Thursday, May 13, 2010

To Walk or Not to Walk?

Some looked at the big spike in Nick Punto's walks last year and saw a mirage. Why would pitchers not throw strikes to a hitter with a .284 slugging percentage? Surely, one would think, that Punto's heightened walk rate -- he was issued a free pass in 13.8 percent of his plate appearances after compiling a 9 percent rate over the first eight seasons of his big-league career -- must be a fluke.

Others figured that perhaps the versatile middle infielder had developed a repeatable skill, crouching in the batter's box to shrink his strike zone and laying off nearly every pitch that didn't come through that zone. Punto was flustering pitchers who were by no means afraid to throw him strikes.

So far in this young season, it appears that the first camp was correct. Punto has drawn only four walks in 66 plate appearances this year, translating to a 6 percent walk rate which is well below his career average. The drop-off hasn't been all bad though, as Punto has raised his batting average to .276 while accumulating a somewhat respectable .362 slugging percentage. If Punto could start drawing walks at a rate somewhere close to where he was last year, he'd actually be a pretty valuable contributor at the bottom of the lineup, but right now his .308 on-base percentage is suppressing his offensive value. We'll see if the walk rate rises at all in the coming months.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's Justin Morneau. After drawing his league-leading 29th walk yesterday, Morneau holds an otherworldly 20.1 percent walk rate. That easily crushes his 12.2 percent rate from a year ago, which had at that time established a career high. Unlike with Punto last year, the rationale behind walking Morneau is easy to understand: he's been a monster. He's batting .357 and his 1.138 OPS leads the American League.

By laying off more pitches (58.3 percent) than ever before in his career, Morneau is taking advantage of other teams' fear of throwing him strikes and putting himself on base at a higher rate than any other player in baseball. This development in his game has boasted his overall productivity and has him in line for an MVP-caliber season. We'll see if he can keep it up.

And if he does, let's hope it's contagious. Because that's something Punto could stand to catch.


Anonymous said...


toby said...

And to think Morneau's actually drawn a good 3 to 4 more walks than that only to be denied by the Umpire's jealousy of his keen eye. No, seriously: he's had multiple ball 4's per pitch f/x rules strikes.

For all my long-harbored hatred of Nick Punto as a baseball player for the Minnesota Twins, I am utterly guilty of believing he might've turned a corner last year. I still don't think it was accidental: he was seeing the ball really well, fouling off the close stuff and laying off everything else. I just don't know if he'll ever get that locked in again. And now he's the sad sort of creature for whom a .326 SLG is "respectable".

Valencia is NOT some sort of organizational savior, but he'd be so much better than Punto right now. Sigh. Damn you, Ron Gardenhire. Damn you and your man love.

Radu Prisacaru said...

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Parker said...

You should also note that opposing pitchers are pitching around Morneau at a ridiculous pace. He is only seeing 42% of his pitches in the strike zone (lowest in AL). This is slightly lower than his '09 totals (45%). To your point, credit him for not chasing after those pitches as much as he did in previous years.

rghrbek said...

I think part of the reason, in addition to Justin's improved eye at the plate, is that teams would just rather face Cuddy than Justin.

Cuddy leads all of baseball, with at bats with runners on base. He just doesn't scare opposing pitchers enough to make them pitch to our 1st baseman.

Anyone else find it strange, that the interaction between Hudson and Pierre (Tuesday's game, 1st inning) was not covered anywhere by the media? Not that I could see? Hudson may have been joking, but Pierre was clearly annoyed.

Anonymous said...

Punto is a career 0.650 OPS player at the MLB level with stellar defense. This is okay for a 8th or 9th in the order player and he isn't all that high paid, albeit a bit overpaid perhaps.

Valencia had a 0.758 OPS in his one AAA season and is considered a weak defender. Both players hit 8th or 9th in the order, which puts further emphasis on defense, which Danny does not have.

Valencia is not a better player. Not yet anyways. I personally would like him to make that jump and be our starter next season with Punto moving into a true utility role where he is better suited.

But it isn't time yet. Plus Valencia whined about not making the team which automatically puts him out for the season anyways. Can't reward that or you'll deal with it again and again.

Frymaster said...

to rghrbek:
it was covered there and...well, it was nothing

Peter said...

Morneau is a monster, and that helps explain why he's seeing so few strikes. Do you think Cuddy's penchant for hitting into DPs (he's leading the league) also plays a role in that?

Nick N. said...

Do you think Cuddy's penchant for hitting into DPs (he's leading the league) also plays a role in that?

Well, I think it's more that Morneau's being on first base all so often has led to Cuddyer's big GIDP total. Cuddy only hits the ball on the ground 42.3 percent of the time, so he's not really more likely to hit into a DP than any other player that would be hitting behind Morneau (who, incidentally, has the lowest GB% in the league).

I do buy that Morneau is getting pitched around because opposing teams would much rather face Cuddyer, though.

Peter said...

Thanks Nick - Yeah, that's the thing. Cuddy is hitting the ball on the ground 42% of the time in spite of the fact that he's seeing a lot more fast balls than other guys. He should be hitting a lot more line drives.

Anonymous said...

What would it take for Delmon to take Cuddy's spot in the lineup? Delmon is doing well despite not many runners on base and not any threat after him. Delmon's biggest problem remains his penchant for chasing things. But if you put him in front of Morneau and Mauer with Cuddy and Thome behind him and pitchers will be less willing to pitch around him for fear of a walk.

Er that is my theory anyways. Delmon is hitting a lot of balls hard and I'd like to see some guys on base for it.

Nick N. said...

Delmon also hits the ball on the ground more than Cuddyer, so if you're frustrated by how much Cuddyer is getting doubled off I don't think you'd be very happy with Young behind Morneau.

Dave said...

Peter, are there stats to back cuddy being thrown more fastballs than anyone in the league?

Dave said...

(That should read anyone else on the team, I didn't mean to insinuate that you claimed that cuddy saw more fastballs than anyone else period.)