As a guy who regularly leads his slow pitch softball team in walks, I have an appreciation for players who find ways to take a leisurely stroll to first base.
Ron Hunt's maddening ability to get some part of his body in front of a pitched ball, Dale Berra's knack for having his bat tick the catcher's leather, Lance Blankenship coaxing four wide ones while hovering around the Mendoza Line ÑÊall are uncanny talents.
Ted Williams led the American League in base on balls eight times but was such a force at the plate that he still would have been an outstanding offensive player had he walked half as often.
The idea is to recognize players who made the slow walk up the first-base line an art form, who were and are somehow able to finagle pitches outside the strike zone despite being less than imposing figures with a bat in their hands.
After monkeying around with various combinations of on-base percentage, batting average and slugging percentage, I tossed them aside and settled on the following formula, calling the result the Walking Man Quotient:
WMQ = 1.5*(BB+HBP) / (H+TB+1.5*(BB+HBP)+SB)
The denominator is part of the basic formula that Clay Davenport uses to calculate Equivalent Average (EqA). Dividing it into the walk and hit-by-pitch components approximates those components as a percentage of the hitter's total offensive output. Patient sluggers such as Williams and Mickey Mantle will occasionally have a high WMQ in years when their numbers are down, but the players with the best ratios will neither hit for average nor power while still collecting scads of walks and hit-by-pitches.
Top 20 career WMQs
(post-1900, minimum 4000 PA)
Max Bishop .379; Eddie Stanky .364; Eddie Yost .355; Gene Tenace .351; Ferris Fain .335; Eddie Joost .319; Roy Cullenbine .318; Mickey Tettleton .310; Miller Huggins .308; Earl Torgeson .296; Elmer Valo .296; Elbie Fletcher .291; Ted Williams .290; Donie Bush .289; Joe Cunningham .289; Lu Blue .288; Harlond Clift .286; Mike Hargrove .286; Joe Morgan .285; Darrell Evans .284.
The most surprising name on the career list is Ted Williams. The Splendid Splinter drew an incredible 2,021 walks in fewer than 10,000 plate appearances, and probably nobody has had a better understanding of the strike zone. In making the list, he demonstrates how heaping helpings of walks can overpower the WMQ formula and propel high-average sluggers toward the top of the rankings.
Top 10 2002 WMQs
(minimum 400 plate appearances)
Barry Bonds, San Francisco, .393; Adam Dunn, Cincinnati, .342; Brian Giles, Pittsburgh, .311; Edgar Martinez, Seattle, .304; Robin Ventura, N.Y. Yankees, .294; Carlos Delgado, Toronto, .292; Jim Thome, Cleveland, .288; Doug Mientkiewicz, Minnesota, .282; David Justice, Oakland, .281; Lee Stevens, Montreal/Cleveland, .279.
Bonds topped the majors with a .370 average and had the fourth-highest slugging percentage (.799) ever. Nevertheless, nearly 40 percent of his offensive value was due to reaching first base 207 times via walks and hit-by-pitches in one season. Incredible.
Jeff Bower is a member of the Northwest chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research.