So there’s a fair amount of excitement anytime Jordany Valdespin plays for the New York Mets. He’s young, he’s athletic, and he has eight home runs.
And four walks.
So I’ve been fairly bearish on Valdespin, who turns 25 in December, because of the four walks. All season. (Mike Baxter, by contrast, recently had five walks in one game. But I digress.) What I wondered was this: was I simply missing out on the player Valdespin could be (the eight home runs) due to my focus on what he isn’t (the four walks)?
As always, baseball allows us to use history as a guide.
I headed over to Baseball-Reference.com, of course, and plugged in the following:
1. At least 140 plate appearances (Valdespin is at 147)
2. Between first and fifth seasons (to avoid eliminating guys who played sparingly early on)
3. Up to age 26 (Valdespin is 24, but 24 is no clear cutoff point for player development)
Fewest walks since 1901 with those parameters brought up 200 names. Only 46 players have fewer walks in at least that many plate appearances than Valdespin. So he’s in some pretty select company. But many of the players on that list had more plate appearances than Valdespin, almost none had fewer. This wasn’t about discovering if Valdespin’s walk rate was a poor one: we know it is.
Rather, I wanted to know how many useful major leaguers came from a similar early season of power and walks.
In that group of 200, Valdespin ranked 11th in OPS with a .781 mark. Among the ten ahead of him were Richie Sexson, Pablo Sandoval and Lloyd Waner, all of whom have enjoyed useful or better careers. They all also had significantly better batting averages than Valdespin. This isn’t really a luck thing; he’s hitting 11.8% line drives, and in fact, his home run rate is driven by an unsustainable 20 percent of his fly balls leaving the park. About half of his balls in play have been grounders.
The list of 200 is similarly littered with players who didn’t hit much in the major leagues. Those like Jose Reyes and Alex Rodriguez on the list were all many years younger than Valdespin when posting such a low walk rate, allowing more development time. So were Sexson and Sandoval; Waner was 24, but had already produced three full seasons at exceptional production levels, making him a poor comparison to Valdespin.
Ultimately, Valdespin could figure out how to walk a bit more. He could become a consistent .300 hitter despite a lack of line drives. But among the group he’ss traveling in, statistically, there’s not a lot of reason to hope he’ll become an everyday player.
That’s not to say the Mets shouldn’t be playing him, in case he does. After all, he’s still got a better chance to keep developing than Scott Hairston or Andres Torres.