Monday, May 6, 2013


There have been 153 player-seasons in which a hitter's home run total exceeds their number of bases on balls. This was once an extremely rare feat: in terms of players with at least 300 plate appearances in a season, it didn't occur in major league baseball for more than forty years after its inception.

That first player, Dave Robertson, hit 12 HRs and walked just 10 times in 1917 while playing for the pennant-winning New York Giants. That HR total led the league. He was thus the very first low-average, low-walking slugger, and pioneered a type of hitter that, while not particularly common in this extreme manifestation, would become increasingly plentiful as the game transformed itself.

But, as the breakouts by decade (at left) and by decade-year (at right) will indicate, this trend did not take off until the 1980s. Going into 1980, there were just 38 such seasons; since then, over 33 years, there have been 115 more, an average of exactly five per season.

These seasons might be slowing down a bit, however: over the past five years (2008-12), the average is only three per season.

The average quality level for this type of low-walk slugger is not exceptional: these seasons average out to an OPS+ of slightly under 113. The representative raw numbers: .279/.312/.502. The best OPS+ season turned in by a HR>BB hitter is 170 (Wes Covington, in 1958). The worst was 56 (Virgil Stallcup, who only hit 8 HRs but found a way to draw even fewer walks, with just six).

Igor and Pudge: two guys who definitely didn't walk off the island...
Who has the most such seasons? That would be our old friend Juan--as in Juan Gone...Juan Gonzalez. He had six such years from 1992 to 2003, including three years in a row from 1995-97.

Right behind him, however, is his long-time Rangers teammate Ivan Rodriguez, with five such seasons, three of them in Texas (consecutively from 1999-2001) and two with the Tigers (2005, 2007). Strangely, Pudge and Juan never managed to do it in the same season.

Tied with Pudge is another, significantly more obscure catcher, one who will need to catch a break to get another season with 300+ at-bats in order to take a run at Juan. Who's that, you ask? The answer is Miguel Olivo, who managed this feat in four consecutive seasons (2006-2009) and managed to get just enough ABs with the Mariners last year to notch #5.

The third and final player with five HR>BB seasons: slugger Tony Armas.

Another of our old pals, Dave Kingman, had four such seasons, as did Matt Williams. The following fine folk managed three HR>BB seasons: Vinny Castilla, Andre Dawson, Don Demeter, Shawon Dunston, Bengie Molina, Joe Pepitone, and Alfonso Soriano.

So, as you can see, you could theoretically put together an entire starting lineup comprised of hitters who had at least three seasons where their HR>BB and have something of a shot at getting the team ratio to approach 1:1.

Who had the highest HR:BB differential amongst these 153 player-seasons? That would be Dante Bichette, who hit 40 HRs for the Rox in 1995 and drew only 22 BBs, for a margin of 18. He just beats out Dawson (49 HR/32 BB in 1987, or +17) and Soriano (39 HR/23 BB in 2002, or +16).

The Princess (Astor) to the beseiged Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea) in
The Palm Beach Story: "Is there anything other than Topic A"? 
It would be mind-numbing to watch a team like this, and we can be thankful that these guys are still representative of a major extreme in the game. In fact, only a few of these players are all that close to having a lifetime 1:1 ratio for HR/BB. Armas is the closest, with 251 HRs and 260 BBs (.97:1); Juan Gone is next, with 434 HRs and 457 BB (.95:1). These are probably the two more serious "crankers" in baseball history, a couple of guys on "Topic A" as often as the eternally horny Princess Centimilla (Mary Astor) in The Palm Beach Story (1942). (If you haven't seen it, go watch'll discover why the director is called "the great Preston Sturges.") Olivo is next, with 143 HRs, 154 BBs (.93:1).

But there is only one player in baseball history who retired with HR>BB in a career that had more than 1500 plate appearances. Who is that?

Greene: the only 1500+ PA
guy with more HR than BB.
That man is Todd Greene (71 HR, 67 BB). Greene had a big season in the minors of this type (40 HR, 24 BB) and had all the tools needed to fill this most singular of roles in the history books. Todd just went out of his way to avoid taking the free pass, with a walk rate 20% lower than the league average after the count went to 3-0, and failing to get a single hit when he made contact with a 3-0 pitch.

Rosario: the "Great Hope" for the
HR > BB marching and chowderhead society.
However, there is someone waiting in the wings who might just beat Todd at his own game. The Rox' slugging young catcher Wilin Rosario had 28 HR and just 25 BB last year; his current lifetime totals are 38 HR, 31 BB. He looks like the spear-carrier for this "movement," along with Mike Morse (18 HR/16 BB in '12, 9/8 thus far in '13) and possibly Mark Trumbo and J.C. Arencibia.

As noted, the heyday of this type of player would seem to have come and gone; but the ongoing trends that have hitters swinging harder, making contact less often, and showing a disinclination toward greater plate discrimination might keep a crop of these hitters around. If that's the case, some GM needs to just accumulate 'em all and go for the gusto.