Adrian takes a walk

At the beginning of June, Adrian Gonzalez did something most unusual: he drew two or more walks in eight straight games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Gonzalez is the first player to do that since at least 1920.

That’s right; the first. As in, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds never did it. Well, maybe Ruth; he did have around 1,300 plate appearances before the time frame in question. Then again, he hadn’t yet started knocking 40+ homers a year, so maybe not.

Just to be safe, let’s say that Ruth probably never walked twice or more in eight straight games. Williams and Bonds definitely never did. Neither did a lot of other great players.

A hitter matures

A couple years ago, I asked the question, “How good is Adrian Gonzalez?” My answer then was, “Pretty darned good.” Well, now he’s even better and everyone knows it, including opposing pitchers, who have stopped pitching to him.

Consider for a moment Gonzalez’s first full big-league season, when he hit .304/.362/.500 at age 24 while playing half his games in a venue that destroys offense. Not bad, huh? Now compare this with what he’s done in less than half a season at age 27:

Adrian Gonzalez, Age 24 vs Age 27
Year G PA BA OBP SLG HR BB OPS+
Statistics are through games of June 26, 2009
2006 156 630 .304 .362 .500 24 52 127
2009 72 311 .273 .418 .594 24 61 179

Aside from the huge uptick in OBP and SLG (despite a 10 percent drop in BA), what jumps out at me is this: with 90 games remaining on the schedule, Gonzalez has reached his home run total of three years ago and exceeded his walk total. And it’s not like he wasn’t any good back in ’06, when he was hitting like, say, Don Mattingly or Jim Rice.

More power leads to fewer opportunities

Gonzalez got off to a blistering start this season, knocking 20 home runs in the first two months and drawing 31 walks. The walk rate was higher than his career norm, but things didn’t get crazy until June, when two things happened:

  1. Opposing pitchers and managers realized that Gonzalez is really good.
  2. Scott Hairston landed on the DL, removing the only other consistent threat from the Padres’ lineup.

Gonzalez then drew 30 walks in his next 22 games. He has hit just four home runs this month, mainly because he hasn’t seen many strikes. As I recently showed at Ducksnorts, this is especially true with runners in scoring position. Compare Gonzalez’s walk rate with RISP versus with the bases empty since he became a full-time player:

Adrian Gonzalez, with RISP vs bases empty
with RISP Bases empty
Year PA BB IBB BB/PA PA BB IBB BB/PA
Statistics are through games of June 26, 2009
2006 164 19 9 .116 342 22 0 .060
2007 174 20 9 .115 387 32 0 .083
2008 194 30 18 .155 346 26 0 .075
2009 82 30 10 .366 164 22 0 .134

Those first two years, Gonzalez’s walk rates were pretty steady. In 2008, he started walking more when batting with RISP (although the higher walk rate was due entirely to an increase in intentional passes). This year, he is drawing more walks in all situations, but pitchers really want nothing to do with Gonzalez when he can do serious damage, and who can blame them?. Even Albert Pujols hasn’t walked as frequently this year with RISP, and he’s being intentionally walked twice as often:

Adrian Gonzalez vs Albert Pujols with RISP, 2009
PA BB IBB BB/PA
Statistics are through games of June 26, 2009
Gonzalez 82 30 10 .366
Pujols 89 29 22 .326

This is all well and good, but what about Gonzalez’s streak? Relax; we’re getting there. I just wanted to give a little context for what he’s doing before we get to the whole historical thing.

Previous multiwalk streaks

Okay, we’re not quite done with context. I can’t go all the way back to 1920, but I can go back to 1954. Here are some of Gonzalez’s predecessors, decade by decade (thanks to Baseball-Reference’s slick Batting Streak Finder):

1950s: The Mick

From July 2 to July 7, 1957, Mickey Mantle drew two or more walks in seven straight games. (Details of this and the other streaks noted here are included in the References and Resources section at the end of the article.) For the season, Mantle hit .365/.512/.665, with 34 homers and a league-leading 146 walks. He won his second straight AL MVP award at the ripe old age of 25.

Eddie Yost had a five-game streak in August 1956. Five players (including Yost) had four-game streaks during the latter half of the decade.

1960s: Mantle and Wynn

Mantle again? Well, the guy was good. This streak ran from April 14 to April 21, 1962. Mantle hit .321/.486/.605 in ’62, with 30 homers and a league-leading 122 walks.

The other five-game streak during this decade belongs to one of the great unsung hitters of his era, Jimmy Wynn. The Toy Cannon’s streak stretched from July 6 to July 10, 1969.

What I love about this streak is that when he wasn’t drawing walks, Wynn absolutely crushed the ball, knocking four homers. On the season, he hit .269/.436/.507 with 33 home runs and a league-leading 148 walks.

Seven players had four-game multiwalk streaks during the ’60s. The most notable names were Hank Aaron (August 1961) and Willie Mays (September 1965).

1970s: Thornton and Evans

This decade featured two more five-game streaks. The first came from Darrell Evans (for whom I will always have a soft spot because he was on my first Rotisserie League team), whose streak stretched from June 10 to June 13, 1973. For the season, Evans hit .281/.403/.556 with 41 homers and—sing it with me—a league-leading 124 walks.

The second came from Andre Thornton, who did it over parts of two seasons (September 26, 1975 to April 10, 1976). I’m not sure if that really counts, but Thornton was a pretty good hitter (253 career homers, 122 OPS+) back in the day, so we’ll give it to him. He hit .293/.428/.516 in ’75 before plummeting to .194/.323/.373 the next year.

1980s: You don’t know Jack

Almost exactly 30 years after Mantle had been the last man to draw two walks or more in seven straight games, Jack Clark duplicated the feat. From July 8 to July 17, 1987, Clark went 6-for-18 with two homers and 17 walks.

This streak was fun because Clark also fanned eight times. In 35 plate appearances, he homered, walked, or struck out 27 times for a TTO percentage of .771. I don’t care if it’s a small sample, that is epic.

Clark also had the second longest streak of the decade, six games. It happened in the same season. In fact, it happened a couple weeks after the seven-game streak. Clark hit .286/.459/.597 in ’87.

On a tangential note, Clark finished third in NL MVP voting despite leading the league in OBP, SLG, and walks, and playing for the best team in the league. The award went instead to Andre Dawson, who provided tremendous “value” for a team that was out of contention by the All-Star break and that finished in last place.

1990s: Justice is served

David Justice matched Clark’s effort just four years later. Justice’s streak lasted from September 22 to September 29, 1991. His season was comparatively pedestrian; he hit “just” .275/.377/.503 with 21 homers and 65 walks. (Twenty-three percent of his walks in ’91 came within a span that accounted for 6.5 percent of his games played.)

The second longest streak of the decade was five games. Two players achieved it: John Kruk (June/July 1994) and Jim Thome (April/May 1997).

Gonzalez walks alone

In June 2004, Bonds matched the streaks of Mantle, Clark, and Justice. This should come as no surprise, seeing as how Bonds drew an MLB record 232 walks that season.

But from June 1 to June 9, 2009, Gonzalez did Bonds (and everyone else) one better, walking twice or more in eight straight games. his one comes with an asterisk, though. In the sixth game, Gonzalez didn’t draw his second walk until the 15th inning. Still, nobody else has accomplished the feat in at least 89 years.

Here’s a closer look at Gonzalez’s multiwalk streak:

Adrian Gonzalez multiwalk streak
Date Opp AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K Pit Str
6/1 Phi 2 1 1 0 0 1 1 2 0 16 5
6/2 Phi 2 1 1 0 0 1 2 3 0 23 10
6/3 Phi 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 17 6
6/5 Ari 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 16 3
6/6 Ari 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 20 9
6/7 Ari 6 1 1 1 0 0 0 2 0 31 15
6/8 Ari 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 3 0 21 6
6/9 LAD 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 19 9

Gonzalez saw more balls than strikes in each of the eight games. Over the course of the entire streak, he saw a total of 163 pitches, of which 63 (39 percent) were strikes.

Concluding thoughts

There isn’t a neat way to wrap this up because I’m kind of wandering all over the place. In closing, I’ll just offer a few random thoughts:

  • Gonzalez has been a quietly productive player for some time, but this year he’s taken his game to another level and it’s become more difficult to overlook his performance.
  • With little else to fear in the Padres lineup, pitchers have avoided pitching to Gonzalez, especially when he’s in a position to drive in runs.
  • It’s fun to look through the list of previous multiwalk streaks and find names—Wynn, Evans, Thornton, Clark—that maybe aren’t remembered as well as they should be.

References & Resources

As always, thanks to Baseball-Reference. For grins, here is a breakdown of the top multiwalk streaks by decade:

Multiwalk streaks by decade: A snapshot
Player Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K BA OBP SLG
Mantle 1957 7 14 8 1 0 0 0 2 18 2 .071 .576 .071
Mantle 1962 5 10 6 4 0 1 1 3 12 2 .400 .727 .900
Wynn 1969 5 14 6 5 0 0 4 6 10 1 .357 .625 1.214
Evans 1973 5 11 6 8 0 0 2 6 11 0 .727 .826 1.273
Thornton 1975-76 5 10 4 5 1 0 2 5 12 1 .500 .773 1.200
Clark 1987 7 18 5 6 0 0 2 7 17 8 .333 .657 .667
Justice 1991 7 18 3 4 0 0 1 1 15 4 .222 .576 .389
Gonzalez 2009 8 20 5 4 1 0 2 3 18 2 .200 .579 .550
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Comments

  1. Seth said...

    I mean, it is true that Gonzalez is definitely seeing fewer strikes because he is basically the offensive threat on the team. In a situation where there were runners in scoring position with first open, if Gonzalez had a stronger bat behind him he WOULD be more likely to see balls in the zone.

  2. Peter Jensen said...

    Fun article Geoff!  One small quibble though.  Instead of BB/PA you should be using either (BB+IBB)/PA or BB/(PA-IBB).

  3. Dennis Koziel said...

    It’s only a matter of time before some ESPN commentator will bemoan the fact that Gonzalez is “only” hitting 273 and doesn’t hit enough homers.  Then, they will drag out the old conventional “wisdom” that he would be getting better pitches to hit “if only he had a strong bat behind him.”  As if a pitcher would think to himself, “Hmm!!  I think I’ll put a few over the plate for Gonzalez because I would hate to walk him and have to pitch to that other guy !!!”

  4. Geoff Young said...

    @Peter: Glad you enjoyed it. You raise an interesting point, although I prefer BB/PA in this case because we are looking at both Gonzalez’s development as a hitter and opponents’ increasing reluctance to pitch to him.

    @Seth: Hairston had been a legitimate threat before getting hurt. Not surprisingly, Gonzalez went from walking in 16.2% of his plate appearances before Hairston’s injury to 29.2% while Hairston was on the DL. But yeah, in general, the guys behind Gonzalez aren’t giving teams much incentive to pitch to him.

  5. AIChief said...

    Geoff

    Based on the following from your article:
    More power leads to fewer opportunities

    Gonzalez got off to a blistering start this season, knocking 20 home runs in the first two months and drawing 31 walks. The walk rate was higher than his career norm, but things didn’t get crazy until June, when two things happened:

      1. Opposing pitchers and managers realized that Gonzalez is really good.
      2. Scott Hairston landed on the DL, removing the only other consistent threat from the Padres’ lineup.

    What happens to Adrian now that Hairston has been moved?

  6. Todd said...

    I don’t get the connection with Hairston to this base-on-balls theory.  Hairston typically bats in front of Gonzalez.  The reason Gonzalez has seen so many walks in the stretch you are talking about is because he blistered the ball in the first two months of the season.  Managers and pitchers are going to pitch around him until it is proven someone can step up and make them pay for walking him.  That hasn’t happened.  And having Hairston bat in front of Gonzalez (again, typically) doesn’t change that.  It is more a coincidence than it is a factor.

  7. Geoff Young said...

    @Todd: Upon further review, I see that Hairston hit behind Gonzalez seven times this year. More often, Gonzalez has been followed by Chase Headley or Kevin Kouzmanoff. In the two games before he landed on the DL, Hairston followed Gonzalez, which was fresh in my mind as I wrote this. But you are correct in stating that the connection probably is more coincidental than I’d thought. Gonzalez’s early-season performance is the key factor in his seeing fewer strikes.

  8. Todd said...

    Thanks for your reply.  The rest of your article makes for an extremely interesting read.  Thanks for the time you took putting it together.

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