 50 years, joining ’91 Brett Butler and ’14 Ben Revere. But even ’91 Butler and ’14 Revere’s hits-per-RBI figures (4.79 and 6.57, respectively) weren’t in ’00 Castillo’s ballpark, so you know there’s much more to the story beyond him simply not getting many extra-base hits.
Let’s start with who he hit behind. Like all leadoff hitters, he was guaranteed to have no one on for his first plate appearance of every game. And like all National League leadoff hitters, a lot of his other plate appearances were directly following a pitcher’s trip to the dish, which is certainly unfavorable to RBI production. But how about each of the two batters before that? Well, what the Marlins got out of the 7th spot in their lineup was nothing short of pitiful:
Alex Gonzalez, their primary #7 hitter, was quite literally — and by far — MLB’s worst high-playing time batter that season. His OPS was .548; no one else with at least 400 plate appearances came in under .635. We can even stretch it out to anyone with even 200 plate appearances, and only the not-so-aptly named Homer Bush had a worse OPS (the average player had a .782 OPS that year):
Surely then they at least didn’t also get MLB’s very worst production out of the 8th spot in their lineup:
Ok, so Castillo was dealt an unimaginably bad hand when it came to hitting behind the bottom of the 2000 Marlins lineup. But when he was lucky enough to come up with anyone on base, his batting average absolutely plummeted. Took a complete and total nose dive. See, when the bases were empty, it was tremendous:
When there was no one on, his .380 batting average was MLB’s very best. Not quite the same story when one or more bases was occupied (Castillo in green):
Yikes. And if we isolate just those who had at least as many plate appearances with baserunners on, 205 of the other 209 bested Castillo’s batting average of just .217! Again, if the bases happened to be empty, this man had MLB’s very best batting average.
Making this even funnier is that the presence of baserunners is supposed to help batting average. In 2000, the average player’s batting average when runners were on was about 10 points higher than it was when the bases were empty. Castillo’s was, well, not:
Another way to think about it is that if you take a bird’s-eye view of his entire season, he had a batting average of .334 — so his batting average if just isolating when runners were on for him dropped by about 117 points. Baseball-Reference has reliable base-occupied data splits going back to 1973. So reckon we oughta give that some perspective:
Gotta really drop to some awfully small samples before finding players with that sort of discrepancy:
So these were the three primary forces at play here for Luis Castillo in 2000:
• galactically bad luck in terms of who he was hitting behind
• an inexplicably egregious, surely unprecedented drop in batting average/case of the yips the rare times those batting ahead of him got aboard
• when he did get his hits, singles constituted a percentage of them so high (or, if you prefer, extra-base hits constituted a percentage of them so low) that it has only been reached twice in the last half-century among the other 828 individual MLB seasons of at least 180 hits
That, my friends, is what we call the perfect fucking storm. 180 hits. 17 RBI. A flash in the pan that we will never, ever see again.