#5 – Darryl Strawberry: Free Passes

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #5, Darryl Strawberry:

The Mets with the most intentional walks drawn:

It’s a mix of cleanup hitters, Ed Kranepool — the guy who shows up on all of these lists — and . . . Rey Ordonez? The proud owner of a .310 career slugging percentage, Ordonez has drawn the sixth most intentional walks in Mets history. 63 of Ordonez’ 64 free passes came when he was batting in the eighth spot, presumably just to get to the pitcher. If you count the IBBs as non-events, Ordonez’ career on base percentage drops from an awful .289 to a somehow more awful .276. I seriously doubt the advantage of facing the pitcher outweighed the disadvantage of putting a terrible, terrible hitter on base all those times.

Anyway, I think this list indicates something about how feared Darryl Strawberry was as a hitter. 2.4% of Strawberry’s plate appearances with the Mets ended with a free pass, a rate that would place him 8th all time if it held up for his career. That list is perhaps more telling (minimum 100 IBB):

  • 5.5% – Barry Bonds
  • 3.5% – Albert Pujols
  • 3.1% – Ryan Howard
  • 2.9% – Vladimir Guerrero
  • 2.7% – Willie McCovey
  • 2.5% – Willie Stargell
  • 2.4% – Miguel Cabrera
  • 2.3% – Johnny Edwards
  • 2.3% – Mo Vaughn
  • 2.2% – Manny Ramirez

Strawberry drops to 16th for his entire career, but would have been right behind Miguel Cabrera had he stopped playing after the 1990 season. Notice that 6 of the top 10 have been active this decade, as well as 13 of the top 17. This is partially because intentional walks weren’t officially tracked until 1955, but it’s also partially because all modern managers are overmanaging cowards. I think we can blame Tony LaRussa for that one. Still, I think this list hints at the track Strawberry was on for the first half of his career — that’s a heavy list of names to be among, Pujols, Bonds, McCovey, Stargell.

And then there’s Johnny Edwards. A light hitting catcher, he played for the Reds, Cardinals, and Astros in the ’60s and ’70s. He popped 17 home runs one year and made a few All Star teams, but he’s clearly the oddity on this list. Edwards hit in the 7th or 8th spot for most of the career, and appears to have been in the right place at the right time often enough to find himself among all these slugging greats.

And then the notable exclusion from this list: Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez has received just 87 intentional walks during his career, and is the only player with at least 500 home runs and fewer than 100 free passes (excluding those who did most of their work before 1955). For comparison, Ted Williams managed to draw 86 IBB just from 1955-1960. This probably has more to do with Rodriguez playing with Griffey and Edgar Martinez in Seattle, and playing with just about everyone as a Yankee, making it useless to pitch around him. Or, maybe it’s just that no one is scared of A-Rod. I think it’s the former, but it’s more fun to pretend it’s the latter.

Actually, if you want evidence for the stupidity of intentional walks, per plate appearance, Rey Ordonez was intentionally walked more often than Alex Rodriguez.

***

The second way to look at Straw and Doc is through the eyes of an artist. “The similarities between them are amazing, aren’t they?” says LeRoy Neiman, the popular painter and an unregenerate Mets fan. “They are the two I’ve drawn the most of all the Mets. The first time I saw Gooden, I didn’t know who he was, but I knew he was somebody. Darryl has that, too. They both have a grace you can’t express in words. I think they’re the most extraordinary pair in baseball, in sports….”

Sports Illustrated, July 1988

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “#5 – Darryl Strawberry: Free Passes

  1. I once got in a mild spot of trouble elsewhere in the Internets by proposing that Darryl Strawberry was sort of Ken Griffey Junior before Ken Griffey Junior – tall, rangy, great combination of power and speed – even if he never enjoyed the same defensive reputation. I got LOL’d, but Junior just seemed to be an idealized, perfected Straw; the parallels only got stronger in my mind when, like Darryl before him, Junior left for a new city, had one spectacular debut year, and then suffered through years of injuries before a final coda. (Junior and Straw are not on each other’s BBR similarity scores. I KNOW. They pointed it out several times. Comparison Fail.)

    Being the “perfected” Straw, of course, means that his highs were higher, his injury stage was shorter, and his coda was better. He would almost certainly have reached 700 homers if his age 31-34 years were healthy. And I will categorically state that I don’t think Straw was as good as Junior… who was?

    But to me, they were very similar-style players. Darryl through age 29 was at 144 OPS+; Griffey, 149. Straw had more steals, had hit 25 or more homers his first nine seasons (280 total), and seemed poised to cruise past 500… then hit just 28 homers total in SIX years. I think Strawberry, if he had been right when their careers overlapped, would be better-remembered. He was certainly better in the 80’s than generally recognized. And his primary similarity score as a hitter (and a nickname!), through age 30, is Reggie Jackson – the Straw that Stirred the Drink. Not too shabby.

  2. After seeing where Piazza and Keith appeared in your rankings, it was fairly obvious who were going to be the Top 5 Mets, the only question being the specific two through five order. However, the career Met numbers for Darryl appear to be very similar to the remaining position player while two of the remaining three pitchers also appear to be very close in their comparison. It will now be a surprise if the remaining position player does not come in at #4. Although Darryl was bound to fall behind the remaining position player after this season, when you get to that player, please provide his comparison to Darryl. Likewise, a comparison will be needed for those two pitchers.

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