Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Look Who's Leading the League in Walk Percentage!

After spending a morning perusing the batting leaders over at, one stat jumped up and grabbed some attention. If you look at the leader board and click on the walk percentage stat, you'll see it. The top ten in that category includes some of the usual suspects. Kevin Youkilis is up there. He is after all the guy Billy Beane called the human walk machine. Jose Bautista is up there proving that last year wasn't a fluke. Of course Jason Heyward is up there. Bobby Abreu is not a surprise being up there, nor is Troy Tulowitzki. But the leader? You'll never guess it. The leader so far (in admittedly early results) in walk percentage is Jonny Gomes. Jonny Gomes!?

It's astounding, but there it is. Jonny Gomes leads the league in walks received with thirteen. And no, none of the walks are intentional. This is stunning. Why? Well, history is why. Last year, Gomes walked only 39 times in 571 plate appearances. Last year's walk percentage for Gomes was 6.8 percent. So far this year, his walk percentage is 29.5 percent. Somehow, Gomes has made leaps and bounds in pitch recognition? His strikeout percentage is down as well from last year's 24.1 percent to this years 23.3 percent. Was there ever any hint that Gomes could do this? Frankly, no.

Gomes was better in Triple A with his walk percentage than he has been in the majors. His last three gigs in Triple A were 19.6 percent (only 53 plate appearances), 9.8 percent and 8.9 percent. Those are better than his lifetime major league 9.5 percentage. But it's safe to say that nobody saw this coming. Projections for Gomes ranged from 8.8 percent to 10.7 percent.

If we look at last year, could we have predicted this? Again, no. his walk percentage was slightly higher in the second half over the first, but not by much. Did his Spring Training results predict this? Not at all. His walk percentage in Spring Training this year was 9.1 percent. So this has to be a fluke, right? Perhaps he has just had a run of games against wild pitchers. Let's look at his games:

  1. Faced Gallardo who had decent control and only walked three. Gomes was one of them.
  2. Faced Shaun Marcum, who walked five that game. But three of them were Gomes.
  3. Faced Wolf and a bunch of Brewers relievers. They walked four in nine innings. One was Gomes.
  4. Faced Happ who did have control issues. Happ walked five, but two of them were Gomes.
  5. Brett Myers and three relievers walked four. Gomes was one of them.
  6. Ian Kennedy and Aaron Heilman only walked two in nine innings. Both were Gomes.
  7. Daniel Hudson and two relievers walked five. Gomes was one of them.
  8. Joe Saunders walked five in his poor outing. Gomes was one of them.
  9. Matt Latos and three relievers walked three batters. No walks for Gomes.
  10. Clayton Richard and four relievers walked four and Gomes was one of them.

This early run of ten games doesn't show any real cases of wildness except for perhaps Saunders and maybe Hudson. So, something weird is going on here. The Play Index over at also shows that Gomes went 114 games of his 148 games played last year without a walk. So far this year, he's walked in nine out of ten games.

The last time there was this kind of dramatic walk percentage increase this writer can remember isn't really remembered that well because the numbers don't back it up. Chone Figgins went from 62 walks in 2008 to 101 in 2009. But that was only an increase in walk percentage from 17.7 percent to 18.9 percent. In other words, Figgins was pretty good at taking a walk before that. Robinson Cano's walk percentage jumped last year, but many of those walks were intentional.

We'll have to keep watching this because it almost seems unprecedented. But that being said, it seems impossible for Gomes to maintain due to his history and that fact that most players don't go from impatient to patient in the course of one season. Whatever is going on here, this Fan finds it darn fascinating.

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