A name in heavy rotation right now is one Mr. Zach Walters. A MI by trade, he had a good season at the plate last year hitting nearly 30 homers in the minors, playing good defense, and looking ok in a very brief major league stint. Now he's a sleeper favorite to win a bench position, has been mentioned as a future replacement for Ian Desmond, and at the very least is being treated by fans as decent trade bait. There is one problem though :
Let me repeat that
"Big deal", you say. We're not supposed to get hung up on the strikeouts. That's true. But we are supposed to get hung up on the walks and a K/BB ration of almost 7 is not just telling, it's testifying under oath before a grand jury. Zach Walters couldn't identify the strike zone if it walked up to him and said "Hello, I'm the strike zone"
Why does that matter? Let's test something. How many times in the history of baseball has someone had this kind of K ratio with 100 plus strikeouts and been successful?
1 maybe, 2 times. Benito Santiago hit .300 and played what I assume was great catcher defense in 1987, while striking out 112 time and walking 16. Wilin Rosario, another catcher, has the second best such season, hitting .292. John Buck has the third and by that time "successful" has passed onto "fair".
Side note : Miguel Olivo has the 5th. Ok this leads me to believe either (1) this isn't a trait that we care about for catchers for some reason, or (2) catcher WAR is completely unreliable. I'm betting on #2.
The only decent full-ish position player season was put up by Juan Encarnacion in 1999. . 255 / .287 / .450 in 113 games. Those seem like numbers Walters could put up. Of course offensively that is a BAD season. A .287 OBP hurts your offense much more than a .450 SLG helps. Juan had a decent year because he fielded well. I suppose Zach could do that. And Juan was 23. I don't think Zach (25 in Sept) can do that.
If I give Walters a little benefit of the doubt and use a K/BB ratio of 4 and over things look a little better. But only a little, we still only see 90 such seasons in baseball history suggesting this type of player doesn't stick around long. 40% of these seasons feature negative WAR. 60% are under 1.0 which is like "anyone can do this" territory. Success is extremely rare.
And why are we giving Walters the benefit of the doubt? His 2012 ratio was over 5. His 2011 ratio in A+ ball was over 4. He's going to get better while facing tougher pitching? At 24 he is still young enough that you can hope he improves but he's not so young that you expect it.
"But Harper! These are minor league numbers! He was trying to hit his way out! And besides Danny did the same thing and you loved that guy before injury!"
Danny did strike out a lot. but prior to his first call up he walked too. His ratios were always under 3 in the minors as a whole, with one exception. The exception? Last year when he was terrible.
I did look through the past IL AAA seasons up through 2005 to find someone that struck out 100+ times and had a K/BB walk ratio of 4 or greater. I found a few. They all stunk as major leaguers, or never made it. Dallas McPherson, Jorge Vazquez, Mithc Jones, Seth Bynum, Joel Guzman, Brad Eldred. Even worse, it's hard to find guys that struck out 100+ times in the IL and were good at all, regardless of the ratio. Part of that is bias. If you are good enough to get up to plate enough times to strike out that much, you might get called up for another reason. So the good guys might be falling off the list and never reaching 100 K. I suppose.
But much like with Tyler Moore a week ago, the comparisons do not look good. There is a reason why he's not on the Nationals Top 10 prospect lists despite hitting nearly 30 homers last year at age 23. Right now he's a fringe prospect at best, whose lower average and terrible strike zone judgement should render him completely ineffective at the plate at the major league level. Can he work out? Anything is possible. Will he, even for bench purposes? Don't bet on it.