A question popped into my head—which players had 20 or fewer walks and strikeouts in a season of 600 or more plate appearances? My gut said Juan Pierre; my gut was wrong.
It’s happened 13 times by 11 men, and those who did it range from the obscure and unknown to Hall of Famers and those with decent Cooperstown cases.
The first to do it was Charles Comiskey, who before he became the Hall of Fame owner of the White Sox, was a middling first baseman who played mostly for the Browns in the 19th century. In 1889, he had 609 plate appearances, but walked and struck out just 19 times each. It was a decent campaign, as he hit .286 with 105 runs scored and 102 RBI in 137 games.
Centerfielder Steve Brodie did it next, in 1894, when he hit .366 with 210 hits, 134 runs, 113 RBI, 18 walks and 8 strikeouts in 628 PAs. He whiffed once every 71.6 at-bats, but that rate didn’t even top the league—it was 6th, far behind Jack Doyle’s 142.3 AB/K (he struck out 3 times in 427 at-bats).
And that sexy batting average? Not so sexy after all. It wasn’t even among the top ten. Five players hit .400 or better that year, with Hugh Duffy pacing the loop with a .440 mark.
Hughie Jennings, a Hall of Famer, had just 19 walks and 11 strikeouts in 602 plate appearances in 1896. That season, he hit .401—which was second in the league—and led the NL with 51 hit by pitches. Not surprisingly, that is a league record.
21-year veteran Lave Cross, who finished with over 2,600 hits and nearly 1,400 RBI, stepped to the plate 639 times in 1904, drawing just 13 walks and striking out 9 times. At 38, he was the oldest among those who accomplished the feat and the first man from the American League to do it. Unlike Brodie, his 67.4 AB/K led the league; he paced the loop twice more in that category and his 41.9 mark ranks 6th-best all-time.
*Random aside: I think a legitimate Hall of Fame case could be made for Cross, or maybe I’m a fool—he peaked at 0.4% in BBWAA balloting.
The feat didn’t happen again until 1920, when two players managed it. In 666 PAs, the Dodgers’ Ivy Olson had 20 BBs and 19 Ks, but he wasn’t getting on base with all those plate appearances he had to spare. He batted just .254 with a 68 OPS+.
Stuffy McInnis, owner of four World Series rings, over 2,400 hits and a .307 career average, also did it that year (624 PA, 18 BB, 19 K) and again in 1924 (611 PA, 15 BB, 6 K). Like Cross, he was notoriously difficult to strikeout, with his 96.8 AB/K ratio leading the league in 1924; he ranked in the top ten 14 times and his career 31.2 mark is 20th all-time. In 1925, he struck out just once in 175 plate appearances.*
*For context, the player with the most plate appearances with just one strikeout in 2021 is Andy Burns, with 15.
Woody Jensen was also a repeat offender, doing so in 1935 and 1936. The former season, he had 14 walks and 15 strikeouts in 657 plate appearances; the next, he led the league with 731 plate appearances and 696 at-bats, but walked and struck out 16 and 19 times, respectively. In 1938, he walked just once in 129 plate appearances. (That sounds like a rarity, just one walk in so many PAs, but Reed Johnson accomplished a similar rate as recently as 2014, when he had but a single BB in 201 trips to the plate).
Nine-time All-Star and 1940 MVP Frank McCormick, who few have ever heard of despite all his accolades, did it in 1938. He had 671 plate appearances and a league-leading 209 hits, while walking 18 times and striking out 17. The feat is an interesting novelty, but his career was more than that: He was All-Star each year from 1938 to 1946 and owns a World Series ring (1940); nevertheless, he’s been relegated to the dustbin of history.
So has Emil Verban, who in 1945 had 635 plate appearances, 19 walks and 15 strikeouts. Though he played seven seasons and had 400-plus plate appearances in five of them, he never struck out more than 18 times in a campaign. In 343 at-bats in 1949, he Ked just twice.
Don Mueller was an All-Star when he did it in 1955. In addition to his 19 walks and 12 strikeouts in 640 plate appearances, he batted .306—but had a measly 90 OPS+. He led the league in AB/K rate five times and is 25th all-time in that category.
Most recently—and it happened 63 years ago—Vic Power performed the feat, hitting .312 with 20 walks, 14 strikeouts and a league-leading 10 triples in 620 PAs between the Athletics and Indians in 1958.
Since Power, no player has gotten particularly close to matching the parameters set forth since. Expanding the BB and K limits to 25 adds just a couple more instances, with the most recent being Bobby Richardson in 1963 (668 PA, 25 BB, 22 K).
Even moving the goalposts to 30 each adds just a few more names, with the most recent occurrence still nearly forty years ago, in 1983. That year, Bill Buckner had 665 plate appearances, 25 walks and 30 strikeouts. He met those parameters five times.
I kept expanding the limits until I could fit my initial guess, Juan Pierre, into them. It took a little while. The list moved into the 21st century when I put them at 35, but just barely—in 2002, Paul Lo Duca had 632 PAs, 34 walks and 31 Ks. He’s the most recent to achieve those numbers.
How about 40? Success! In 2006 and 2007, Pierre had fewer than 40 walks and strikeouts and more than 600 plate appearances both seasons. In fact, he had more than 700 PAs each campaign, with 750 and 729, respectively.
Andrelton Simmons, in case you were wondering, was the last man with 50 or fewer walks and strikeouts in a 600-plus PA campaign, when he had 35 and 44, respectively, in exactly 600 plate appearances in 2018.
Unless there is a radical shift in the way the game is played, the 600-20-20 club might have added its last member in Power those many years ago. In this age of free swingers and 200-strikeout seasons, I cannot foresee a player reaching those numbers again.
But, as with all things in baseball—hey, you never know.