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Big Walkers

March 15, 2020
                                                                    Big Walkers


            In the previous article in this series, Strikeout Tigers, I looked at strikeouts by team, and identified the 1946 Detroit Tigers as perhaps the greatest strikeout team of all time, and the 2003 Detroit Tigers as the worst.  This installment uses the same approach, but looks at walks by teams.  

            Walk totals have not changed as much, over time, as strikeout totals have.  They are relatively more constant, the key word being "relatively".   If walks were completely constant over time, then we wouldn’t need to adjust the context for changes over time, but. . .they’re not. 

            Let us start here with the 1949 Yankees, a team which could walk a dozen men before ordering breakfast.  The ’49 Yankees are a famous and fascinating team, for many reasons.  After the 1948 season the Yankee Dynasty seemed to be teetering on the brink of collapse.   Winning pennants regularly through 1943, they finished third in 1944, as the St. Louis Browns won the pennant, and then finished fourth in 1945, behind the Detroit Tigers, the Washington Senators and the St. Louis Browns.  In 1946 they finished third, behind the Red Sox and the Tigers, and in that season Joe McCarthy resigned as manager, probably because his drinking was out of control. 

            In 1947 the Yankees did win the pennant and the World Series, but in 1948 they slipped back to third place.  One pennant in five seasons was not what the Pinstriped Pretty Boys had been accustomed to, and after the 1947 season Bucky Harris was given his, pun intended, Walking Papers. 

            Casey Stengel was not a popular choice to replace him.  Stengel, who had managed two times previously without much success, was regarded more as a clown than as a savant, and his selection as the Yankees new manager was greeted with derision by many—just as the hiring of Joe Torre was in the late 1990s.   

            The Yankees began the 1949 season with a fantastic rash of injuries.  Joe DiMaggio was unable to play the first half of the season.  Charlie Keller was done.  Relief ace Joe Page walked three men in one inning in his season’s debut.  They had injury after injury after injury—and still they won. 

            The Yankees won, in part, because some of the things Stengel did worked better with a good organization than they had with a poor one.  Hank Bauer in 1948 had hit .305 with 23 homers, 100 RBI for Kansas City, a Yankee farm team.  Gene Woodling, who had failed major league trials in 1943, 1946 and 1947, had hit .385 with 22 homers, 107 RBI in the Pacific Coast League.  Stengel added Woodling and Bauer to the Yankee roster, not to replace their other outfielders, but to supplement them. 

            Platooning—using right-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers and vice versa—had been a hugely popular strategy from 1914 until the mid-1920s.  It died off, mostly went away, because players didn’t like it.  Stengel brought it back, using Bauer against left-handed hitters and Woodling against right-handers, in combination with the other outfielders that he already had.  This enabled the Yankees to withstand the injuries and keep winning.

            Another thing that Stengel did was (1) to pitch around outstanding hitters aggressively, and (2) to rely on the double play to an almost unprecedented extent. 

            1950s baseball—I know this is 1949, but you get my point—1950s baseball was based around one or two key power hitters per team.  The little guys at the top of the order were supposed to get on base, and the power hitters were supposed to clean them up.  Almost every team had a couple of big guys who could hit 25 or 40 home runs—but most of the lineup was guys who would hit 6 to 8 homers a year, or less.  In 1949 the Red Sox had Ted Williams (43 homers) and Vern Stephens (39), and also Bobby Doerr (18), but no one else on the team was in double figures in homers.   The White Sox did not have ANYONE who hit more than 7 home runs.   The Indians had three guys with 18 to 24 homers, but no one else with more than 8.   The Tigers had only one player with more than 13 homers, Vic Wertz who had 20 (and drove in 133 runs).   The Philadelphia A’s had one guy with 24 homers and one with 23, but no one else with more than 10.  Washington had two guys with more than 11 homers; they had 18 and 14.   Even the Yankees had only two players with more than 14 homers, and they had 20 and 24.

            It wasn’t like it is now, when even the leadoff hitter on the team hits 15 or 20 homers, and the combination of catchers will total up to 25.  There were one or two power hitters on a team; that’s all.  Stengel’s approach was to just pitch around them, walk them, and use the double play to avoid big innings.

            Not in 1949, but later on, Stengel’s teams had two huge statistical advantages over their opponents:  Home Runs, and Double Plays.   In 1950 the Yankees hit 159 homers and grounded into 122 double plays, making them +37 homers-to double plays.  Their opponents were 118 to 143, or -25.  In 1952 the Yankees were 129 to 94 in HR-GDP; their opponents were 94 to 159.  The Yankees were +35 in home runs to GDP; their opponents were -65.   In 1953 the Yankees were 139-106 (+33); their opponents were 94-150 (-56).   In 1954 the Yankees were 133-92 (+41); their opponents were 86-158 (-72).   In 1955 the Yankees were 175-101 (+74); their opponents were 108-145 (-37).   It got bigger over the years.  In 1956 the Yankees were 190-104 (+86); their opponents were 114-167 (-53). 

            This is not a typical championship team pattern.  In many areas, the 1950s Yankees were just an ordinary team.  They really had only one outstanding starting pitcher, while Cleveland usually had three or four.  But the Yankees huge advantages in Home Runs vs. Double Plays enabled them to win almost every year.

            Frankie Frisch was known for saying "Oh, those bases on balls."  His theory, as a manager, was that his pitchers shouldn’t walk anybody.  Casey was exactly the opposite.  He didn’t care AT ALL about the walks.  Walk all the people you want:  Just pitch around the two guys in the lineup who can beat you, avoid giving up home runs, and get a ground ball to get out of the inning.  If you give up 3 or 4 runs, that’s OK; we’ll score enough to win the game.  Just don’t give in, don’t give up solid contact, keep nibbling at the corners until you get a ground ball to get out of the inning. 

            The 1949-1950 Yankees issued fantastic numbers of walks, for a championship team.   In 1949 his #1 starter, Vic Raschi, walked 138 men.  His #2 starter, Allie Reynolds, walked 123 in 214 innings, and his #4 starter, Tommy Byrne, walked 179 in 196 innings—and still managed to finish 15-7.  His relief ace, Joe Page, and his #5 starter, Fred Sanford, had appalling walk rates.   The only guy on his team who didn’t walk people was Ed Lopat.   Stengel’s last team with the Yankees, 1960, was beaten in the "Walks" category, 609 to 538, and beaten in strikeouts, 819 to 714, but had a HR/GDP ratio of 193-114 (+79), while their opponents were 123-135 (-12). 

            Other than Stengel’s Yankees, teams which issue a lot of walks relative to their era generally wind up with losing records; I’ll document that in a second.  These are the 10 worst-walking teams of all time:

            1915 Philadelphia Athletics                     55

            For the sake of clarity, the "55" there means that the 1915 Philadelphia Athletics were 4.5 standard deviations below the norm in terms of walks per batters faced.   They faced 5,777 opposing hitters, and walked 827 of them.  That’s almost exactly one in seven, or 14.315%.   The norm for the era was .0797, or one walk for every 12 or 13 hitters, and the standard deviation of walks on a team basis was .01421.   The 1915 Athletics—hard not to call them the "A’s", but they were called the Athletics at the time—were four and a half standard deviations worse than the norm, thus "scored" at 55.   It’s the same method I used yesterday, in evaluating team strikeouts. These are the 10 worst-walking teams of all time:


            1915 Philadelphia Athletics                     55

            1987 Texas Rangers                             ​  59

            1986 Texas Rangers                               62

            1949 New York Yankees                          66

            1971 Cleveland Indians                           67

            1916 Philadelphia Athletics                      67

            1951 St. Louis Browns                            71

            1996 Detroit Tigers                               &nb​sp; 71

            1911 St. Louis Cardinals                          72

            1994 Oakland A’s                                     74


            The 1915-1916 Philadelphia Athletics were the team that Connie Mack was left with after he sold off his stars so that they would not jump to the Federal League.  They finished 43-109 and 36-117, 1915 and 16.  The 1971 Cleveland Indians lost 102 games; the 1951 St. Louis Browns lost 102.  The 1996 Tigers lost 109.  Most teams that walk lots of hitters wind up losing lots of games. 

            But three of these teams managed to have winning records despite issuing large numbers of walks.  Those three were the 1949 Yankees, the 1986 Texas Rangers, and the 1911 Cardinals.  The 1986 Rangers had a knuckleballer as their #1 starter, Charlie Hough; he walked 89 men.  Their 2-3 starters were Edwin Correa, a 20-year-old who walked 126 men, and Bobby Witt, a 22-year-old who had the best fastball in baseball at that time, but who walked 143 men in 158 innings.   One of their relievers, Mitch Williams, walked 79 in 98 innings.   That team, which I think of as Craig Wright’s team, managed to win 87 games anyway.   The 1911 Cardinals, managed by Roger Bresnahan, finished 75-74 despite walking the planet. 

            But high-walk teams generally, most of the time, will struggle.  Of the 100 worst-walking teams of all time, 84 finished with losing records.  27 of the 100 teams lost 100 games.  The three best won-lost records by those 100 teams were, in order:  the 1950 Yankees (98-56), the 1949 Yankees (97-57), and the 1955 Yankees (96-58). 


            Turning our attention now to the teams that DIDN’T walk people, we’ll start with the 2005-2006 Minnesota Twins, managed by Ron Gardenhire with Rick Anderson as the pitching coach.   (Casey’s pitching coach was Jim Turner, a ground ball pitcher.)   From 2000 to 2004, the position of the #1 pitcher in baseball was traded around among several outstanding pitchers, usually Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson, but sometimes Clemens, Maddux or Schilling.  About 2005, the position was taken over by Johan Santana.   Santana didn’t walk people, but then Santana did everything right; he was the best pitcher in baseball at that time. 

            Backing Santana in the Twins rotation were two pitchers who were not outstanding, but who just never walked anybody.  Carlos Silva was the most extreme pitcher I have ever seen in terms of challenging every hitter on every pitch; maybe not, but he was high on the list.  He really didn’t have anything except the fastball and a changeup, and the fastball was junk.  But he would just throw the "fastball" again, and again, and again, and then a changeup or two.  The Red Sox would just crush the ball 20 times a game, but he’d stay out there and keep working, and sometimes he’d win a game 7-6 or 5-3 or something.  I remember one game, the Red Sox must have hit 10 balls off the wall, but we kept running into outs on the bases and he got a couple of double play balls, and eventually he beat us. 

            Brad Radke wasn’t quite Carlos Silva; he genuinely had outstanding control.  He’d mix up his pitches, and he’d hit spots.  He didn’t walk anybody, either, but at least he could actually pitch, so it wasn’t quite as frustrating when he beat you.   The 2005 Twins were 2.9 Standard Deviations better than the league at not walking people:


            2005 Minnesota Twins                 129

            2014 Washington Nationals          128

            2006 Minnesota Twins                 128

            1993 St. Louis Cardinals              128

            2003   New York Yankees             126

            1933 Cincinnati Reds                   126

            1920 Pittsburgh Pirates                125

            2015 Washington Nationals           125

            1932 Cincinnati Reds                    125

            1904 Boston Red Sox                   125


            All of those teams had winning records except the 1932-1933 Cincinnati Reds; actually the top 23 teams on this list all had winning records, except for the 1932-1933 Cincinnati Reds.  The Reds played in a park where you almost could not hit a home run, so their pitchers for many years were taught to just lay it in there and let them hit it.  But oddly enough, for several years in that time period, the Reds did not have a legitimate center fielder.  They kept trading for old guys from other teams, guys who used to be right fielders, and they would put them in center.  Why they thought that would work, I don’t know. 


            There are 2,550 teams in this study, which can be divided into 5 groups of 510 teams each.   In that grouping, the 510 teams with BEST walk rates relative to the era have an average won-lost record of 84-73 and an average winning percentage of .535.  


Best Control




Second Best








Poor Control




Walk City





            I should have presented that chart yesterday, with the strikeout study, so let me do that now:


High Strikeouts




Second Best








Few Strikeouts




Fewest Strikeouts





            A comparison of the charts shows that, over time, strikeouts have had slightly more impact on the won-lost column than have walks. 

            Also, something I wrote yesterday was apparently incorrect, so let me correct the record on that.  What I wrote yesterday was this:


The best strikeout teams ever are 3+ standard deviations above the norm, but no team is 3 standard deviations BELOW the norm.  Talent in major league baseball is not normally distributed; it is the right-end tail of the bell-shaped curve.  The effects of this on the team strikeout distribution curve are slight, but certainly detectable. 


            But today, we see that the opposite is true:  no team is three standard deviations BETTER than the league norm, but six teams have been three standard deviations WORSE than the league norm, and two of them have been four standard deviations worse.   It could be, then, that the relevant factor is not the bell-shaped curve, the normal distribution curve, but rather that the "achievement" is limited to zero in a game on the low-end level, but unbounded on the upper-end level.   Teams walk an average of three men a game, let’s say; you can’t walk less than zero in a game, but you can walk more than six.   This may explain why the data is asymmetrical; it is unbounded on one side.   Or maybe it is just something that happened, and doesn’t mean anything; who knows?

            In closing, let me put on record in average walks and the standard deviations in each decade.  From 1900 to 1909 pitchers walked .06876 of all batters faced, and the standard deviation of this (on the team level) was .01097.  Figured on the level of individual pitchers, the mean would be the same, but the standard deviation among individual pitchers would be higher than it would for teams:





Standard Deviation


















































            We can see, then, that walks increased gradually from 1900 to 1959, actually 1962, contracted sharply with the redefined strike zone in 1963, and have been relatively stable since 1969, although down somewhat in the last decade, no doubt due to the high strike being called again as it was not called for many years.  Over time, the differences between teams have gotten steadily smaller.




COMMENTS (18 Comments, most recent shown first)

I believe Stengel in his autobiography named Allie Reynolds and Bob Turley as his favorite pitchers--because they could both start and relieve. Both of them, in fact, won 7th games of World Series in long relief, Reynolds in 1952 and Turley in 1958.
7:24 AM Mar 17th
Regarding Stengel's leadoff men. . . .first, let me remind you that batting order POSITION makes almost no difference. The number of runs you score depends more 99% on who your hitters are, and less than 1% on where they hit.

Stengel used many, many different leadoff men, never ONE. Even in 1950, when Rizzuto--a classic leadoff man--was the MVP, he used Rizzuto half the time leading off, and half the time batting second. He used Elston Howard, who was very slow, as a leadoff man many times, and also Bob Cerv--not just on occasion; I believe that both Cerv and Howard led off for him multiple times in World Series games.

Stengel's philosophy relied heavily on players moving seamlessly between positions. He wanted everybody on his team to be able to do whatever the hell he needed them to do today, as much as reasonably possible. He used Gil McDougald and Tony Kubek and Jerry Coleman and Billy Martin and other infielders all over the infield--second base one day, shortstop the next, first base if needed. He used Elston Howard at catcher and in the outfield. He used Norm Siebern and Joe Collins at first base one day, the outfield the next. He used Whitey Ford to start and relieve; the same with Tom Sturdivant and Bob Grim and Don Larsen and Tommy Byrne. He didn't WANT players locked into roles; he thought of that as a weakness. In his autobiography he named Vic Raschi or Allie Reynolds, I forget which one, as the best pitcher he ever had, over Ford, specifically because he could start or relieve with equal effectiveness.

One can't really say anything about this, other than that it worked with the Yankees, didn't work with other teams. In a sense, it was not too different than what we do now, when we shift the third baseman into right field for a batter, or make the starting pitcher come out of the bullpen in the second inning. We are relying on them to be able to do whatever they are asked to do.
9:16 PM Mar 16th
Regarding DiMaggio's role in the 1949 championship. . ..the Yankees were 4 1/2 games ahead on the morning of June 28, before DiMaggio played for the first time. They won the pennant by 1 game. So they lost 3 1/2 games to the league after DiMaggio's return. The Yankees, however, were 50-25 (.667) with DiMaggio in the starting lineup, as opposed to 47-32 (.590-something) without him.
8:48 PM Mar 16th
Copy the link and paste it into a browser.
8:19 PM Mar 16th
I posted this link earlier, but it seemed not to work.
8:18 PM Mar 16th
Here's the current official definition:

"The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter's stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball."

I'm not sure this is all that clear. And note that it *states* that the strike zone is *not* when the batter is standing in the batter's box, but when he strides to swing--which will usually lower his torso. (Try striding from a stance in the batter's box awaiting the pitch to how your body is aligned once you stride toward the pitcher's mound.)
8:16 PM Mar 16th
It seems to me that the top of the current strike zone is somewhere around the bottom of 'the letters.' I'm watching, mostly, Yankee games and pitches that look barely above the belt are called as being 'high' balls. Also, I haven't taken notice, but is the 'strike frame' that's superimposed on the TV screen a set size? If it doesn't change size, how to account for the strike zones of Aaron Judge vs. José Altuve?
7:55 PM Mar 16th
It seems to me that the top of the current strike zone is somewhere around the bottom of 'the letters.' I'm watching, mostly, Yankee games an pitches that look barely above the belt are called as being 'high' balls. Also, I haven't taken notice, but is the 'strike frame' that's superimposed on the TV screen a set size? If it doesn't change size, how to account for the strike zones of Aaron a Judge vs. José Altuve?
7:51 PM Mar 16th
"The Strike Zone : A History of Official Strike Zone Rules"

Based on that, I have to say that the definition of the strike zone has changed often and generally has bees somewhat elastic. For exampls:
"The Strike Zone is that space over home plate which is between the top of the batter's shoulders and his knees when he assumes his natural stance. The umpire shall determine the Strike Zone according to the batter's usual stance when he swings at a pitch."

"when he assumes his natural stance" or "when he swings at a pitch"? Are those meant to be synonymous?

And this is pretty typical.
7:07 PM Mar 16th
Regarding books covering the 1949 season, when I was in sixth or seventh grade I read a book about great pennant races. The main theme of the 1949 season was Stengel's success in spite of his team's injuries. Yet David Halberstam's book on that season barely mentions the Yankees' injuries, except for DiMaggio. It wasn't a good book; the elementary student book was better.
6:51 PM Mar 16th
About the "high strike":

The article mentions that in the last decade or so, it's being called again, after not being called for many years.
I want to check out a memory.

When I started playing (as a kid) and following the game, late '50's, what I learned was that the strike zone went up to the shoulders (i.e. bottom of; something like that) -- and it seemed to me that that's how it was called in MLB.

That's certainly not what's called now. I agree that it's called higher than it was a decade ago, but I think not much. It's still like, when a pitch at "the letters" (BTW when I first heard that, which was also as a kid, I spent some time wondering what part of the body is "the letters" -- really)'s still like, when a pitch at the letters is called a strike, a lot of batters bitch about it, because they don't necessarily expect it.
And a pitch above the letters is never called a strike, or when it is, it's a fluke and everybody agrees it was a bad call.

Anyway: Anyone else seeming to remember that the strike zone in the '50's and into the very beginning of the '60's went up to a higher place than it does now, even with it having gotten 'heightened' in recent years?

P.S. Unrelated, but related: :-)
My impression is that the 'heightening' of the zone in recent years has been only on the outside part of the plate.
I don't recall ever hearing or seeing this said, except by me, so I don't know for sure if it's true. But assuming it is, I can easily understand why (discouraging pitchers from throwing anywhere near the head but letting them pitch high on the outside part) -- and I agree with it.
5:10 PM Mar 16th
Stengel sometimes batted Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and their .300 OBPs at the top of the order. You can't hit into a double play if no one's on base!
9:30 AM Mar 16th
Another excellent book on the 1949 Yankees is Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel.
7:47 AM Mar 16th
A few comments on the Yankees, 1946-60.

First of all, I'm not aware that drinking had anything to do with Joe McCarthy's departure from the Yankees early in the 1946 season. (It had everything to do with his departure from the Red Sox four years later.) Larry MacPhail had just taken over the Yankees. MacPhail was, in many ways, the Steinbrenner of his time. One of those ways was his frequent interference in his manager's decisions, well documented by Leo Durocher in [i]The Dodgers and Me.[i] McCarthy was used to something very different under Ed Barrow and he wouldn't put up with it, and thus, he had to go.

The Yankees' third place finish in 1948 was hardly humiliating. They were in a three way tie for the lead with nine games to go with the Indians and Red Sox and on the last Saturday of the season they were one game out of first place. The Red Sox eliminated them on that day. Bucky Harris had gotten them back in the thick of the race in the last two months of the season with some key lineup changes, including moving Yogi Berra from catcher to left field. Harris was fired because George Weiss, now running the Yankees after MacPhail's departure a year earlier, wanted to get rid of everyone that MacPhail had hired. All this is described in a book by a guy named Kaiser, published 1998, called [i]Epic Season.[i] There's a somewhat unfortunate reference to that book on p. 218 of {i]The New Bill James Historical Abstract.[i]

Lastly, in my second baseball book, [i]Baseball Greatness[i], I discovered something else extraordinary about Stengel's Yankees, at least through 1956 or so. Actually, it began before Stengel. Year after year, from 1947 through 1956, the Yankees scored significantly more runs than their linear weights projection (kindly supplied to me by Pete Palmer) would have predicted. They exceeded this projection by 53, 42, 58, 51, 42, 6, 22, 69, 16, and 67 runs from 1947 through 1956. Keep in mind that exceeding your projection by 40 runs has the same impact as adding another superstar to your lineup in place of an average player. Somehow, the Yankees consistently (in this period) managed to bunch their walks and hits so as to get more runs than would randomly be generated by their totals. I have no idea how they did it, but Dick Cramer estimated that the odds of this happening by chance were in the range of 100,000 to 1.

David Kaiser
7:38 AM Mar 16th
Gee, I wish I could edit my comment. So that, you made sense?
1:42 AM Mar 16th
Concerning the 1949 Yankees, probably the best known thing about the team is the great return of Joe DiMaggio, after missing the entire first half of the season with a heel bone injury and operation. In the 76 games he played, he hit .346/.459/.596, with a WAR of 4.3, equivalent to 8.6 or so for the whole season. DiMaggio's performance is generally credited with the team's pennant success. The best work on this is Peter Golenbock's Dynasty, a history of the Yankees from 1949 through 1964, one of the best baseball books I have ever read.
1:18 AM Mar 16th
(Minor typo, but one that confused me till I realize it was a typo:
Bucky Harris was let by by the Yanks after 1948, not '47.)

Tommy Byrne's walks particularly had always struck me.

BTW, the thing about Stengel and walks and DP's makes it surprising that he would have gone after a pitcher like Bob Turley, doesn't it?
i.e. he sure gave up the walks, but he wasn't the kind who'd get the DP's.

Heck, let's see what Turley's GIDP rates were....

Somehow they were OK -- probably a little better than average, all considered.
I didn't do a deep analysis (surprise) :-) ....but, I see that his gross rates were usually just a little worse than league average, which probably comes out to a-little-above-average when we take into account that his strikeout rate was very high (for the time) and that his men-on-base was better than average (i.e. lower).
(His walks were high but his hits-allowed were very low.)
11:35 PM Mar 15th
Fun stuff, interesting stuff, both articles.

It strikes me that when the best teams are the best teams because of what they do better than anybody else...then it seems kind of defeatest to try to do the same things, knowing that you can't do them quite as well. The following can't be attested to me, but aren't most of the teams trying to do the same things as each other today (hitter power and walks vs pitcher power, and less dependency on fielding?
7:57 PM Mar 15th
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