Jose Lobaton’s Walk Rate | The Process Report

Jose Lobaton’s Walk Rate

Say this about Jose Lobaton. He walks a lot. His .341 on-base percentage is the 15th-best amongst backstops in the league, and puts him ahead of the likes of Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana, and A.J. Pierzynski. (Jose Molina ranks 44th of 48—just ahead of rumored trade targets Kurt Suzuki and Nick Hundley.) So why should we be cautious about him heading forward?

Lobaton’s line (.221/.341/.286) looks as if someone mistakenly switched the on-base and slugging percentage values. We call a batting average empty when the player hits for no power, so what should we call it when walks buoy a player’s on-base percentage? Whatever the term, stamp it on Lobaton. For the season, he nearly has more walks (14) than hits (17). We know that walks are a good thing—a very good thing, even. But walks aren’t the only thing; and when they are, you should be concerned.

Here’s a pet theory: Slow batters who don’t hit for much average or power are less likely to sustain high walk rates. To test it out, consider the cases of 65 players since 1980 who met these criteria:

– More than 150 plate appearances in back-to-back seasons;
– A walk rate over 10 percent in year one;
– An Isolated Power of less than .100 in both seasons;
– Fewer than 10 stolen bases in each season;
– And a batting average of .270 or less in both seasons

Those numbers are arbitrary, of course. The point is to find hitters who walked and did nothing else. In total, 43 of the 65 saw a decrease in their walk rates in the subsequent season. Six saw no change, and the other 16 had their walk rates increase. There’s a difference in attempting to sustain a 10 percent walk rate or an 18 percent walk rate (as Randy Ready tried in 1992). If you focus on the players with walk rates similar to Lobaton (i.e. over 15 percent) then all five of the players had their walk rates decrease by at least two percent the following season.

It doesn’t take expansive research to figure out that Lobaton’s walk rate might dip. After all, few players can walk that often year in and year. What proves more worrisome is how Lobaton will make up for the decline—even now, he ranks 31st in True Average amongst catchers. If Lobaton fails to show secondary skills then the question becomes whether his defense merits being a backup. Lobaton’s caught stealing rate is poor this season, but most scouting reports approved of his defensive work behind the plate.

Having a player on the roster whose value isn’t readily apparent to the public is not a tantalizing proposition. But if there is a position where that becomes acceptable, it’s behind the plate.

One Comment

  1. […] this week, R.J. Anderson dedicated a few words to Jose Lobaton’s walk rate. Although the casual fan may dismiss walk rates and on-base […]

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