Rougned Odor and other high home run, low walk seasons
Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor is having a solid year at the plate, but his value comes almost entirely from his power. He’s hitting for a respectable .279 batting average and is slugging an impressive .511, but holds a dismal .304 on-base percentage thanks to a pretty bad walk rate. Odor will finish the season as only the 32nd player in baseball history to hit 30 or more home runs and draw 30 or fewer walks.
Home runs are popular again, and Odor currently has 31 of them with only 18 walks. The record for fewest walks in a season with 30 or more home runs belongs to Andres Galaragga, who paired 31 dingers with 19 walks in the strike shortened 1994 season. The Rangers have only 11 games left, so if Odor can go walk-less in those 11, he’ll take the record.
Looking at the other seasons where a player hit 30 or more dingers and trotted to first less than 30 times, there is some variety of overall success. In most cases, the gaudy homer numbers suppress the poor walk numbers and the hitter has a good overall season.
Only eight of these seasons produced a wRC+ below 110, and only three were dragged below 100, the league-average mark: Garret Anderson had a 99 wRC+ in 2000, Tony Armas had an 84 wRC+ in 1983, and Tony Bautista had a 76 wRC+ in 2004. According to FanGraphs, Armas and Bautista are also the only two members of this club to be below replacement level during the season in question. Anderson still managed a respectable 2.2 WAR.
The 32 players averaged 92 strike outs each during these seasons, with the highest strike out total going to Butch Hobson in 1977. If you’ve never heard of Butch Hobson, you’re not alone. He played 8 seasons and his 162 strike outs that year led the American League, but that was pretty much the only noteworthy thing he ever did.
The player with the fewest strike outs in this club is the ironically named Walker Cooper, the catcher for the 1947 Giants. Cooper had a bulky slash line of .305/.339/.586 with a 137 wRC+ and 5.1 WAR. Typically, guys with lower walk rates and lots of home runs have higher strikeout rates because these players swing at a lot of pitches and swing hard. Players that make enough contact to keep their strike out rates that low tend to sacrifice some power to do it. There are, of course, exceptions to this, and Walker seems to be one of them.
Two players in the club have managed to accumulate over six WAR, with both walking 24 times each: Felipe Alou in 1966 and Ivan Rodriguez in 1999. Both used hefty batting averages to balance out their low walk rate. Rodriguez hit .332/.356/.558 for a 125 wRC+ but rode stellar defense behind the plate to 6.8 WAR and the American League MVP award. The guy only walked 24 times, and yet had a very good offensive season and was a somewhat defensible MVP selection. That’s amazing.
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Alou finished fifth in the MVP balloting when he turned the trick, hitting .327/.361/.533, which translated to a career high 146 wRC+ in 1966’s much lower run scoring environment. He led the National League in hits and total bases. Amazingly, Alou’s .361 OBP was the second highest of his career. Alou never walked that much, but 24 is still a well below average season, even for him. The high batting average really counteracted his low walk rate.
On the other end of the batting average spectrum, we have Dave Kingman’s 1976 season. Kingman walked only 28 times that year and hit only .238, giving him a .286 OBP. His 37 homers bolstered his slugging percentage up to .506, giving him a 126 wRC+ on the season. It ranks as one of Kingman’s worst seasons by OBP and one of his better seasons offensively overall. FanGraphs has it tied as his second best season overall with 2.4 WAR.
The best overall offensive season for a member of the 30 or more homers, 30 or fewer walks club? It’s Ryan Braun, who hit .324/.370/.634 with 34 home runs and 29 walks in 2007. His 155 wRC+ ranks as the only season above Alou’s 146, but Alou far out-WAR’d Braun’s 2.5 mark. This was Braun’s rookie season, and he led the National League in slugging percentage while beating out a much more qualified Troy Tulowitzki for NL Rookie of the Year. Home runs: Trumping defense since forever.
This club is also likely to grow in the near future, if current trends hold up. Including Odor, there have been 10 of these seasons since 2000. While it is unlikely that anyone in the near future will homer more than Odor while walking less, we will probably see many more of these seasons as a whole.