May 17, 2013
Jeff Keppinger Finally Works a Walk, and a Disar Awards Update
It’s appropriate that Jeff Keppinger’s first walk of 2013 was a game-winner. After 140 plate appearances without one—150 dating back to the end of last season—it would’ve been a shame if the walk we’d all been waiting for hadn’t helped the White Sox win.
It wasn’t the sort of situation in which we would have expected the streak to end. Keppinger’s walk on Thursday night came in a tie game in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, a situation in which the pitcher has every incentive to avoid putting a batter on base. And it took only four pitches, which was surprising, since Keppinger had barely been in a three-ball count all season.
The walk, which gave Chicago a decisive 5-4 lead, came courtesy of Michael Kohn, who—as you might imagine—was really struggling to throw strikes. Kohn came in with one out in the inning and walked Conor Gillaspie, Dayan Viciedo, and Keppinger before being removed, which, were he the sort of bullpen specialist whose only purpose is to dispense free passes, would have earned him a heartfelt baseball butt slap. He threw 18 pitches, 13 of which were balls.
None of the four pitches to Keppinger was in the strike zone,
although a couple were so close that had Chris Iannetta made even a perfunctory effort to frame them, instead of glancing over at third in case Adam Dunn had decided to steal home, Kohn could have gotten a call (especially given that the called strike zone expands significantly when the batter is ahead in the count). But he didn’t, and Keppinger had the good sense not to help out a pitcher who couldn’t find the plate. So now we can stop checking White Sox box scores just to see what Jeff Keppinger did, and we can also stop following @DidKeppWalk, which was (and is) an actual handle. (The White Sox will continue to be very bad at getting on base, though.)
But the streak’s legacy will live on. Those of you who’ve been reading BP since before this year’s high school freshmen were born are aware of the DiSars, the Gary DiSarcina-inspired annual awards dreamt up by Joe Sheehan to (dis)honor “the player in each league who bats the most times before taking his first free pass.” In some seasons, the DiSar Award winner debuts well after Opening Day and comes from behind to take the lead later in the summer. But it’s very likely that Keppinger has already sewn up this season’s AL DiSar. His 140 walkless PA to start the season ranks seventh since 1950 and edge out Jeff Francoeur among players who’ve won the award since it was established in 2000:
Most Walkless PA to Start a Season, 1950-
With Keppinger’s walkless streak over, the next-longest active season-starting streaks belong to a bunch of players you may not have heard of: the Marlins’ Joe Mahoney, with a measly 29 PA, followed by Donald Lutz (25), Blake Lalli and Brent Lillibridge (24), and Keppinger’s closest AL competitor, Luke Montz (23). To find a professional player with a walkless streak comparable to Keppinger’s, you have to drill down to the lower levels of the minors, where you’ll find Gustavo Pierre, the third baseman for the Blue Jays’ Midwest League affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts. Pierre is now up to 129 PA without a walk to start this season (plus another 60 or so walkless PA to end 2012). You will not be shocked to learn that this is his third season in A-ball.
If you’re wondering about the longest active non-season-starting streak by a position player—Aaron Harang holds the pitcher lead with a 218 PA walkless streak that dates back to 2009—it belongs to Casey Kotchman, who’s up to 103, followed by Marwin Gonzalez at 90. At least Gonzalez, like DiSarcina before him, plays a premium defensive position. I don’t know what Kotchman’s excuse is.
*Rob Picciolo managed to make 1720 plate appearances in the majors with a 1.5 percent walk rate and .246 OBP. In light of those career marks , consider this excerpt from a 1974 scouting report on a college-aged Picciolo filed by Red Sox scout Joe Stephenson: “Once he learns not to chase bad breaking stuff with 2 strikes has a chance to become good hitter.” Not if he learns—once he learns. Evidently he didn't. (H/T to anonymous internet commenter.)
Thanks to Ryan Lind for research assistance.