Is a Walk Really As Good As a Hit?

Welcome back, Estevão Maximo…

It’s a phrase that every young hitter hears from Little League all the way to the majors.

‘Be patient, a walk is as good as a hit.’

There are merits to that phrase, but one must contextualize it, before applying it.

Here is what I mean: a home run is better than a walk, and a HR is a hit, therefore a base on balls is not as good as a hit.

The more accurate saying would be a walk is as good as a single with no RISP, except for a possible 1st to 3rd, but who’s gonna say that? It doesn’t sound good. It’s weird. When a manager, hitting coach, whoever, says that to a hitter, their goal is getting the player to be more patient, take the free base when there’s nothing to hit, take what the pitcher gives you and go with it.

As you all probably have worked out, I’m a big believer in walks, high OBP players. Today I want to explain the thought process behind this belief.

I always like to start by stating that baseball has no clock, it’s a game of outs, whoever scores the most runs by the 27th out, wins the game. And how do teams score runs? By getting on base.

There are tons of ways to get on base, but walking is a good, easy one that has little to no interference with your other ways of getting on. It highly benefits power hitters, and for the high average hitters, as I said, a walk is as good as a single with no RISP, which is the situation for these guys most of the time. How many times does Dee Gordon come up with 2nd and 3rd occupied? Rarely, so there’s really no excuse for a bad BB%, unless you’re peak, Ichiro Suzuki.

But what about the stats to back up my theory?

I decided to look back at the last 50 years, which strips out the dead ball era and the freaks of nature that were Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.

Setting a minimum of 3500 plate appearance, there are 305 hitters since 1967 with a 10.0 BB%. This is the lowest mark for an ‘above-average’ walk percentage.

Among those 305, guess how many have a career wRC+ below 100?

Only 38.

That means only a little over 12.5 percent of above average ‘walkers’, a large minority, had below average careers. Think Robbie Grossman with a much longer career and slightly less power. Here are a few members of this rogues gallery:

Wayne Garrett, Mark McLemore, Walt Weiss, Jose Offerman, Luis Alicea 

Hardly household names, but that’s what not controlling the strike-zone can do to a man…

Looking at it from a different angle, during the same time span, 79 hitters had career wRC+ of 130 or higher; a really great mark, left for the best of the best.

Guess how many of them had BB% below 10.0?

Just seven, those being:

Name, BB%, wRC+

Mike Piazza 9.8, 140

Ryan Braun 8.2, 139

Vladimir Guerrero 8.1, 136

Buster Posey 9.5, 135

George Brett 9.4, 132

Rod Carew 9.6, 132

Tony Gwynn 7.7, 132

Amongst these, Braun’s K% at 18.4, Piazza at 14.4 and Posey at 12.0 are the only ones above 10%, so even here ‘zone control’ is way above average. Factor in the fact that Braun, Piazza and Posey all play (or played) in strikeout heavy eras and it’s all the more impressive.

The other four players, were no-doubt Hall of Famers – amongst the best pure hitters in the history of the games.

What does all of this scream at you?

The certainty that great hitters walk, simple as that.

And the better hitter you are, the easier it is. The walks are there, you just have to take them.

As a closing point, consider this comparison.

Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera have very similar career numbers, right?

AVG: Votto .313   Miggy .317

SLG: Votto .541.  Miggy .553

K%: Votto 17.7   Miggy 17.1

ISO: Votto .227.  Miggy .236

wRC+: Votto 158   Miggy 149

So how can Cabrera possess the higher average, better power numbers and still fall 9 percentage points behind Votto in wRC+?

OBP: Votto .426.  Miggy .395.

Walks are almost solely responsible for Votto being ahead of Cabrera as the slightly better career hitter. 

As the old saying goes – walking is good for you. Even more so in baseball than in everyday life.

It’s almost time! To get this year’s Baseball Prospectus on 9th February, order from Amazon today!


  1. And the more you walk, the more pitchers know they can go 0-2 and strike you out, as was proven this year in spades.

  2. Scoring runs in 27 outs is a team stat. But a great hitter by definition is one who gets a hit when he comes to bat.

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