Walk rates for hitters in uncertain pursuit of 3,000 hits

At Andy’s suggestion (see comment #17 here), I did a quick-and-dirty study of late-career walk rates for players who finished with around 3,000 hits.

The hypothesis to be tested is that players approaching both 3,000 hits and the end of their career tend to walk less often than they did before.

Included in the study were 30 players who wound up with 2,800 to 3,200 hits. I excluded those whose careers ended before “3,000 hits” became an iconic target (i.e., Sam Crawford and Willie Keeler).

I calculated their walk rates (BB per 700 PAs) for 4 periods:

  • Career minus their last 3 seasons;
  • Last 3 seasons;
  • Last 2 seasons; and
  • Last season.

Any period with less than 200 PAs is presented as “n/a” in the table. (Apologies for the table formatting, which I can’t seem to control.)

Walk Rates for Players Who Finished with 2,800 – 3,200 Hits

Hits

BB per 700 PAs

Player

Career
-3 yrs

Last
3 yrs

Last
2 yrs

Last
1 yr

3184

64

36

40

35

Cal Ripken

3154

69

51

41

45

George Brett

3152

70

103

n/a

n/a

Paul Waner

3142

54

62

59

60

Robin Yount

3141

54

48

53

n/a

Tony Gwynn

3110

70

60

69

n/a

Dave Winfield

3088

63

61

57

53

Derek Jeter

3060

69

39

38

29

Craig Biggio

3055

115

118

112

n/a

Rickey Henderson

3053

66

79

81

86

Rod Carew

3023

49

38

37

37

Lou Brock

3020

77

86

84

71

Rafael Palmeiro

3010

94

75

72

80

Wade Boggs

3007

78

66

67

72

Al Kaline

3000

42

46

40

49

Roberto Clemente

2987

48

56

46

53

Sam Rice

2943

83

108

123

n/a

Frank Robinson

2935

139

175

178

194

Barry Bonds

2930

77

80

81

n/a

Rogers Hornsby

2927

45

37

38

n/a

Al Simmons

2884

46

42

38

46

Zack Wheat

2880

49

63

68

n/a

Frankie Frisch

2876

106

90

n/a

n/a

Mel Ott

2873

135

146

154

n/a

Babe Ruth

2866

66

76

74

n/a

Harold Baines

2848

51

48

30

n/a

Brooks Robinson

2844

35

31

33

n/a

Ivan Rodriguez

2841

61

51

53

n/a

Omar Vizquel

2839

76

117

121

n/a

Charlie Gehringer

2812

37

35

34

34

George Sisler

Over all, I do not see a consistent pattern that would confirm the hypothesis. But the following players did have a marked decline in walk rate in their later years:

Compared to the 3 preceding years, Cal Ripken‘s walk rate fell by 54% in 1999, the year when he would have reached 3,000 hits if not for a couple of DL stints. (He got hit #2,991 in game #149, but played no more that year.) Ripken averaged 57 BB/700 PAs for the preceding 3 years, but that rate fell to 26 in 1999 (13 walks in 354 PAs). If he was pressing, though, it sure didn’t affect his hitting — his .340 BA, .584 SLG and .952 OPS were all career highs, and his SO rate was a couple of % points below his career rate.

Ripken got hit #3,000 in the 10th game of 2000. In the previous 9 games, he drew a normal 4 walks in 39 PAs.

George Brett‘s walk rate fell 46% from the prior 3-year average in 1992, the year in which he reached 3,000 hits on Sept. 30 with a 4-hit game. Brett averaged 71 BB/700 for the prior 3 years, but just 38 that year. And his BB rate was even lower in the run-up to that game — 7 walks in 229 PAs from August 1 to Sept. 30, and none at all in the 20 games immediately before the big one.

After a sterling ’92 capped by a go-ahead hit in WS game 7, Dave Winfield┬ábegan 1993 needing 134 hits for 3,000, having averaged 72 BB/700 PAs for the previous 3 years. That rate fell to 53 in 1993, but coincided with a general decline in performance. There was no particular variance in his walk rate in the 20 to 50 games leading up to hit #3,000.

Craig Biggio┬ábegan 2007 needing 70 hits for 3,000, having averaged just 42 BB/700 PAs for the prior 3 years (already well below his previous career average of 71). In 2007, his final year, Biggio’s walk rate dropped further, to 29 BB/700 PA. In the 30 games culminating in hit #3,000 (and a baserunning boo-boo), Biggio was hacking to the tune of 3 walks and 26 Ks in 118 PAs.

Well, I was going to write up a few more, but I ran out of time….

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Richard Chester
Richard Chester
10 years ago

In 2007 Biggio got his 3000th hit in his 72nd game. During that 72 game period he had one HBP, far less than his career average of one HBP per 10 games.

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
10 years ago

Sam Rice retired after the 1934 season with 2,987 hits, with no publicity about falling short of 3,000. Paul Waner got a great deal of publicity in 1942 when he was pursuing (and reaching) 3,000 hits. So somewhere between these two years is when getting 3,000+ career Base Hits became a really big deal. I think that was tied in with the founding of the HOF in 1936, the first induction in 1939, and the resultant self-awareness of baseball history. 3,000 hits was not a big deal to Zack Wheat and George Sisler; I’m sure it WAS a big deal… Read more »

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
10 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

John A., I’m only re-stating what Bill James wrote, but again, I think that 3,0000 hits did not became a significant milestone until the establishment of the baseball HOF focused attention on the past history of MLB, and related statistical milestones. Lefty Grove getting his 300th win (after seven tries) in 1941 was also a big deal at the time. Milestones such as 3,000 hits or 300 wins simply don’t happen that often, so I don’t see any significance that there was a 16-year gap between Paul Waner and Stan Musial in 1958, it’s just a random variation. Looking at… Read more »

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
10 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

Hornsby had a heel spur operation after the 1929 season and was limping after the start of the 1930 season. It probably explains why he batted only .308 in the best hitting year ever. Then he broke his ankle on May 30th of that season and played no more. Without those injuries he would easily have reached 3000 hits.

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
10 years ago

Richard,

Did the broken ankle finish Hornsby as a regular player? He came back with a fairly good 1931 (163 OPS), but only played 100 games. After 1931 he hardly played. Of course, he was 36 in 1932, so he may have been close to done anyway.

However, if indeed he had played regularly in several more seasons, his lifetime BA probably would’ve dropped below Joe Jackson’s .356, from his .358 (NL-average BA’s dropped quite a bit after 1930), and his reputation might’ve suffered a bit.

The Land-Of-“What If” is lots of fun, huh?

Mike L
Mike L
10 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

There’s at least one other possibility to explain the lack of a 3000 hit batter from 1942 to 1958, which is that both WWII and to a lesser extent, the Korean War took players out of the line up.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
10 years ago
Reply to  Mike L

Ted Wiliams, with 2654 hits and nearly 5 years lost to the two wars, surely would have reached 3000 hits. Mickey Vernon (2495 hits, two years lost), Enos Slaughter (2383 hits, 3 years lost) and Joe DiMaggio (2214 hits, 3 years lost) would have had a fighting chance for 3000 hits.

Mike L
Mike L
10 years ago

Since we are counting, Sam Rice (2987) served in WWI. Richard-I think you and I (and Frank) get to hold up the Veteran’s Committee of HHS?

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
10 years ago

Good point Mike, I never even thought about WWI. I did some research on him. He said that when he retired at age 44 he was unaware of how many hits he had. A couple of years later Clark Griffith asked him if he wanted to return to th ML and try to muster 13 hits but Rice just didn’t want to bother with the fuss of getting back in shape.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
10 years ago

I accidentally posted #30 before I was through. Many years later, when asked, he said that with the fuss nowadays about reaching 3000 hits, he would have tried for it.

He played well even in his older years, never hitting less than .293. That is the highest minimum batting average for all players with 10 years of service. All years are counted, even if a player had only one AB.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
10 years ago
Reply to  Lawrence Azrin

Paul Waner had class. Going into the game of 6/19/42 he had 2999 hits. He hit a shot that SS Eddie Joost couldn’t handle and reached first safely. It was questionable as to whether it was a hit or an error. The official scorer ruled it a hit but Waner disagreed. Not wanting a tainted hit Waner was able to send a signal back to the scorer to indicate his displeasure with the ruling. The scorer complied and changed the hit to an error. Waner got his 3000th ht two days later.

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
10 years ago

I recall there being the exact opposite story about Roberto Clemente – that the scorer wanted his last hit to be scored an error, but he hemmed and hawed about it (don’t know if this is true; don’t remember where I read it). I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of class or lack of class, because I think the record shows that both of these guys were pretty classy players. It’s just a pride issue, and how one wants to be remembered.

Luis Gomez
Luis Gomez
10 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Doom

The Clemente story goes like this: On september 29th, 1972, sitting on 2999 hits, Clemente hit a hard grounder to second base, which he thaught was hit 3K, but the official scrorer gave an error on the play. Clemente didn’t like the call and he said it publicly. A day later facing Jon Matlack of the Mets in the bottom of the fourth inning, Clemente hit a double off the left field wall for a clean 3000th hit. A big sign appeared on the scoreboard, the ovation went for a few seconds and he retrieved the baseball. Little did anybody… Read more »

Dave V.
Dave V.
10 years ago
Reply to  Luis Gomez

Here’s some other interesting info about the game he did get his 3000th hit: http://communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/sports/bob-smiziks-blog/29085-jeters-pursuit-of-3000-hits-recalls

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
10 years ago
Reply to  Luis Gomez

Thanks, Luis! I knew it was something along those lines, but I couldn’t remember exactly. I appreciate it.

MikeD
MikeD
10 years ago

Two thoughts/observations: If the walk rates were to decrease as a player approached 3,000, then shouldn’t we expect their walk rates to increase (or normalize) once they reach 3,000? the pressure’s off, so they revert back to their old hitting styles. Perhaps another data point — 1 year post 3,000 — might provide more clarity. Second, players with decreasing walk rates might simply be getting older. I’d imagine a decent percentage of players approaching 3,000 were already on the decline, so their walk rates might decrease naturally. That said, I took a look at many of the players clustered in… Read more »

kds
kds
10 years ago
Reply to  MikeD

Since walk rates are relatively more mental and less physical than, say, HR rates, or BA, we should not expect a steep decline due to aging. Some hitters learn that they can be productive even if they cannot get around on a good fastball if they become more selective. Look at Mays, he had a career high in BB% 14% in 1970, his 19th season. He set his career high in BB and BB% the next year. We are going to have difficulty getting meaningful results here because the sample size is so small. Biggio seems like the perfect example… Read more »

Mike L
Mike L
10 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

John A. is 1.3 BB/700 significant enough to be much more than noise? I would think that older players would go deeper in the count because they were less confident in their reflexes. What does your sample say about strikeout rates for the same age group?

Dr. Doom
Dr. Doom
10 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Of course, if you’re looking at the whole population of MLB, the guys who are playing past age 35 are usually ridiculously good players. I mean, it’s not like Yuni is still going to be playing at age 37. So I would imagine there’s some sort of bias towards higher walk totals. I’ve never really seen any studies that compared the population of >35 players only to themselves when they were younger, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to see (check Willie Mays, for example). Anyone else have any ideas?

Mike L
Mike L
10 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

All kidding aside about Yuni, I wonder if Dr. Doom isn’t on to something. Power hitters can have longer careers and the expected drop in their batting averages may be a little less meaningful if they can still crank one out. Perhaps the sample-set is slightly skewed.

MikeD
MikeD
10 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Walk rate increasing as a player ages is interesting, although I wonder if its consistent across all class of players. Perhaps the walk rate of power hitter, such as a Frank Robinson or a Ruth, will be maintained or even increase as he tries to zero in on the one pitch he can still drive, where maybe a player who is less of a HR threat, such as a Biggio or Jeter, will begin to see a decrease. I guess I’ve drifted into an entirely different discussion, since what I’m wondering has nothing to do with 3,000 hits, but the… Read more »

MikeD
MikeD
10 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Okay, that’s great. Thanks for the information. I suppose it’s possible that any player who doesn’t adapt and maintain/increase his walk rate never will make it to be an “older” player.

Jimbo
Jimbo
10 years ago

A guy with an outside shot at 3000 hits showed a large marked decline in walks last year.

Chipper Jones.

Jimbo
Jimbo
10 years ago

Sorry make that 2 guys with outside shots at 3000 hits who both reduced their walks drastically last year.

Chipper Jones

And a player who finally became an unproductive hitter but still racked up plenty of hits while reducing his walks amost nil. Pitchers used to pitch around him, but now that all he hits are singles, they don’t do that, and hence he gets no walks at all. His lack of productivity makes his chances at 3000 appear to be disappearing.

Vladimir Guererro.

moonlight graham
moonlight graham
10 years ago
Reply to  Jimbo

Chipper’s walk rate may have something to do with the hitting coach in Atlanta last year, as a lot of the players on the roster had lower walk rates. I’m not sure of that though because I doubt that Chipper would attempt to change his approach based on what a new hitting coach suggested. Even with the lower walk rate, his OPS+ increased from 2010, so he was able to increase his slugging enough to keep the same production. One thing to look for with chipper is his career .300 average and .400 on base. With a couple of more… Read more »

MikeD
MikeD
10 years ago
Reply to  Jimbo

Was it ever possible to pitch around Vlad Guererro? : -) He seemed more likely to swing at the ball in the dirt than the one right down the middle!

Jimbo
Jimbo
10 years ago

And Pudge may have made the move to swing at everything a couple of years ago, but his chances at 3000 appear gone anyways.

Ichiro’s walks also slightly dropped.

Bobby Abreu’s have been in continuous decline but so has he as a hitter overall. Same goes for Damon.

So while in the past this trend doesn’t appear to exist, I would argue that for the present, it does seem to be happening.

Lawrence Azrin
Lawrence Azrin
10 years ago
Reply to  Jimbo

As for Ivan Rodriguez’s chances for 3,000 hits – he will be 40 years old in 2012, and is 156 hits away from 3,000. Last year he played 44 games and got 27 hits, at an OPS of 66. Unless he emulates his namesake Carlton “Pudge” Fisk and plays another 5/6 years, he’s gonna fall short. There’s always the outside chance that he signs on as a back-up catcher, the starter gets hurt, and he fills in for a couple months, gets hot and piles up a bunch of hits. Actually, I don’t even know if he has signed anywhere… Read more »

Tmckelv
Tmckelv
10 years ago

I guess it looks like an increased walk rate (last 3 years) cost Frank Robinson 3000 hits. Or maybe if he kept his career walk rate, he could have gotten close enough to allow for him play more as player-manager for the Indians to get the milestone.

Jimbo
Jimbo
10 years ago
Reply to  Tmckelv

It certainly cost Bonds his 3000 hits.

Dr. Remulak
Dr. Remulak
10 years ago

Ripken selfishly hurt his team by refusing to take a day off. Looks like that mentality extended to his approach at the plate as he approached 3,000 hits.

Jimbo
Jimbo
10 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Remulak

Sure hurt the team when he was putting up by far the best numbers of his career? Joke I assume?

Dr. Remulak
Dr. Remulak
10 years ago
Reply to  Jimbo

Through age 30 Ripken’s OPS+ was 126. Stubbornly remaining in the lineup every day, his next seven seasons his OPS+ was 92,97,107,92,102,93,89. Hardly “putting up by far the best numbers of his career.” No joke. Sit down, Cal.

birtelcom
birtelcom
10 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Remulak

After reading your comment, I was curious as to what a typical veteran with a career OPS+ of around 126 as of his age 30 season did in his next six or seven seasons. So I checked. I found 125 guys since 1901 with at least 3,000 PAs, and an OPS+ of from 121 to 131, through age 30. I then looked at the OPS+ those guys put up from age 31 on (but excluding seasons after age 36). Ripken’s post-age 31 (but not after age 36) OPS+ of 97 is tied for 106th among those 125 guys.

Dr. Remulak
Dr. Remulak
10 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

Supports the Ripken wore down by plying eveyday hypothesis. Well done birtelcom, for a statistical analysis beyond my primative capabilities.

Ed
Ed
10 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

I generally agree however Ripken was playing a physically demanding position. I “think” that shortstops tend to wear down quicker than other positions.

birtelcom
birtelcom
10 years ago
Reply to  birtelcom

The only two star shortstops who were really close to Ripken in OPS+ though age 30 have been Lou Boudreau (126 career OPS+ through age 30, same as Ripken) and Vern Stephens (123 OPS+). Both of them completely fell apart immediately after their age 30 season. Boudreau had a 161 OPS+ in his age 30 season, followed at age 31 with a 99 OPS+ at age 31, and played in only 167 games thereafter, with an OPS+ of 87. Vern Stephens was essentially the same story after age 30 — drops to 95 OPS+ at 31, 85 OPS+ at 32,… Read more »

Mike L
Mike L
10 years ago

Regarding John A’s post on 3000 hits, there’s an article in today’s New York Post about how some GM’s think that Damon’s pursuit of 3000 hits is changing him as a player-less patient, less willing to take a walk, swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone. That perception may be getting in the way of him getting a contract (of course, there’s the Boras factor as well, but..)