Adam Jones and Success Without Walks


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

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:

1994Carlos Baerga-2.112.10%9.60%0.210.311114
2014Adam Jones-1.802.60%17.50%0.1840.316113
2009Miguel Tejada-2.022.80%7.10%0.1420.318110
1987Benito Santiago-1.922.80%19.60%0.1670.348109
1995Shawon Dunston-2.212.00%14.90%0.1760.325102
2007Kenji Johjima-1.862.90%8.00%0.1460.289101

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:

1988Kirby Puckett-1.603.30%12.00%0.1890.376150
1995Dante Bichette-1.763.60%15.70%0.280.349131
2002Alfonso Soriano-1.613.10%21.20%0.2470.335131
2006Robinson Cano-1.593.50%10.60%0.1830.359128
1994Andres Galarraga-1.524.20%20.70%0.2730.342126
2012Alex Rios-1.624.10%14.40%0.2120.323126
1999Ivan Rodriguez-1.693.80%10.20%0.2270.324125
2009Robinson Cano-1.504.50%9.30%0.1990.324124
1994Raul Mondesi-1.723.50%17.20%0.210.342122
2013Adam Jones-1.643.60%19.70%0.2080.314118
1995Brian Jordan-1.594.20%15.00%0.1920.315117
2013Torii Hunter-1.504.00%17.30%0.1620.344117
1991Andre Dawson-1.623.70%13.40%0.2170.266114
1994Carlos Baerga-2.112.10%9.60%0.210.311114
2014Adam Jones-1.802.60%17.50%0.1840.316113
2005Jorge Cantu-1.753.00%13.20%0.2110.289112
1994Dante Bichette-1.663.70%13.80%0.2440.308111
2009Miguel Tejada-2.022.80%7.10%0.1420.318110
1987Benito Santiago-1.922.80%19.60%0.1670.348109
2013Jean Segura-1.504.00%13.50%0.1290.326107
1986Tony Fernandez-1.753.70%7.20%0.1180.323107
2008Cristian Guzman-1.663.80%9.30%0.1240.337106
1990Brian Harper-1.793.70%5.30%0.1380.3106
2003Marquis Grissom-1.623.20%13.30%0.1690.318106
2012Erick Aybar-1.654.00%11.00%0.1260.316106
2010Adam Jones-1.773.70%19.20%0.1580.328105
2006Kenji Johjima-1.533.70%8.50%0.160.29105
2005Robinson Cano-1.782.90%12.30%0.1610.318105
2013Salvador Perez-1.504.00%12.00%0.1410.311105
2002Randall Simon-1.732.60%5.90%0.1580.286105
1987Jeffrey Leonard-1.584.00%12.80%0.1870.29104
1999Chris Singleton-1.584.20%8.50%0.190.3103
2008Alexei Ramirez-1.753.50%12.00%0.1850.294102
1995Shawon Dunston-2.212.00%14.90%0.1760.325102
2008Jose Lopez-1.633.90%9.80%0.1460.306102
2007Kenji Johjima-1.862.90%8.00%0.1460.289101
1986Juan Samuel-1.624.10%22.40%0.1830.32100

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.