Recently, I made a video for our YouTube channel covering how awesome Seattle Mariners' phenom Julio Rodriguez is. However, there was one thing that didn’t make it into the video that I wanted to explore here on the blog.
J-Rod does a lot of things well, from power to defense (and if you watch this video, you’ll find out he’s on pace to do something historic), however, one of his skills is more middling than anything.
Rodriguez currently ranks in the 31st percentile in BB%, and while an otherwise blazing hot May brings this down more than anything, there’s something eye-catching about his walks.
But before I get to what that is, I actually need to talk about his strikeouts. This will make sense in a minute.
While it feels like a century ago at this point, Julio’s start to his major league career was far from stunning. In fact, thanks to a no-homer, .260 slugging first month, his wRC+ was 60. A lot of this had to do with his sky high 37% strikeout rate.
At the time, this was among the worst in the league. But it wasn’t really his fault. Of his 30 strikeouts in the first month, 10 of them were on called strikes that were actually outside the zone. That is absolutely brutal.
Since that first month, however, he’s only taken 3 called Ks outside of the zone. And his K% has subsequently dropped to 27%.
In fact, of the three, two of them came against Martin Perez, and they were borderline:
With more pitches out of the zone actually being called balls, you'd expect J-Rod to walk more, but he really hasn't. While I was researching his walk tendencies, however, I stumbled across this:
Despite being wrung up an ungodly amount the first half of the season, J-Rod hasn’t really been deterred by taking close pitches.
Of all the stats that I’ve taken to over the years, the percentage breakdown of what the count is on a walk is not something that I’ve ever paid attention to.
However, walking 66.7% of the time when the count is full feels… off.
Baseball’s Not Dead, a fellow baseball YouTuber, responded this to my initial tweet:
Of course, Soto is one of the best walkers in the game and his BB% has increased this season due to the Nationals being one of the worst team’s in the game. Pitching around him is standard at this point.
I was wondering how Rodriguez’s BB tendencies matched up with similar players—guys with mid-tier walk rates.
This means I won't be looking at guys like Soto (although I suppose sharing Baseball's Not Dead's tweet means I already did), Max Muncy, or even guys like Ohtani.
I'll be looking at three other players to compare, and I'll try my best to make it not seem like I'm cherry-picking players.
And for reference, I've included Julio's Baseball Savant percentiles to compare to the three players I'll be writing about:
Julio Rodriguez Baseball Savant Page (as of 7/28/22)
Austin Riley Baseball Savant Page (as of 7/28/22)
The first guy I'll look at is Braves slugger, Austin Riley. Riley is similar to Rodriguez in the sense that he hits the crap out of the ball and also manages to have a relatively high batting average. He is much slower, which makes him much less of a threat to run if he is put on first, but there are only three players in the game right now with more homers.
Riley is in lower percentiles when it comes to chase% and whiff%, but he does have more patience than J-Rod.
On the season, Riley has 32 total walks (1 IBB), which is two more than Rodriguez. Like Julio, over 60% of his walks are coming in full counts. Comparatively, only five walks have come in 3-0 counts.
Maybe this is more common than I thought.
Whit Merrifield Baseball Savant Page (as of 7/29/22)
The next player I'll be looking at is Whit Merrifield. Merrifield is a very different player from Riley and Rodriguez. He strikes out far less, hardly whiffs, but doesn't make hard content when he does hit the ball. He's not going to be a threat to hit a decisive homer most of the time, but his speed, like J-Rod's, isn't something you want to put on base.
Of the 29 walks Merrifield has earned this season, only 12 of them have come on full counts. This 41% rate is closer to what you'd expect if you believed walks happened at an even distribution (there are 3 different counts you can earn a walk on), but even this is 8% higher than an even distribution spread.
Even still, it might point to Riley and Rodriguez's tendencies to chase as an indication of why they find themselves walking in full counts more than 3-1 or 3-0 counts.
Cedric Mullins Baseball Savant Page (as of 7/29/22)
Cedric Mullins is nearly identical to Merrifield, with the minor differences being that he hits the ball slightly harder and chases and whiffs slightly more. He has 3 more walks but has also played six more games than the Royals 2B/RF.
After a 30-30 season in 2021, Mullins' power has severely regressed, with only 8 this season through 97 games. Will his lack of power align him more with Merrifield? Do non-power hitters walk on a more evenly distributed count?
Apparently, not. 18 of Mullins 31 BBs (not including his intentional BB) has come on full counts. This is 58% of the time, just a tick lower than Riley or Rodriguez.
I was initially going to end after comparing J-Rod to three different players, but this conclusion feels unsatisfying. I'd love to know if this is normal, so I decided to just look at baseball as a whole.
This season, through (7/31) there have been a total of 9,466 non-intentional walks. Using Baseball Savant, I found that, of the 9,466 walks, 4965 have come on full counts; meaning 52.5% of all walks have come on full counts.
(If you're curious, 2685 walks have come on 3-1 counts, 28.3%, and 1530 have come on 3-0 counts, 16.1%).
This is much more than I'd expect (although I hadn't thought about the distribution until a few days ago), but it does show that Rodriguez isn't normal. The number of his walks he takes on full counts compared to other counts is 21% more than league-average.
It's not a stat that matters, but I think it's certainly something interesting to know.