How Few Walks is Too Few?
May 18, 2010
Last week at The Hardball Times, Jeff looked at strikeout totals across levels to ask the question: How many strikeouts is too many? It turns out that a college strikeout rate of 18 percent or higher is a red flag we ought to take seriously.
We could ask the same question regarding walk rates. It's tough to be a successful major league hitter without drawing some minimum number of walks. If we can translate that to a college walk rate, we've got another useful indicator when evaluating draft prospects.
Let's follow the same reasoning I used in that THT article. Looking at last year's MLB walk rate laggards, it appears that six percent is a rough minimum. A few guys (notably Ichiro) are able to get by with fewer, but it's not very smart to look at a college prospect and wishcast him into the next once-in-a-generation outlier.
Using minor league translations, we find that a six percent walk rate at the big-league level is equivalent to about an 11 percent walk rate in full-season single-A. Putting that together with the slight loss in walks from Division One to the low minors, it looks like the "warning sign" threshold for college prospects is a walk rate of about 11.5 to 12 percent.
Here are some notable 2010 and 2011 draft prospects who fall well short of the 12 percent standard:
Player School PA BB/PA Brown Gary Cal State Fullerton 229 3.9% Rutledge Josh Alabama 253 5.1% Maddox Robert Ohio 241 7.1% Dageford Devon Louisiana Tech 222 7.2% Dickerson Alex Indiana 236 7.6% Pineda Ryan Cal State Northridge 221 7.7% Kuhn Collin Arkansas 246 7.7% Terdoslavich Joey Long Beach State 218 8.3% Medica Tommy Santa Clara 228 8.3% Morris Hunter Auburn 253 9.1% Olt Mike Connecticut 248 9.3% Hague Rick Rice 236 9.3% Dietrich Derek Georgia Tech 240 9.6% Landry Leon Louisiana State 233 9.9% Brantly Robert Uc Riverside 202 9.9% den Dekker Matt Florida 221 10.0%
Particularly worrisome are guys like Pineda, Hague, and den Dekker, who appear on both this list and the high-strikeout-rate list last week.
What really stands out is the appearance of Gary Brown at the top. Of everyone on the list, he may be drafted first, but he flat-out doesn't take a walk. Last year, his walk rate was 4.8 percent (4.1 percent if you take out two intentional passes). In his freshman year, it was a more respectable (but still inadequate) 8.0 percent.
Brown's saving grace is his ability to get in the way. His year-by-year HBP totals are 10, 17, and 10. Brown's recent finger injury didn't result from a hit-by-pitch, but the team that selects him next month would probably prefer he get out of the way of a few more pitches--especially if they would otherwise be ball four.