CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

World Series time! Enjoy Premium-level access to most features through the end of the Series!

<< Previous Article
Premium Article The Asian Equation: Th... (07/07)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Overthinking It: The U... (06/30)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Overthinking It: Reset... (07/14)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospects Will Break Y... (07/07)

July 7, 2011

Overthinking It

Walkless Wonders

by Ben Lindbergh

Among the many oddities of the pre-sabermetric period—or at least the time before sabermetrics went mainstream—is replacement-level shortstop Gary DiSarcina’s 12-year career, most of which he spent as a starter. That’s not to say that teams no longer make mistakes in a more enlightened era—they do, and plenty of them—but one wonders whether DiSarcina would have enjoyed the long leash he did had his every on-field failure been scrutinized by an army of online (and front-office) observers wielding advanced statistics.

Of course, it wasn’t as if more simplistic stats built DiSarcina into a Joe Carter-like false idol–one didn’t need to see his career .225 TAv and negative FRAA to know that he wasn’t among the game’s leading lights. Still, something kept him employed, year after year and out after out. Few players spend the entirety of a lengthy career with the same team, and those who do tend to be marketable stars, men whose fates gradually become intertwined with those of their franchises through sustained mutual success. DiSarcina was not one of those men, but he was a career Angel in spite of all efforts to play his way out of a job.

After his first four seasons, DiSarcina found himself 2.1 WARP in the hole; in his lone season as an average major-league player, 1995, he was named to the All-Star team, as if the voters had graded on a curve, taking his meager talent level into account when appraising his play. DiSarcina didn’t leave much of a legacy—he’s one of the only players I’ve seen with a blank Baseball-Reference Bullpen page, something even Enrique Wilson can’t claim—though he is still employed by the Angels (who must believe he’s a better assistant to the GM than he was a shortstop).

However, one aspect of DiSarcina’s play did survive the passage of time, culminating in an enduring Baseball Prospectus tradition: the DiSar Awards. To quote Joe Sheehan, who introduced the DiSars in 2000:

Way back in 1998, Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina opened the season by going 61 plate appearances—the better part of April—before drawing his first walk. Towards the end of that stretch, he was quoted as saying he would be perfectly happy if he never drew one, which was consistent with his career approach, as he drew just 154 free passes in more than 4000 career plate appearances.

In 2000, to honor this attitude, I created the DiSar Awards, which recognize the position player in each league who goes the most at-bats into his season without drawing a walk. It’s a relatively meaningless number that pokes a little fun at the players who, in an era where plate discipline is valued, go to the plate hacking.

Since Joe first began drawing attention to each season’s most impatient players, back in the days before Moneyball put the likes of Kevin Youkilis and Scott Hatteberg on the map, the walk’s image has gotten a makeover. Batters aren’t necessarily walking more, but those who do wield the walk as a weapon are more often celebrated for their patience than condemned for their lack of aggressiveness, at least among a sizeable portion of the baseball-watching public. Still, plenty of free swingers have survived the end of the walk’s ouster as an inefficiency.

It’s been over two years since Joe last wrote about the DiSars, so let’s go over the ground rules. Intentional walks don’t count—players have to earn their own way out of DiSar contention. Pitchers are excluded, since they aren’t encouraged or expected to exhibit an intelligent plate approach. Finally, the winner of the DiSar Award takes home (figuratively speaking) a pair of Golden Crutches, in recognition of his inability to walk to first base unassisted.

Before we get to this year’s contenders for the Golden Crutches, let’s recap. Even though the award bears his name, DiSarcina didn’t actually set the standard for walkless streaks to start a season. That dubious distinction goes to Oakland’s Rob Picciolo, who went 260 at-bats without a walk to start the 1980 campaign. Mariano Duncan earned all-time NL honors with a virtuoso 215-at-bat walkless performance in 1995. (Duncan actually went walkless from June 19, 1994, to August 8, 1995, taking a stroll in just 3.5 percent of his plate appearances over those two seasons. In 1996, he walked in only 2.2 percent of his plate appearances, but he also hit .340, which made his impatience a good deal more palatable.)

Here are all of each league’s winners—if you can call them that—since the dawn of the DiSars:

Year

AL

At-bats

NL

At-bats

2000

Tom Lampkin

58

Geoff Jenkins

99

2001

A.J. Pierzynski

125

Marquis Grissom

124

2002

Randall Simon

126

Shawon Dunston

80

2003

Carl Crawford

124

Ray Olmedo

70

2004

Jolbert Cabrera

103

Charles Thomas

139

2005

Adam Kennedy

75

Jeff Francoeur

134

2006

Rondell White

137

Jeff Francoeur

132

2007

Ben Zobrist/Alex Rios

69

Kevin Mench

159

2008

Victor Martinez

63

Chase Headley

87

2009

Raul Chavez

95

Cristian Guzman

119

2010

Dayan Viciedo

82

Pedro Feliz

76

Winning a DiSar isn’t a death sentence, as a number of players have gone on to greater productivity after making a prohibitively impatient start to a season. Still, the fact that Jeff Francoeur is the only player whose name appears twice on this list should tell you something about the caliber of most hitters who refrain from walking for such extended stretches.

Let’s take a look at this year’s leaders in the clubhouse:

Name

AB

Vladimir Guerrero

114

Brent Morel

114

Felix Pie

99

Laynce Nix

87

James Loney

77

Kevin Kouzmanoff

60

Emmanuel Burriss

56

Erick Aybar

53

Jose Lopez

50

Matt Tolbert

50

It’s fitting that Guerrero is finally in a position to claim his own Golden Crutches, since the gimpy ex-outfielder has appeared to need a pair for years. Vlad has long been known for his willingness to lunge at any offering, but in his days as an offensive force, his appetite for bad-ball swinging was somewhat curtailed by pitchers’ unwillingness to throw him anything he could drive. Now that he’s no longer much of a hitter and his opponents aren’t afraid to come in, he’s even more loathe to let a pitch go by. It took Guerrero until May 3 to draw his first free pass, though he’s added 10 more since then.

Morel walked four times in 70 plate appearances last season, but he’s drawn only three free passes in 213 PA in 2011. Aybar is keeping DiSarcina’s lineage alive, and Loney has added being patient to a long list of things he can’t do at the plate. That Jose Lopez has yet to win one of these is perhaps the most shocking aspect of this exercise.

Even though we’ve reached the midpoint of the season, Guerrero and Morel aren’t yet safe at the top of the leaderboard; as a number of past come-from-behind DiSar victories attest, it’s not too late for an injured player or just-promoted prospect to hack his way to history. Francoeur’s DiSar-winning 2005 season, for one, didn’t get underway until six years ago today. (How are you celebrating the anniversary?) Here are the players with the longest active streaks this season:

Name

AB

Wily Mo Pena

40

D.J. LeMahieu

37

Jesus Guzman

34

Diory Hernandez

33

Sean Burroughs

33

What say you, readers? Can we fit Guerrero and Morel for their Golden Crutches now, or does the second half hold more hacking in store from someone who has yet to make his presence felt?

Thanks to Dan Turkenkopf for research assistance.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Gary DiSarcina,  Disar Awards

7 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article The Asian Equation: Th... (07/07)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Overthinking It: The U... (06/30)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Overthinking It: Reset... (07/14)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospects Will Break Y... (07/07)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Freestyle: Playoff Spotlight: Brando...
The Lineup Card: Nine Unlikely Postseason He...
Daisy Cutter: Cain's Overlooked Arrival
Playoff Prospectus: Royals Spit Hot Fire: Wo...
Pebble Hunting: An Illustrated Guide to the ...
Playoff Prospectus: PECOTA Odds and Game 3 P...
Playoff Prospectus: A Decade of Planning an ...

MORE FROM JULY 7, 2011
Premium Article Prospects Will Break Your Heart: Positional ...
Premium Article The Asian Equation: The Decline of NPB Pitch...
Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Genius: Surprise Players to...
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Relievers for 7/7/11
Premium Article Divide and Conquer, AL East: Catching Up
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Davey Johnson: Man, ...
The BP Wayback Machine: State of the Game

MORE BY BEN LINDBERGH
2011-07-11 - Collateral Damage: Knee-Death Experience
2011-07-11 - BP Unfiltered: Surprise, Surprise
2011-07-08 - Collateral Damage: Adding Averages
2011-07-07 - Overthinking It: Walkless Wonders
2011-07-06 - Collateral Damage: Albert Already?
2011-07-05 - Transaction Analysis: Once and Future Prospe...
2011-07-01 - Premium Article Collateral Damage: Backing Down
More...

MORE OVERTHINKING IT
2011-08-11 - Premium Article Overthinking It: Justin Time
2011-07-21 - Premium Article Overthinking It: The Avila Advantage
2011-07-14 - Premium Article Overthinking It: Resetting the Races, Americ...
2011-07-07 - Overthinking It: Walkless Wonders
2011-06-30 - Premium Article Overthinking It: The Underachievers
2011-05-19 - Premium Article Overthinking It: The Over/Under-30 All-Stars
2011-05-12 - Overthinking It: Who's Zoomin' Who?
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2012-05-07 - Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Sizing up the DiSar Candidat...