Cleveland Indians v Baltimore Orioles

Walking is very important for baseball players. The ability to draw a walk is key as every walk represents a non-out. Outs are bad, you see. The making of outs runs counter to the entire idea and mission statement of all baseball teams and baseball players.

The “statistical revolution” of the last twenty years helped to solidify the walk’s place in the game. Moneyball and the resultant discussion helped demonstrate the value of on base percentage to an all new audience.

Everybody knows a good player takes his walks as they come. No need to be passive at the plate but, if they don’t throw you strikes, try not to help the pitcher out.

Which isn’t to say only patient hitters are good and players who don’t walk are bad. Nothing is ever so simple.

Be prepared, for here lies the Player A/Player B.

  • Player A: 15 HR, .220 ISO, .443 SLG, 8 BB, 2.9% BB rate, 38.4% O-Swing rate
  • Player B: 15 HR, .201 ISO, .497 SLG, 8 BB, 2.3% BB rate, 44.8% O-Swing rate

Those two players are rather similar when we look at these highly specific, cherry-picked stats. The biggest takeaways should be the nearly identical walk rates and isolated power numbers. That the player with the lower ISO has a higher slugging percentage is your first clue that these two players have some similarities but are not in the same talent pool.

[League average O-Swing (outside-the-zone swing rate) is 29.3%, so both players are well above average.]

If we extend beyond these carefully chosen metrics, however, the different becomes far more striking.

  • Player A: .223/.251/.443, 30.9% K rate, .298 wOBA, 85 wRC+
  • Player B: .296/.320/.497, 18.7% K rate, .350 wOBA, 119 wRC+

Those are the same two players at above. One player is a good hitter, one is terrible. They both play key “up the middle” defensive positions at which the offensive bar is set very low. You might recognize Player A as J.P. Arencibia while Player B is Adam Jones.

[League average wRC+ for center fielders is 100, for catchers it is 95. The league's catcher have hit more home runs than the league's CFs]

Adam Jones doesn’t really walk but it doesn’t prevent him from being a good hitter who contributes significantly to his team’s offense. J.P. Arencibia hits a few home runs a month. Adam Jones swings at significantly more pitches than J.P. Arencibia but makes significantly more contact than his AL East foe.

Perhaps this isn’t a fair comparison. It isn’t really supposed to be a comparison, per se. More of a demonstration, born out of the coincidental alignment of two players walk and homer totals, that a guy who doesn’t walk but still hits for power can still be counted on for more than just one or the other.

Perhaps comparing a player like Arencibia to another Orioles slugger, J.J. Hardy. Like Arencibia, Hardy has 15 home runs in 2013. Like the Jays catcher, the Orioles shortstop walks at a below-average rate (5.2% where league average is 7.9%) and plays a key up-the-middle defensive position. Unlike Arencibia, Hardy only strikes out 11.7% of the time. It can be done – one can put the ball in play without sacrificing the power numbers which drive so much of your value.

Consider this an advocacy of the shift in baseball away from strikeouts and three-true-outcome goons. Runs are at a premium, pitchers are better equipped to get ahead and exploit the all-or-nothing tendencies of batters sitting on the one pitch they can steer out of the park. As home runs become increasingly rare, the relative value of a walk goes down as well.

So you go, Adam Jones. Swing away and hit doubles and be good at baseball for as long as your legs will carry you. Perhaps this type of approach has a shorter shelf life than the patient, drag out at bat and drive up pitch counts hitters we know and love. But, then again, considering how much better your average relief pitcher is these days…

All I’m saying is knee-jerk “he doesn’t walk bad/he does walk good” analysis must stop (Take that, strawman!) It’s a brave new world and we must embrace this new reality. Athletes for all!