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Kent Bonham and Jeff Sackmann founded College Splits in 2006. We've been collecting, analyzing, and distributing cutting-edge college baseball data ever since.

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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.