April 15, 2009
The DiSars are a fun thing I came up with about a decade ago, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to former Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina. The hack-tastic infielder, who drew 154 walks in more than 4,000 plate appearances during his 12-year career, said in early 1998 that he would be perfectly happy if he never drew a walk. At the time, he was more than 60 plate appearances into his campaign without seeing ball four for the first time that season.
The DiSars pay homage to that idea by awarding the player in each league who goes the deepest into his season without drawing that first free pass. Pitchers are excluded, as they're in a class of their own. (Carlos Zambrano would be an annual challenger for the NL DiSar Award.) Unintentional walks count, mainly for historical consistency-I think Jeff Francoeur's first walk in a number of years has been intentional, but we started doing it this way and we'll keep it up.
History was made in 2008, as for just the third time, a player won his second Golden Crutch. Shawon Dunston took the NL crown in 2000 and 2002, and Francoeur won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. Last year, the AL DiSar was taken down in come-from-behind mode by a player who wasn't supposed to play as much as he did, but ended up starting because of an injury. Jose Molina, who won the AL DiSar in 2003 despite playing in just 53 games, took over as the Yankees' catcher in the absence of Jorge Posada and hacked his way through the league, going 56 at-bats before picking up his first walk on May 3. It marked the first year in some time that the AL DiSar leader won from ahead-the league had often seen backups and call-ups snatch the award late in the season. Joaquin Arias made a late-season run, but got to just 52 walk-less at-bats, tying Jay Payton for second in the league.
That was the case in the NL, where Chase Headley, who had shown a fair amount of plate discipline in college and the minors, was called up in June and swung at everything for his first four weeks in the majors, going a whopping 87 at-bats before picking up his first walk. He finished well ahead of Matt Diaz (79) and Emilio Bonifacio (65), though as usual, starting pitchers peppered the tops of the list (Zambrano, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt all cracked the 70 barrier).
Molina and Headley join a storied list of winners:
Year American League National League 2008 Jose Molina Chase Headley 2007 Ben Zobrist Craig Biggio 2006 Mike Redmond Jeff Francoeur 2005 Andres Blanco Jeff Francoeur 2004 Cesar Crespo Jose Macias 2003 Jose Molina Rainer Olmedo 2002 Carl Crawford Shawon Dunston 2001 Alfonso Soriano Marquis Grissom 2000 Jacque Jones Shawon Dunston
It's early, and as mentioned, the DiSars are quite often won by players who begin the season on the bench or in Triple-A. With that in mind, what do the current leader boards look like? Bil Burke answers that question:
American League AB National League AB Mike Lowell 32 Cristian Guzman 33 Kurt Suzuki 29 Freddy Sanchez 32 Dioner Navarro 29 Chase Headley 28 Evan Longoria 28 Bengie Molina 27 Endy Chavez 27 Cameron Maybin 25 Ryan Spilborghs 25
The streaks of Lowell, Navarro, Guzman, Sanchez, Molina, and Maybin are active. There are some great story lines up there. Guzman seems like he should have won one of these by now, but he never has. Molina, another player who starts every season on the short list, can establish his family as the Williamses of not walking, the Mannings of swinging the bat. Mike Lowell is a veteran who has never been thought of as a hacker, and his spot atop the AL list is a bit of a surprise. Endy Chavez made his run as the Mariners' leadoff man, and Guzman is moving into that slot in the absence of Lastings Milledge. To win the DiSars while batting leadoff much of the time would be a tremendous feat, a commitment to your craft even as your role demands more of you.
Gary would be proud.