Walk Rate Stabilization: Holy Crap Bryce Harper and More

We’ve hit our second stabilization point! Let me allay your concerns immediately: Despite last week’s similar theme, this won’t morph into a column dedicated to pointing out when exactly each stabilization point is reached. Walk rates stabilize at 120 plate appearances and many players have already hit that point, so the timing was right. Plus it fits well with last week’s column on strikeout rates. I’ll cover the three highest walk rates and the three lowest. I also cherry picked two more players who don’t quite have 120 plate appearances yet, but are well on their way to posting some interesting numbers. Statistics are through May 6.

The Walkers (yeah, yeah, yeah… not the ones from AMC): Three highest walk rates

Bryce Harper (20.8 BB%) – This constitutes a fairly remarkable jump for Harper, who has a career 11.2 walk rate. Almost everything looks good here. He’s been less aggressive, which has led to fantastic gains all over in his plate discipline profile. Harper’s average fly ball and home run distance is third in baseball.

Maybe it’s boring, but perhaps the reason Harper is doing this is because he’s a fantastic baseball player who is 22 and only getting better. It’s also important to note this is the first time in his career he’s made it through April without an injury causing him to miss time.

Two minor issues: Harper has been caught on all three of his steal attempts, and now has two steals in his last 129 games. It would be nice if his early-season health would translate to steals. Hand-in-hand with his walk rate, Harper’s strikeout rate is also the highest of his career. I don’t see it as a big concern because his SwStr%, O-Swing% and Contact% are all at the best levels of his career.

Miguel Cabrera (15.8) – I won’t delve too deeply into Cabrera analysis because it’s obvious he’s good and he’s mostly taken a lot of walks in his career. It’s encouraging his BB/K almost exactly matches his 2013 rate after a down 2014 when he struggled with injuries. He appears to be back to his usual self. Oh, and he’s sporting a career-low swinging strike rate. Those who took a risk when his health seemed uncertain have certainly made a big profit so far.

Giancarlo Stanton (11.5) – Stanton kicked off 2014 with a slightly worse BB/K through April than he has now, so the sky isn’t necessarily falling. Things could be going better though. For a player usually challenged to make contact, Stanton is now doing so at a career-worst rate. So far there’s not enough here to be alarmed about. Just a great hitter having a not-great start. ZiPS and Steamer both project 30-plus home runs and a .270-plus average the rest of the way.

Not quite at 120 plate appearances:

Joc Pederson (20.0) – We know the guy can take a walk. We also know he hits the ball harder than almost anyone in baseball (fourth in Hard%) and misses more than almost anyone in baseball (11th in SwStr%). If there’s a concern, it’s that his batting average floor is abysmal with so much swing-and-miss in his game. He also packs some speed in his lunchbox, but the early results have been disappointing. With nine of his 22 hits leaving the park, he hasn’t had many chances to run in the first place. It hasn’t even gone well when he has run as he’s been caught in three of four attempts. ZiPS projects a line of 30 home runs, 87 runs, 82 RBI, 16 steals, and a .247 average – which looks a lot like what was expected of George Springer.

The Walkless: Three lowest walk rates

Matt Kemp (4.0) – Kemp is attacking pitches with a much more aggressive approach this season. What’s good is he’s making more contact than ever before. What’s not good are the results when he’s making that contact. Kemp’s average home run and flyball distance is down nearly 25 feet from last season. It’s too early to consider a move based on that data, but he’s also putting an even 50 percent of his batted balls on the ground, well up from his career rate. While the power could be slipping, his speed looks great. Kemp is already five-for-five on steal attempts.

Mike Moustakas (4.1) – This isn’t a big surprise for Moustakas, who has a career walk rate of 6.3. The surprise is Moustakas is striking out less than ever despite swinging at more pitches outside the zone. Because of that lack of discipline on pitches out of the zone, it’s hard to believe he’ll continue his drastically reduced strikeout rate.

Robinson Cano (5.0) – He’s put up two seasons with a walk rate below 6.0 and a wRC+ of 120 or better, so walks aren’t essential for his success.

Not quite at 120 plate appearances:

Troy Tulowitzki (2.1) – Tulowitzki is sitting on 97 plate appearances, so he’s a fair amount short of the stabilization point and might quickly turn things around. Still, he seems worth a mention because he just put up the lowest monthly walk rate split of his career. He’s swinging at more pitches than ever and missing at the highest rate since 2006. With such a long track record of excellence, I’d bet on Tulowitzki bouncing back after the uncharacteristic month, unless news of an injury comes out.

We hoped you liked reading Walk Rate Stabilization: Holy Crap Bryce Harper and More by Adam McFadden!

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Adam McFadden contributes to RotoGraphs when he's not working as a sports editor at MSN. His writing has appeared online for FOX Sports and Sports Illustrated.

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terracool
Guest
terracool

Actually, a column highlighting when each stat has stabilized would be pretty helpful. Or is there a list somewhere? Thx

Dan Greer
Member
Dan Greer

It’s the first linked item in the article. Also: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/principles/sample-size/

terracool
Guest
terracool

Duh. Totally missed it. Thanks.