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90+ walks one year, no other years of 60+

Posted by Anonymous
After hearing that Marco Scutaro was traded to Colorado, I took a look at his stats page and one thing popped out: Scutaro drew 90 walks in 2009, but no more than 57 in his other 7 seasons as a regular. Naturally, I had to see how rare that was.

Since 1901, there are 140 players with exactly 1 season of 90+ walks. Counting Scutaro, 14 of them have never drawn even 60 walks in any other year. Two of these, Carlos Santana and Jason Heyward, have played just 2 seasons. Here's a quick rundown of the others:

Sherry Magee, OF, 1910, 94 walks; next-best total 55.
BB%: 14.5% in big year, 8.1% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 12.8% of his total walks.
Magee, one of the best players not in the HOF (he is in the Hall of wWAR), had already logged 6 good seasons, including an RBI crown, but 1910 would be his career year. He led the league in BA, OBP, SLG, Runs, RBI, Total Bases and WAR(pos), and his 94 walks were more than his prior 2 years combined. He played another 8 full years, but never again topped 55 walks or a 10% walk rate.

Sherry Magee played with the Phillies his first 11 years, but was traded to the Braves in 1915. If he'd been dealt a year sooner or later, he could have been part of an historic pennant. The 1914 "Miracle Braves" won what would become the franchise's only pennant in almost a half-century. With Magee in 1915, they finished 2nd to his former team, who won their first pennant since the club's 1883 inception and their only one until 1950.

Otto Knabe, 2B, 1911, 94 walks; next-best total 55.
BB%: 14.6% in big year, 8.5% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 19.4% of his total walks.
Knabe's walking outburst came one year after that of his longtime teammate, Magee. But Knabe's extra passes were not accompanied by the least bit of overall improvement from his established level; in fact, it would be one of his worst offensive seasons, with an 81 OPS+ (career mark of 86).

Knabe spent 2 more years with the Phils, then jumped to the Federal League in 1914, where he was player/manager of the Baltimore Terrapins for 2 years, then returned to the NL for one final year.

Babe Borton, 1B, 1915, 92 walks; next-best total 42.
Borton was one of the better hitters in the last year of the Federal League, which says a lot about the caliber of that wannabe circuit. Borton was tops in runs and walks while batting .286 with a .395 OBP and 14 triples. In the real majors the next year, Borton hit .224 in 66 games and was never heard from again. Let's move on.

Evar Swanson, OF, 1933, 93 walks; next-best total 59.
BB%: 14.3% in big year, 7.9% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 43.9% of his total walks.
An odd case. If you know of Swanson at all, it's probably for his supposed record time of 13.3 seconds around the bases, which was recognized by Guinness as the fastest ever, or for playing in the early days of the NFL.

After 4 years on the gridiron, Swanson joined the Reds and batted .303 in 2 seasons as a regular, but had just a 90 OPS+ thanks to a high-scoring era and his own lack of walks and HRs. After returning to the minors for 2 years (his .375 in 1932 missed the A.A. batting crown by 1 point), Swanson was acquired by the White Sox and had a productive 1933, batting .306 with a .411 OBP, scoring 102 runs and placing 5th in the AL in times on base. But a '34 campaign that was a little paler (.298/.385) and still without power brought his pro career to an end.

Les Fleming, 1B, 1942, 106 walks; next-best total 53.
BB%: 16.0% in big year, 13.2% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 46.9% of his total walks.
Batting .414 in 1941 to win the Southern Association batting crown by 55 points earned Fleming a job with the Indians. In his first full season, Fleming played all 156 games and was one of the better hitters in the AL at .292/.412, with a 144 OPS+.

But the next year he left baseball and returned home to Beaumont, TX, to care for his wife after the death of their child; he stayed there into 1945 working in a war-related job in the shipyards. (Cleveland Indians Encyclopedia.)  He got back for 32 games in '45 and hit .329 with a 159 OPS, then had a productive '46, with a 138 OPS+ in 99 games. But he didn't hit as well in '47, and with the emergence of Eddie Robinson, Cleveland traded him to Pittsburgh. Fleming spent all of '48 at AAA, leading the league with 143 RBI and ranking among the leaders in almost everything else, while Pirates 1B Ed Stevens rang up an 89 OPS+. In '49, Fleming got into 24 games with the Pirates, mostly as a pinch-hitter, and posted a .395 OBP -- but never played in the majors again.

Of the 400 modern players with at least 1 year of 600+ PAs and an OPS+ at least 140, only Duke Kenworthy and Dutch Zwilling played fewer games than Fleming's 434. Both were Federal League wonders who played only briefly in the established majors.

Oscar Grimes, 3B, 1945, 97 walks; next-best total 59.
BB%: 16.3% in big year, 12.5% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 32.7% of his total walks.
Grimes spent 2 seasons as a regular for Cleveland before the war, posting a combined 88 OPS+. In 2 years as a Yankee during the war, he had a 117 OPS+ and a .387 OBP. Then the stars came home, Grimes put up a 77 OPS+ in half a year's time, and his career was over. There can't be many others who spent at least 2 years as a starter for the Yanks between 1920-64 and didn't win a pennant; NYY finished 3rd and 4th in his 2 seasons. (Grimes did play 9 games for the '43 club, but didn't play in the WS.)

Tommy Glaviano, 3B, 1950, 90 walks; next-best total 41.
BB%: 17.6% in big year, 16.0% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 42.1% of his total walks.
Glaviano broke in with a .380 OBP playing half-time for the '49 Cardinals, who lost the pennant by 1 game to Brooklyn by dropping 4 of their last 5 (including 2 losses to Les Fleming's 5th-place Pirates). In 1950, Glaviano's 90 walks led to a .421 OBP and 92 runs in just 115 games (a rate of 130 runs per 162 G). And then his career fell apart; he played just 187 games over 3 more seasons, batted .215, and was gone.

Don Lenhardt, 1B, 1950, 90 walks; next-best total 47.
BB%: 15.5% in big year, 10.9% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 43.3% of his total walks.
Playing across the very same diamond as Glaviano (but for the Browns), Lenhardt put up some impressive first-year numbers, with 22 HRs and 90 walks helping build a .390 OBP. (Only 4 others had 20+ HRs and 80+ walks in their debut year.) In July, he drew 30 walks in 30 starts. After a couple more years of solid but  unspectacular hitting (split among 3 other teams), Lenhardt returned to St. Louis in '53 and hit .317/.400 with a 131 OPS+, the best on the Browns. But he got off to a slow start the next year and was sold to the Red Sox, where he played the final 44 games of his career, which was ended by a broken leg.

Billy Grabarkewitz, 3B, 1970, 95 walks; next-best total 40.
BB%: 14.8% in big year, 14.3% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 47.0% of his total walks.
Grabarkewitz drew 95 walks in what would seem like his rookie year, but apparently he was not qualified, perhaps because he spent too much time on the active roster the prior year (despite getting just 70 PAs). In any case, his 6.5 WAR was tied with that year's MVP, Johnny Bench, and is among the top 30 ever in a player's first 2 seasons. A hot start had helped earn him a reserve All-Star nod in '70, but he got hurt the next year and never hit the same; over his last 5 years combined he batted barely as much as in his "rookie" year, and he was done before his 30th birthday.

Jim Hickman, OF/1B, 1970, 93 walks; next-best total 52.
BB%: 15.2% in big year, 10.1% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 18.9% of his total walks.
You probably know that 1970 was a magical year for Hickman, who had averaged .236/11/37 in 8 prior seasons but suddenly, at 33, erupted with .315/32/115, with a 1.001 OPS and 155 OPS+, earning him the only All-Star appearance of his long career.

Hickman is one of two players ever to have a season of at least 110 RBI but no other years with 70+ RBI. The other is Wes Parker, whose big year also came in 1970. Hickman is also among the 20 or so hitters with one year of 5+ WAR, but no other years of even 2.5 WAR; another of those guys is Grabarkewitz (also 1970).

Erubiel Durazo, DH/1B, 2003, 100 walks; next-best total 56.
BB%: 15.5% in big year, 12.6% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 32.6% of his total walks.
After he burst into MLB in 1999 with a 1.015 OPS in 52 games for Arizona -- rounding off a year in which he batted .404 in AA/AAA -- Durazo's career was stalled for 3 years by injuries and defensive shortcomings. Oakland picked him up on the cheap in 2003 and he gave them 2 productive full seasons before injuries hit again and quickly ended his MLB career after just 2,291 PAs.

Durazo and Knabe are the only ones on this list whose big-walk year had an OPS+ below their career average. Durazo was a good, disciplined MLB hitter, with a career .381 OBP (also higher than his 100-walk year). Per 650 PAs, he averaged 27 HRs and 87 walks. He just couldn't stay healthy.

Marco Scutaro, SS, 2009, 90 walks; next-best total 57.
BB%: 13.2% in big year, 8.3% otherwise.
Big-year walks were 23.2% of his total walks to date.
Scutaro had played 5 full seasons, including one with Toronto, producing a combined .326 OBP, before the Jays somehow decided to make him their leadoff man for 2009. It worked brilliantly -- Scutaro produced career highs in everything, including a .379 OBP and 100 runs. After signing with Boston, he was kept in that role for 2010, but with more ordinary results all around, especially in walks.

Scutaro is one of 5 Blue Jays ever to draw 90 walks in a season, and one of 29 modern shortstops ever to do that.
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If you can draw any conclusions about this group, you're a better analyst than I. But I hope you've enjoyed the digression.

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