The start of the season is a special time, statistically. The fresh canvas yet unspoiled by slumps and significant sample sizes makes for beautiful art, where one good day at the dish can turn an ugly start into business as usual. Hot Aprils live much longer in the memory than any other time of year. April’s edition of Arbitrary Endpoint Theatre is Shakespeare when compared to the Byzantine off-off-off-off-Broadway performance of a May 3-June 2 hot run.
No player wants to be the last on the club to collect a hit. No player wants their slash line to start .000. Currently five players are on the hitless schneid, provided 10 plate appearances. In a stunning bit of journalism, I predict at least four of them to get a hit at some point during the remainder of the season. But don’t quote me.
The woes of the hitless are well known and routinely documented. But what about the other side, those who can hit but cannot walk? Can we spare a feeling for those who sport an on base percentage identical to their batting average? Getting Blanked would like you to meet the Rascal Scooters – the players unable to walk.
The Rascal Scooters are a proud bunch. They bring robust batting averages to the plate, striding with confidence as they sport BABIP-inflated numbers. To find the real Rascal Scooters, we must extend our search beyond just the 10 plate appearances threshold of our previous search. One walk in 10 PAs represents a 10% walk rate, well above average. So we must slide our scale of scorn/praise up to 20 PAs and see who remains.
26 different hitters have 20 official plate appearances and no walks. Many of these hitters are, understandably, struggling through the first week of the season. Pedro Alvarez has two singles and ten strikeouts in 22 PAs. Jeff Keppinger does him one better, going 1-21 thus far.
The list is varied and says little about anything. But that isn’t the point of this. No great truths are revealed in this post, just good clean fun and regression-based teasing. Which is why we must isolate the bad hitters from those who are actually producing without walks. The walkless wonders of the Rascal Scooters deserve praise, not derision.
If we limit our search to hitters with a league average wRC+ (100) or higher, we get five magical names. Five hitters who put the bat on the ball and make things happen, balls and strikes bedamned. The names on this list…are actually good hitters, unsurprisingly.
Leading the way is none other than Torii Hunter. Many, myself included, dismissed Hunter’s 2012 season as a nice effort by a veteran hitter to adjust as he ages but worried about the viablilty of a 38-year old ballplayer with a BABIP in the .380s. In the early going, Torii Hunter cares not for your concerns. Hunter has 11 hits this season in 28 plate appearances. Zero walks, two doubles. Eight of the right-hand hitting Hunter’s hits are to right field. Torii Hunter is the new Ichiro!
Joining Hunter on the Rascal Scooters is Michael Cuddyer, a veteran bat who certainly fits the Professional Hitter mould. A.J. Pierzynski is coming off the highest full-season walk rate of his career, though that rate was well below-average. He is another vet who uses the whole field and has doesn’t need walks to be productive.
Then we have the two Washington Nationals on this silly list. Jayson Werth has always been one of the more patient hitters in baseball, owning a 12% walk rate for his career. That places him in the top 20 of active hitters over the last eight years. But this year? No walks. NOT A ONE. Werth has two homers and a double in a handfull of games, which is about all it takes to be “league average” at at time when “rate stats” are “useless.”
Like Werth, Bryce Harper drew his fair share of walks thanks to his very mature approach. Like Werth, Bryce Harper knocks the snot out of the baseball because he’s a very, very good hitter. Bryce Harper hasn’t walked yet because Bryce Harper is far too busy crushing home runs at his leisure.
Yeah, Bryce. Maybe you want to take that pitch instead? No.
All of these players will walk. Maybe they’ll all draw walks today. It’s almost as if the season is only six games old and all this is bunk. BUNK, I SAY!
Jayson Werth will likely draw the most walks this season and Pierzynski the least. Likewise, all five players who are established as league-average or better hitters will probably finish the year like that. It won’t take long for pitchers to exploit the apparent aggression of Bryce Harper, who drew just four walks during Grapefruit League action. Then, after a brief period of befuddlement, Bryce Harper will rein in his swing and resume dominating pitchers as we all expect.
Until then, enjoy the in-play wonder of these players (or struggles of the others.) And remember: six games is a meaningless group of anomalies. But ten games? Time to FREAK OUT!