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March 24, 2011
Painting the Black
Certain questions can pound away at a curious baseball fan’s mind at bedtime, keeping the frazzled fan up until—where has the time gone?—it’s time to go to work or school. Arguably the most prominent of these questions is whether Babe Ruth really called his shot, but the new age thought might be where the Yankees’ farm system would rank if they had signed Gerrit Cole and held onto Arodys Vizcaino. However, one question that doesn’t get asked until there are no games on slate is “Who walks the unwalkable?” A player like Yuniesky Betancourt, who at times shares the capacity of a jellyfish to flop to first base, still averages about 20 bases on balls per season.
While most of the pitching population enables these batters without walk genes, a select few put their foot down—or, in this case, their pitches—wide of the mark. Who are these folks? To find the answer, let’s examine the five batters with the lowest walk rates during the 2010 season: Jose Lopez, John Buck, Josh Wilson, Pedro Feliz, and A.J. Pierzynski. Simply naming the pitchers may humble and embarrass those involved, but doing so leaves other questions unanswered, like the length of the struggle and the intent behind the pitches thrown.
Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool allows for the creation of data outputs based on specific events, so accessing the situations where a certain batter drew a walk during the 2010 season is easy to find. To determine the quality of hurlers involved, each pitcher had his SIERA and unintentional walk rate (uBB) weighed by walks allowed to the batter before creating an aggregate total by combining the numbers. Let’s attack this batter by batter.
Jose Lopez (Walked in 3.7 percent of his plate appearances)
Despite a mediocre composite sketch (a SIERA of 4.47 and uBB of 9.7 percent), some giants of the pitching game gave way to the embattled former Mariner, CC Sabathia, Joakim Soria, C.J. Wilson, Brett Anderson, and Max Scherzer included. Joe Saunders and Kevin Millwood aren’t exactly in that realm, but both shriveled at the sight of the mighty Lopez, and they do show up again against other BB-phobics.
John Buck (3.7 percent)
Josh Wilson (3.6 percent)
Pedro Feliz (3 percent)
A.J. Pierzynski (3 percent)
Twelve pitchers contributed multiple walks toward the unwalkable quintet’s total, with Kevin Millwood issuing three. Wilson, Frank Francisco, Gio Gonzalez, Javier Vazquez, Weaver, Saunders, Jon Rauch, Beckett, Randy Wolf, Harden, and Jimenez all contributed two, and 51 others appeared once. For Millwood, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this is a good recognition to hold. There are situations where walking someone like Feliz or Lopez makes sense, but without digging deeper, is it believable that Millwood encountered the spots more often than other pitchers based on luck? Perhaps, but it’s more likely that his inability to attack a weak group of hitters like the ones featured here are a large part of the reason why he’s unemployed.