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September 25, 2012
Portrait of a Hacker
Miguel Olivo hooked a two-run homer just inside the Safeco Field left-field foul pole last Friday night against Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando. The eighth-inning blast extended the Mariners' lead to 6-3 and helped secure Seattle's 71st victory of 2012. Beyond contributing to a meaningless win, Olivo's home run inspired the following table (stats here and throughout the article are through games of Saturday, September 22):
This is a list of the lowest career BB/HR ratio among players with at least 100 home runs. Take a moment to savor it. And pity poor Tony Batista, who drew an intentional walk from Billy Wagner in the ninth inning on September 26, 2007, in the third-to-last game of Batista's career. Batista would finish with a 1.299 BB/HR ratio. He would lose to Shea Hillenbrand.
Before that walk, Batista's BB/HR stood at 1.294, good enough for eighth place on this contrived and not terribly honorable leaderboard. Damn that Willie Randolph!
Batista was hitting .271/.357/.365 at the time of his walk. You may wonder why Randolph had Wagner put him on in that situation. Well, Batista went 3-for-5 with a double and a homer a night earlier. Also, the man who followed Batista's walk, Robert Fick, grounded into a 5-4-3 double play to end the frame. The move was successful, ergo it was correct. That's how it works, right?
Anyway, enough about Batista. We're here to celebrate the accomplishments of Olivo. Not the home run against Ogando. Enough about home runs, too.
Okay, one more thing: Olivo needs to hit six more home runs without drawing a walk to pass Armas. Because it was bugging you.
Moving on, did you know that on September 18, Olivo drew three walks in a game? Or that this marked the first time in his career he had done so?
Here is a breakdown of Olivo's walk total in 2012:
Sure, the game lasted 18 innings. That's like two games. Still, Wei-Yin Chen, Jake Arrieta, and Tommy Hunter are to be commended for their efforts. Olivo saw 35 pitches in eight trips to the plate. He took 15 for balls.
Olivo also caught 246 pitches. He was behind the dish for all 18 innings. He homered in the fourth inning and stole second in the 11th. These are incidental to the walks but add to his legend.
Not that Olivo's career needs embellishment. It already is remarkable enough to push the limits of credibility. If he were a fictional character, he'd need to be rewritten—it's that whole willing suspension of disbelief thing.
Because who would believe this:
Bonds drew more walks in his first 97 games of 2004 than Olivo has drawn in the first 1,078 games of his career. At his current walk rate, Olivo would need 5,904 plate appearances (about 2,000 more than he currently has) to catch Bonds' 2004 walk total.
Bradley Ankrom interrupts my train of thought by informing me, “Barry Bonds' career intentional walk rate (0.054) is greater than Olivo's career walk rate (0.039).” He adds that “Bonds is the *only* player with an IBBR greater than Olivo's BBR (min. 3000 PA).” It is a welcome interruption.
Olivo could get there. Next year is his age-34 season (he turns 35 in July). Seventeen catchers in big-league history have accumulated at least 2,000 plate appearances from age 34 onward. Most recently, Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jason Varitek did it. They were better than Olivo. A lot better. Still, as Olivo's career reminds us every day, just because something is improbable doesn't mean that it cannot happen.
The first walk he ever drew came on September 18, 2002. Careful readers, or those given to attributing meaning to coincidence, will note that this is exactly 10 years before his three-walk game. It came with the bases loaded and two out in the fourth inning of what had been a 1-1 tie. Kansas City right-hander Jeff Suppan walked Olivo on four pitches, forcing home Magglio Ordonez and giving the White Sox a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
Olivo has drawn 45 four-pitch walks in his career. Bonds drew 46 four-pitch walks in April and May 2004.
Olivo has drawn eight bases-loaded walks:
Things to note:
Mr. Ankrom interrupts me again with more tales of Great Olivo:
I should be annoyed by his endless distractions, but I am not annoyed. He is improving my article, letter by letter.
Olivo's legendary plate discipline is nothing new (that's why it's legendary). In various incarnations of the Baseball Prospectus Annual, we have expressed our awe at his ability to swing at everything.
In 2006, Olivo became just one of a dozen players in the last half-century to come to the plate 400 or more times and failed to draw ten walks. Four of Olivo's nine walks were intentional, giving him an unintentional walk rate of one every 90.4 plate appearances. That's not quite as bad as Alfredo Griffin's 1984 (4 UIBB in 441 PA, or 110.3 UIBB/PA) or the immortal Whitey Alperman's two walks in 442 PA for the 1909 Dodgers, but it's still special.
And from BP2012:
...he led his team in runs batted in, despite posting one of the dozen worst OBPs in post-Deadball Era history. Only a truly elite hacker could be both his team's most and least productive hitter, and Olivo is that hacker. He swings at nearly half of all pitches outside the strike zone. He swings at more than half the sliders he sees, and half the curves, and nearly two-thirds of changeups, and 80 percent of splitters. He's a generational hacker.
Aside from disappointment that “Pedro Feliz Line” never became a thing, the takeaway here is that Olivo doesn't draw walks and hasn't for a very long time. If you summed the 90 feet he has traveled for each of his big-league walks, it would come to 2.59 miles.
That's the distance between the Mariners team store at Safeco and the corner of Westlake and Mercer near Lake Union. Google claims it's a 52-minute walk. Google also claims it's only 34 minutes by bus, which doesn't help Olivo but which you might find useful someday. (Take the 72. It runs every half hour on weekdays, with reduced schedules on weekends. If you happen to visit at the right time of year, you can catch the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival, which is—among many other things—free.)
Now that we've had our fill of buses and boats, let's return to Olivo's three-walk game.
Conclusion? It took 18 innings of baseball for Olivo to draw three walks in a game. There are entire months where he doesn't draw that many walks. In fact, all of them in 2012.
There have been 185 three-walk games in the majors this season. It is an everyday occurrence. Four players (Joe Mauer, Mike Napoli, Mark Reynolds, Mark Teixeira) have drawn at least three walks in a game on four separate occasions. It is easy to take such things for granted, but when a player of Olivo's stature does it, be assured that we are witnessing something special.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. It should not be forgotten.