Vladimir Guerrero Is No Mariano Duncan

It’s May 3rd and Vladimir Guerrero still has not drawn a walk. He’s come to the plate 113 times and refused to take a free pass in any of them, a pretty remarkable accomplishment. Well, it seems like a remarkable accomplishment anyway, but then you run a query and see what Mariano Duncan accomplished and then you just think Guerrero is slacking.

On June 19th, 1994, the Phillies beat the Expos 13-0. In the process, Mariano Duncan started at third base and contributed a single, a double, and a pair of walks. They would be the last two walks of his Phillies career, which wouldn’t be so notable except that he wasn’t claimed off waivers by Cincinnati until August 8th, 1995. He then spent another three weeks with his new franchise before drawing his first walk as a member of the Reds, and the first walk he’d taken in 14 months.

Because of the work stoppage in 1994, Duncan’s streak “only” covers 86 games, but in those games, Duncan came to the plate 314 times, and he hit .268/.269/.382. He was hit by two pitches during the streak, if you’re curious as to why his BA and OBP aren’t equal. That is some incredible hacking, even for a guy with a career walk rate of just 4.0%.

Guerrero is only 36% of the way to matching Duncan’s mark, by the way. At his current rate of 4.2 at-bats per game, he’d need to play another 49 games to approach Duncan’s walkless streak. That would make his target date June 26th in a home game against the Reds, though I’d imagine the Orioles would prefer if he did not go into that game with a chance to tie Duncan’s mark for impatience.

How incredible was Duncan’s streak? Using binomial distribution, and assuming that Duncan had a 1 in 25 chance of walking each time he came to the plate, the odds of him drawing zero walks in a sample of 314 plate appearances were .000003. These seem like impossibly long odds, but remember, we’re dealing with millions of different combinations of plate appearances from thousands of batters over the last 30 years — just by sheer quantity of opportunity, extraordinarily improbable things are going to happen. While using selective endpoints can be fun, this is nothing like a random trial — we were using the actual results to determine the parameters, after all.

Still, it’s incredible that Duncan could not only go more than a year without a walk, but that he could convince two teams to keep penciling him into the lineup while he was doing it. However, given that the Orioles are paying Guerrero for his bat and nothing else, I’m pretty sure they were hoping to not have him compared to Mariano Duncan at any point this season.

Vlad, take a walk. It will be good for you.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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12 years ago

I believe that Coco. Crisp is currently rifing a 78 AB streak of his own.

Regarding the odds of Duncan’s streak: it really seems rather meaningless when talking about taking a walk. Anyone, myself included, could break that streak this year. As you noted, the truly remarkable part is that he stayed in the line-up.

12 years ago
Reply to  Danmay

Also remarkable is that he held down the #2 spot in the lineup for almost the entirety of the streak. Jim Fregosi (Phillies’ manager) must’ve liked him.

If he’d been moved to #8 in the lineup, surely a IBB would’ve ruined his spot in baseball history.

12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

A #2 hitter is supposed to be your team’s best contact bat. This helps with hit and runs and moving runners over.

A guy that can go up there hacking as much as Duncan did, almost guaranteeing contact with the ball, would be an ideal #2 batter.

12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

I don’t think it’s that remarkable that he held his spot in the line-up. People didn’t talk about walks in 1994 the way they do now. People saw his ~.270 batting average and thought he was a decent hitter.

Joe R.
12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

Gimpy, you realize teams are allowed to score runs after the first inning, right?

Why would you want to give a horrible hitter the 2nd most PA’s on your team, especially w/ the other dogmatic belief of batting an average hitter leadoff because he’s fast?

12 years ago
Reply to  Yirmiyahu

A #2 hitter is supposed to be your team’s best contact bat. This helps with hit and runs and moving runners over.

A guy that can go up there hacking as much as Duncan did, almost guaranteeing contact with the ball, would be an ideal #2 batter.

That is completely congruent with traditional baseball thinking. Some would say that TLR and a couple others still feel that way.

There is some value in handling the bat with a runner on base. But, my view and the view of statistical analysis are in line with each other, when I think the absolute best thing a #2 hitter can do is take a walk, bringing up my #3 hitter with 2 guys on base instead of one.

Pujols is going to hit a 3-run homer whether the #2 “H & R’d” the batter to 3rd or whether he walked and now there’s 1st and 2nd.

I think we’ve learned a lot about the increased value/appreciation of walks, and the lower aversion to strikeouts.

Being hacktastic is tolerable in some cases … particularly those where speed and/or power is a crucial part of their game. Lots of stolen bases can make hacking an overall plus, as do hitting a lot of extra bases.

There just are not enough situations in the game where Mariano Duncan grounding to the right side with nobody out, advancing the runner to third, to make him a valuable #2 hitter. My guess is that run expectations see [1] runner on 3rd, 1-out, and [2] 1st and 2nd no outs, as relatively similar situations, with perhaps the latter leading to a higher run expectancy (but maybe similar number of times that a single run is scored).

The #2 guy is better off just getting on base. A .269 OBP is not good performance in the 2-hole. Heh, I said 2-hole.