Sunday, July 1, 2012


First, some context. It is extremely rare for players to have more walks than hits in a season. No one has  done it over the course of a career. In fact, there are only 11 players who've managed to average four walks for every five hits in their careers.

You can make a team out of these guys: their starting lineup might look like this--Eddie Stanky/Max Bishop, 2b; Eddie Yost, 3b; Barry Bonds, cf; Mark McGwire, 1b; Mickey Tettleton, rf; Adam Dunn, dh; Gene Tenace, c; Yank Robinson, lf; Eddie Lake, ss.

It would be extremely interesting to see if they would walk as frequently if they all played together. It's probably true that putting them into the same lineup would affect their walking skills somewhat. Despite that, however, such a lineup would be an odds-on favorite to break the existing team walk record (835, set by the Red Sox in 1949).

As you might suspect, all of the players in the table at can be found on the list of hitters who've had more walks than hits in a season.

Here's a little more context with which to assess that feat: leagues have averaged about 35 walks for every 100 hits over the course of baseball history; only once has a league exceeded 50 walks per 100 hits (American League, 1949).

The walk to hit ratio has settled down over the past fifty years; there is seldom any movement above or below the range between 35-40% in terms of walks/hits. And the gap between the leagues, which used to be considerable, has gotten smaller over that same timespan.

There have only been 83 player-seasons in which hitters have had more walks than hits; a total of 50 players have done it at least once (as shown in the table at right). One player's absence is a bit surprising: Joe Morgan.

We've included all players with 300+ PAs in a season. If we up that eligibility cutoff to 450 PAs, we find that we lose more than 40% of the player-seasons; we are down to just 47 full-time players who are members of this odd but select fraternity.

The names on the master list run the gamut between great sluggers (Bonds, Greenberg, Mantle, McCovey, McGwire, Sheffield, Ted Williams) and light hitting types who developed strike zone judgment as the ultimate defense mechanism (Bishop, Eddie Joost, Lance Blankenship, Eddie Lake).

The overall hitting stats, however, don't look like the ordinary success pattern for big league hitting. Let's break down the 83 player into those two camps: full-time (47) and part-time (36). The full-time group hits .253, with an OBP of .422 and a slugging average of .451. (That OPS works out to .873, which makes for a solid OPS+ of 138.)

The part-time players, however, are somewhat more problematic. Taken together, they average just .225, though they make it up somewhat with a .385 OBP. Their SLG is .374, which makes for a .149 ISO, above the historical average--but it pales in comparison with the full-timers (.198 ISO).

It's clear that high walk/hit hitters are well-dispersed across offensive styles and offensive achievements. The rest of our charts are scatter diagrams showing various attributes of the hitters. You can see exactly how Barry Bonds affected this chart by seeing where he shows up on it: he's all over the top right quadrant. In fact, he owns that quadrant the way some movie stars own a private island.

Oh, that dot in the lower left corner? Adam Dunn, 2011.

These are also not young players, as might have been expected (remember Bill James's famous treatise on "old player's skills." Our next chart shows all 83 player seasons broken out by age: the average age of the BB-H hitter is right at 32. (The players with multiple seasons--Robinson, Bishop, Bonds--can pretty much be picked out of the graph with little effort.)

And, of course, this type of player is declining: there was a flurry in the opening years of the offensive explosion, but even that represented a smaller overall player population than in the 1945-75 time frame. In fact, we might be entering into a drought period such as the one baseball endured from 1915-1926, where for awhile there, it appeared that such a player was in fact extinct. While we aren't expecting  things to get that drastic over the next ten years, we also don't expect to see very many BB > H seasons in the near future...Adam Dunn (and possibly Carlos Pena) may be the last we'll see for awhile.