June 18, 2014


Tony Gwynn Was Always in Control (Paul Swydan - June 16, 2014, Fangraphs)

Gwynn had, as the title of this article suggests, control over every at-bat. It's hard to rack up as many plate appearances as he did -- 10,232 to be precise -- and strike out as little as he did. For his career, he only struck out 434 times. I thought I'd take a stroll the Baseball-Reference Play Index to see just how rare this was. The default minimum playing time on the Play Index is 3,000 plate appearances, so I started there. The search returned 684 results. Of them, 362 walked more times than they struck out in their careers, but just 18 of them played in Gwynn's era (1980-present). And of those 18, two are active -- Dustin Pedroia and Alberto Callaspo -- and given their small margins (+15 and +1, respectively), there's a good chance that they'll vanish from the list when their careers conclude.

Pretty impressive, but I wanted to go a step further. Upping the threshold to 5,000 plate appearances gives us a list of 219 players. Much better. But upping the threshold to the upper bound of the Play Index, 9,999 plate appearances, knocks the list down to nine players:

9,999 or more PA & fewer than 500 strikeouts, 1901-present

Eddie Collins4681204419061930
Tris Speaker3941199219071928
Sam Rice2751025119151934
Frankie Frisch2721009919191937
Charlie Gehringer3721024419241942
Paul Waner3761076619261945
Nellie Fox2161035119471965
Bill Buckner4531003719691990
Tony Gwynn4341023219822001

That's not just impressive. That's impossible. Only Buckner was even sort of a contemporary, but Gwynn did something that simply never happens anymore. Since 1980, there have been 25 other hitters to amass at least 9,999 plate appearances. They all had at least 745 strikeouts, and 24 of them had at least 966, which is more than double Gwynn's total. The leader in strikeouts among that group, Jim Thome, piled up 2,548 strikeouts in his time -- nearly six times as many strikeouts as Gwynn. That is, in a word, insane.

Posted by at June 18, 2014 6:01 PM

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