Jones has reached a new high — or low? — in 2014. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Jones and Success Without Walks

Adam Jones has never possessed what one might call “plate discipline”. Since the Mariners called him up in 2006, his walk rate of 4.5% is the fourth-lowest in the majors. Despite this, he’s performed pretty well at the plate overall, as his career wRC+ of 108 ranks 56th out of 87 qualifiers. This trend has ballooned in 2014: So far, he’s posted a 113 wRC+, good for 72nd out of 166 qualified batters, even though his abysmal 2.6% walk rate beats only two other players.

This seems rather unusual, so I decided to investigate. I looked at individual batter seasons over the past 30 years (i.e. back to 1985). I calculated a z-score — a number that measures how far something is from the major-league average — for each hitter’s walk rate. For the current season, Adam Jones had a z-score of -1.80 for his walk rate, meaning it’s 1.8 standard deviations below average.

First of all, not many players had worse figures than that — of the 4,388 in the sample, only 56 were more pathetic. But even fewer of them — six — hit at an above-average rate while eschewing free passes:

Season Name z_BB BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+
1994 Carlos Baerga -2.11 2.10% 9.60% 0.21 0.311 114
2014 Adam Jones -1.80 2.60% 17.50% 0.184 0.316 113
2009 Miguel Tejada -2.02 2.80% 7.10% 0.142 0.318 110
1987 Benito Santiago -1.92 2.80% 19.60% 0.167 0.348 109
1995 Shawon Dunston -2.21 2.00% 14.90% 0.176 0.325 102
2007 Kenji Johjima -1.86 2.90% 8.00% 0.146 0.289 101

I included a few other stats too, to show that these hitters avoided strikeouts and/or hit the ball hard when they made contact (in Jones’s case, more of the latter), which compensated for their base-on-balls allergy.

If I broaden the scope, to z-scores of -1.5 or lower, a few more names show up, but it’s still a small, 37-man  list:

Season Name z_BB BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+
1988 Kirby Puckett -1.60 3.30% 12.00% 0.189 0.376 150
1995 Dante Bichette -1.76 3.60% 15.70% 0.28 0.349 131
2002 Alfonso Soriano -1.61 3.10% 21.20% 0.247 0.335 131
2006 Robinson Cano -1.59 3.50% 10.60% 0.183 0.359 128
1994 Andres Galarraga -1.52 4.20% 20.70% 0.273 0.342 126
2012 Alex Rios -1.62 4.10% 14.40% 0.212 0.323 126
1999 Ivan Rodriguez -1.69 3.80% 10.20% 0.227 0.324 125
2009 Robinson Cano -1.50 4.50% 9.30% 0.199 0.324 124
1994 Raul Mondesi -1.72 3.50% 17.20% 0.21 0.342 122
2013 Adam Jones -1.64 3.60% 19.70% 0.208 0.314 118
1995 Brian Jordan -1.59 4.20% 15.00% 0.192 0.315 117
2013 Torii Hunter -1.50 4.00% 17.30% 0.162 0.344 117
1991 Andre Dawson -1.62 3.70% 13.40% 0.217 0.266 114
1994 Carlos Baerga -2.11 2.10% 9.60% 0.21 0.311 114
2014 Adam Jones -1.80 2.60% 17.50% 0.184 0.316 113
2005 Jorge Cantu -1.75 3.00% 13.20% 0.211 0.289 112
1994 Dante Bichette -1.66 3.70% 13.80% 0.244 0.308 111
2009 Miguel Tejada -2.02 2.80% 7.10% 0.142 0.318 110
1987 Benito Santiago -1.92 2.80% 19.60% 0.167 0.348 109
2013 Jean Segura -1.50 4.00% 13.50% 0.129 0.326 107
1986 Tony Fernandez -1.75 3.70% 7.20% 0.118 0.323 107
2008 Cristian Guzman -1.66 3.80% 9.30% 0.124 0.337 106
1990 Brian Harper -1.79 3.70% 5.30% 0.138 0.3 106
2003 Marquis Grissom -1.62 3.20% 13.30% 0.169 0.318 106
2012 Erick Aybar -1.65 4.00% 11.00% 0.126 0.316 106
2010 Adam Jones -1.77 3.70% 19.20% 0.158 0.328 105
2006 Kenji Johjima -1.53 3.70% 8.50% 0.16 0.29 105
2005 Robinson Cano -1.78 2.90% 12.30% 0.161 0.318 105
2013 Salvador Perez -1.50 4.00% 12.00% 0.141 0.311 105
2002 Randall Simon -1.73 2.60% 5.90% 0.158 0.286 105
1987 Jeffrey Leonard -1.58 4.00% 12.80% 0.187 0.29 104
1999 Chris Singleton -1.58 4.20% 8.50% 0.19 0.3 103
2008 Alexei Ramirez -1.75 3.50% 12.00% 0.185 0.294 102
1995 Shawon Dunston -2.21 2.00% 14.90% 0.176 0.325 102
2008 Jose Lopez -1.63 3.90% 9.80% 0.146 0.306 102
2007 Kenji Johjima -1.86 2.90% 8.00% 0.146 0.289 101
1986 Juan Samuel -1.62 4.10% 22.40% 0.183 0.32 100

Jones’s 2010 and 2013 appear here as well, to show that this is not a one-year fluke.

Jones has played superbly for the Orioles as a whole — his 2.4 fWAR thus far ranks 21st in the majors. The methods by which he’s achieved this superiority, however, are as suspect as they are uncommon. If he wants to continue running with the big dogs, he’ll have to start taking a walk or two.

All data courtesy of FanGraphs, as of Friday, June 20th, 2014.

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