Walk Don’t Run

The item I shared yesterday about Bryce Harper’s Mother’s Day batting line had me wondering whether any team with a batter posting six walks had lost the game. I’m not spoiling a surprise by saying Harper’s achievement was unprecedented on the losing side of a box score.

I thought it would be interesting to see if there were any functional equivalents to Harper's 6 BB, HBP line – something to the effect of 7 BB, or 5 BB 2 HBP, or 4 BB, 3 HBP – and if so, how many. Here’s what I found via Play Index:

No player has ever “batted” a 7 BB line in the Play Index Era (1913-present). No player has “batted” a 5 BB, 2 HBP line. Likewise, no player has ever “batted” a 4 BB, 3 HBP line. (In fact, no player has ever had even a 4 BB, 2 HBP game.) So, this is a fairly historic achievement.

There have only been four games since 1913 in which a player has walked six times. For the sake of interest, let’s throw in any player who has “batted” a functionally equivalent 5 BB, HBP line. Why not include hits in my definition of “functionally equivalent”? See the title of this post.

Anyway, that brings us to six total games, and six unique players:

Player V13-09-19745 BB+HBP
Player W30-06-20005 BB+HBP
Player X16-06-19386 BB
Player Y02-05-19846 BB
Player Z20-08-19996 BB
Harper08-05-20166 BB+HBP

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Harper “batted” his line in a 13 inning game, appearing at the plate in the first, third, fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth innings. Of Harper’s six free passes, three were intentional.

Let’s work backward from 2016 and look at the others. Our first jump takes us back sixteen seasons.

Player W was the most recent player to walk five times (one intentional) and get plunked for an additional visit to first base. His OPB climbed from .387 to .396, but his OBP slid back down the mountain by over twenty points by season's end. Here’s his line from that fifteen inning game:

8 PA, H, 2 RBI, 5 BB, HBP

Jump back one more season. Player Z was the most recent player to walk six times, which included two intentional passes. His OBP jumped from .447 to .451 at the end of the day, on its way to a humid .454 at the end of the season. Here’s his line from that sixteen inning game:

8 PA, R, 6 BB, SB

Fifteen seasons earlier, Player Y “batted” the second-ever six walk game. It was early in the season, but a nearly 40-point jump in OBP is still impressive. Six walks certainly put some growl in his stat line. Apparently the pitchers he faced could hear it; two of his walks were intentional. Here’s his line from that sixteen inning game:

8 PA, R, 6 BB

Jump back another ten seasons. Player V’s day was something else; I challenge you to find anything quite like it. He earned five walks, including two intentional, heloping raise his OBP from .386 to .393 in one September game. (He finished the season just downriver of that high water mark, at .389.) Here’s his complete line from that seventeen inning game:

9 PA, H, RBI, 5 BB, HBP, GDP

Roll back forty-six more seasons. Finally, we get to Player X and the day he embarked on a sextet of gratuitous constitutionals, the first in recorded baseball history. When I was looking for functionally equivalent lines to 6 BB, one of the search metrics I used on Play Index was BB >= 6, PA >= 7. I was just curious to see what might come up. Turns out, what was more interesting was what didn’t come up. One player of the Six Walk Quartet was missing.

Player X, who walked in every plate appearance he made that day. Here’s his line:

6 PA, 2 R, 6 BB

Compared to what we’ve seen above, that might seem almost boring – at least as boring as getting on base six times in six chances could be. Sure, it was the first six walk game. If something can be done, somebody always has to be the first to do it.

Aesthetic aside: What’s more suspenseful to watch – a player going for his sixth walk of the game, or his sixth hit? There have been exactly one hundred six-hit games since 1913, but only four six walk games. One is certainly more rare. But which plate appearance is more exciting to watch? Is your answer the same as it would be for watching Ted Williams go for his 85th consecutive game reaching base vs. Joe DiMaggio go for his 57th consecutive game with a hit?

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

Look back at the lines above. I didn’t mention something. What’s missing? Go on, I’ll give you a minute. (If you were paying attention, or if you've read about Harper's day elsewhere, you might be able to guess already.)

Player X wasn’t just the first.

Player X is the only.

Of the six players who have walked or walked and been beaned over to first base six times in a game, only Player X did it in a nine-inning game.

Six walks in nine innings. Only been done once.


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12 thoughts on “Walk Don’t Run”

  1. This isn't possible with PI, but Harper did not record an AB in his final 12 PAs of that series. It started with his walk in the top of the eighth on Friday, four appearances on Saturday, and seven appearances on Sunday.

  2. Fun side note: Player V played all 17 innings of his game. Two days before that, he played all 25 innings of a game that went 7 hours, 4 minutes. Add in the game in between them and he played 51 innings in three days. His total for the six game span starting with that 25 inning game was 91 innings.

    All on the road.

    Player V was also first signed by the Twins. The circumstances that led to his departure might be the biggest mistake in franchise history, particularly when you consider the timing of his career.

    1. Oy vey ...
      Player V was an All Star in 1969, hitting .309/.368/.527 with 25 HR's, 93 RBI's, 142 OPS+, BABIP of .312* and a total zone of 4.
      The Twins starting CF in 1969 hit .273/.328/.356 with 8 HR's, 62 RBI's, an 89 OPS+, BABIP of .287 and a total zone of -10.

      I didn't get very far (because work) so all I could find was this:

      After high school, he was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Twins in June 1963. His father was very sick, and while the father wanted [Player V] to pursue his dream and go to college, the son wanted to help out the family immediately by earning the money he could make in baseball. [Player V] started with Wyetheville in the Appalachian League. He was unprotected in the draft, and in December of that year was snared by the Boston Red Sox.

      What were the circumstances that left him unprotected?

      *his career-high

      1. His SABR bio doesn't elaborate a reason why. He hit .257/.370/.407 over 302 PA playing shortstop in the Appy that season. He was charged with 41 errors, but if he went unprotected because he wasn't up to playing short that seems incredibly shortsighted.

        I wonder if he rubbed some organization lifer the wrong way. A black kid from LA experiencing life in BFE Virginia circa 1963 sounds like a ripe opportunity to get saddled with a unwarranted negative label by a take-no-shit minor league lifer.

        1. It would be pretty hard to try to reconstruct the circumstances that left him unprotected over fifty years ago. As you may know, this draft was different from the current Rule 5 draft. This is the first-year player draft. I really have no idea how that worked or how many players a team was allowed to protect. If anyone does, I'd appreciate the information. It's entirely possible that he rubbed someone the wrong way, but it's at least equally possible that the Twins simply didn't realize what they had in him at the time.

          1. I looked up his minor league manager for that year. B-ref has him born in 1929 and doesn't list a date of death, so I was hopeful. Unfortunately, piecing together some threads in subsequent research led me to conclude that he died in 2003.

            I'm half-tempted to see if I can track down Player V and see if he would share any insight.

  3. Another side note: Only one player has ever been intentionally walked 5 times in one game. Barry Bonds? Willie McCovey?

    Nope. Andre Dawson

    He went 1-3 in the 16 inning game, and the winning run scored after he was walked for the 5th time. An at-the-time McClendon was hitting horribly, so it was his pinch-hitter who knocked in the winning run for the Cubbies.

  4. It should be noted that just having 7 PAs is pretty rare, so that would make the 6 BBs and a hbp so rare. And of course, getting enough PAs to walk 6 times in a nine-inning game also rare. It should also be noted that if this was the strategy by the opponents to pitch around these players, then it worked out pretty well despite them all losing the game (except the Cubs the other day) because only 1 of the players scored more than 1 run. Of course, if the player kept scoring runs after walking, that might deter a team from continuing with the strategy. Kind of like Hack-a-Shaq (or whoever the player is) if he starts making his free throws, the opponents tend to get discouraged from fouling.

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