Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/16/14

While watching the Mets pound on the Cubs yesterday, I noticed that David Wright still has a walk rate (BB%) higher than his strikeout rate (K%). If Wright managed to continue this trend through the end of the season it would be the first time in his career he achieved such a feat.

Right now, there are a grand total of six qualified hitters who also have a higher walk than strikeout rate:

Name PA BB% K% ISO wRC+ David Wright 308 14.60% 13.00% 0.200 170 David Ortiz 308 12.70% 12.30% 0.311 162 Joe Mauer 276 13.80% 12.30% 0.114 138 Ben Zobrist 301 16.60% 15.30% 0.190 121 Carlos Lee 246 7.70% 6.10% 0.123 111 Jose Reyes 333 10.80% 8.70% 0.113 101

I wondered how rare a feat this is, even given the increase in the three true outcomes. Turns out, it’s exceedingly rare.

Using a similar methodology to my TTO article a few weeks back, I plotted the percent of qualified hitters in each season with BB% greater than their K% (white bars above). I then included the strikeout, walk, and home run rates for each season as well to see if they helped explain the trends we see.

First, we see the drastic decline of hitters than walk more than they strikeout. In 1929, 80% of all qualified hitters had higher walk rates. In 2011, only 6% managed the feat. The lowest percentage the league has ever seen was in 2010, when only Joe Mauer, Jeff Keppinger, Daric Barton, and Albert Pujols pulled it off (3% of all qualified hitters). That’s an incredible drop.

Second, as with the rise of TTO players, strikeout rates seem to be the driving force. Yes, walk rates have trended up since 1920. And home run rates have certainly increased. However, both rate increases pale in comparison to the 10%+ rise in strikeouts per plate appearance since 1920. With strikeouts becoming so prevalent, it’s very hard for a player (particularly a good one who typically displays quite a bit of power) to end the season with more walks than strikeouts.

Given the prevalence of such hitters in previous eras, the leader board for this metric is a little skewed. However, if we look at those hitters with the most seasons of BB% > K% we do manage to find decent representation from a number of eras:

Name # of Seasons % of Player’s Qualified Seasons First Year Carl Yastrzemski 18 86% 1961 Mel Ott 17 100% 1928 Joe Morgan 17 100% 1965 Rickey Henderson 17 89% 1980 Stan Musial 16 100% 1942 Tris Speaker 15 100% 1913 Luke Appling 15 100% 1932 Ozzie Smith 15 94% 1978 Pete Rose 15 71% 1963 Babe Ruth 14 100% 1919 Frankie Frisch 14 100% 1921 Paul Waner 14 100% 1926 Nellie Fox 14 100% 1950 Wade Boggs 14 100% 1983 Tony Gwynn 14 100% 1984 Mark Grace 14 100% 1988 Charlie Gehringer 14 93% 1926 Gary Sheffield 14 93% 1990 Barry Bonds 14 82% 1987 Eddie Collins 13 100% 1913 Ty Cobb 13 100% 1913 Harry Hooper 13 100% 1913 Sam Rice 13 100% 1917 Joe Kuhel 13 100% 1931 Billy Herman 13 100% 1932 Doc Cramer 13 100% 1933 Ted Williams 13 100% 1939 Richie Ashburn 13 100% 1948 Willie Randolph 13 100% 1976 Goose Goslin 13 93% 1923

I knew Yastrzemski was good, but I never would have guessed that he would have the most seasons with a higher walk than strikeout rate. Even accounting for longevity, he accomplished the feat in 86% of his qualified seasons. He did benefit a bit from the sharp decline in strikeout rates that started in 1969, but even still amassing 18 such seasons is an impressive feat.

If we just restrict the list to players whose first season in the majors was later than 1970, the leader board looks like this:

Name # of Seasons % of Player’s Qualified Seasons First Year Rickey Henderson 17 89% 1980 Ozzie Smith 15 94% 1978 Wade Boggs 14 100% 1983 Tony Gwynn 14 100% 1984 Mark Grace 14 100% 1988 Gary Sheffield 14 93% 1990 Barry Bonds 14 82% 1987 Willie Randolph 13 100% 1976 George Brett 13 72% 1975 Tim Raines 12 92% 1981 John Olerud 11 92% 1991 Brett Butler 11 85% 1983 Darrell Evans 11 73% 1972 Brian Giles 10 100% 1999 Bill Madlock 10 91% 1974 Don Mattingly 10 91% 1984 Toby Harrah 10 83% 1973 Albert Pujols 10 83% 2001 Frank Thomas 10 71% 1991 Buddy Bell 10 67% 1972 Mike Hargrove 9 100% 1975 Brian Downing 9 90% 1975 Keith Hernandez 9 82% 1977 Edgar Martinez 9 69% 1990 Chipper Jones 9 64% 1995 Ted Simmons 9 60% 1971 Eric Young 8 89% 1993 Ken Singleton 8 67% 1972 Todd Helton 8 67% 1998 Paul Molitor 8 47% 1978

We can see that the leader board is dominated by players whose first season was between 1980 and 1989 (14). That’s partially a function of the starting year, but also reflects the hitters in that era (Boggs, Gwynn, etc.) as well as the sharp increase in strikeout rates starting around the 1992 season.

The big takeaway is that finishing the season with a higher walk rate is incredibly rare in the current environment. It wouldn’t be surprising if at least a few of the current six players didn’t manage to hold on through the end of this season.


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