Author’s Note: This post was originally written as a writing sample for a position as a writer for Fangraphs.com. While I do not think I was remotely qualified for the position at this current time, a few friends encouraged me to give it a shot. For that, I thank them as it gave me the last bit of confidence I needed to finally start this blog. I find it very fitting that this is its first post.
While I would consider myself to be witty (although many might disagree), I was hard pressed to come up with a clever title for this piece. However, I hope the content more than makes up for it. Being that it is the offseason and there is not much going on in Major League Baseball besides the duel between the Royals and Padres to woo Eric Hosmer (at least that was the case at the time of writing, now the Brewers are making moves), I decided to do what I have read other writers do when they are in search of new ideas: play around with the Fangraphs leaderboards. Thankfully I did not have to search long before inspiration struck me. I loaded the 2017 Batting Leaders page and naturally stopped when I got to the third player listed who just happens to be Anthony Rendon.
I had been following Rendon a little more closely than in previous years, which is to say I owned him on a fantasy team last year, but I did not realize he was tied for the third most Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 6.9 with Giancarlo Stanton, reigning National League MVP, and Mike Trout, really great at baseball. However, this piece is not about Rendon, but rather about something he accomplished. Once I saw his placement on the leaderboard, my eyes were fixed on Rendon’s walk and strikeout rates (BB% and K%), 13.9% and 13.6% respectively. This caught my attention for a player who walks more than they strikeout is definitely a rarity in baseball, especially when strikeouts are on the rise, but the real question is just how rare. Fortunately for you, I have taken the time to attempt to figure it out.
Of the 144 batters who qualified for the 2017 batting title, only five had a BB/K ratio greater than or equal to one. Anthony Rendon is definitely in fine company as the lowest WAR and wOBA, 4 and .380 respectively both belonging to Anthony Rizzo, of this group are both excellent marks. All five players received 2017 MVP votes despite only four of them being voted as All Stars (Rendon being the exception). There is not much more I need to say about this group as most baseball fans should be familiar with them. To those of you who are not, they are all really good at baseball. Doing some quick math, I found that only 3.47% of all qualified batters in 2017 had a BB/K ratio greater than or equal to one.
When I lowered the plate appearance minimum to 100, four new names joined the list while the player pool increased to 435. I felt 100 plate appearances was enough of a cut off to include many more names and still avoid the problem of too a small sample size. Unlike the first five players I listed, this grouping only has one household name, Dustin Pedroia. There is not much that needs to be said about the former AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP. On the other hand, these other names appear quite interesting at first glance.
2017 was Zack Granite’s first taste of the show and while he accomplished this feat in only 107, it should not be surprising to see him on this list. Granite has shown excellent plate discipline in the minors throughout his time there and even performed this act in his first taste of Rookie ball. Tommy La Stella, someone who I always thought of as a Cub, came up in the Braves system and made his MLB debut with them in 2014 before being traded to the Cubs prior to the start of 2015. La Stella, one could argue, has actually shown better plate discipline than Granite in the minors. The lowest BB/K ratio he had as a Braves was .9 which came during his MLB debut. The only other time it was below one as a Brave was in his first taste of A ball where it was .93. Since becoming a Cub, La Stella has still shown strong plate discipline at all stops and while it was surprising to me, it really should not have been. Eric Sogard is a former second round pick by the Padres who debuted for the Athletics in 2010. Throughout his minor league career, the 31 year old has shown excellent plate discipline, and while he has generally run a lower than league average strikeout rate in the majors, he had yet to walk at an above average clip until 2017. His above replacement level 2017 earned him a one year contract with the Brewers in a utility role where I expect him to remain productive.
Moving back to the main topic of this piece, some more quick math shows that only 2.1% of all batters with at least 100 plate appearances in 2017 had a BB/K ratio greater than or equal to one. For fun, as well as for context, I wanted to see how many more players would be included in this plate discipline club when I set the qualifications to any player with a plate appearance in 2017. The number of players who now met my search criteria increased over fourfold to 37. However, with the number of players who had a plate appearance in 2017 being 1358, I was expecting the number who qualified for my search to be greater than 37. Nonetheless, I did some more math and found that 2.72% of all players who batted at least once in 2017 had a BB/K ratio of greater than or equal to one.
After writing all of this and plugging a few numbers into a calculator, I think it may be safe to say it is rare for a major league baseball player to walk more then they strikeout in 2017. Rendon, Votto, Trout, Turner, and Rizzo were part of the 10.6% of players who qualified for the batting title, which in itself is an impressive accomplishment. For them to then distinguish themselves among their peers by exhibiting excellent plate discipline is also quite impressive. However, to properly put this rare accomplishment in context, I think I will need to examine the occurrences of this feat in previous Major League seasons.