I'm guessing most fantasy baseball owners pay little or no attention to the walks category, but I sure do. For one, hitters patient enough to take a healthy number of walks generally develop power. Two, they're on base more, so they can run, score and help us in several ways. I also play in a few leagues in which on-base percentage is a category, so for years I've admired the work of guys like Adam Dunn and Carlos Pena who certainly won't help a team's batting average but walk and hit like champs.
It's a bit early to overrate statistics, but there are a few players with interesting walk rates, and as always, this can have an effect on their overall numbers and fantasy value. Let's delve into it, shall we?
Nick Johnson, 1B, New York Yankees: There has never been a season quite like this in history, with a player hitting on the wrong side of .200 and yet producing an OBP over .400. Johnson will raise his batting average, so it is unwise of fantasy owners to drop him. Hitting second on the mighty Yankees is a wonderful spot, and Johnson, should he remain healthy enough to play 140 games, could score 100 runs. Plus, since he might walk 150 times, his batting average, if low, will have less impact. He should hit .275 at least.
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Jeff Francoeur, OF, New York Mets: From another NYC borough, the major league walks leader is David Wright, but I have no concerns about him or his power potential. He'll be fine. I did, however, get pretty close to giving up on the right fielder Francoeur last season, but then he was traded and hit .311 with 10 home runs in 75 games for the Mets. He also walked only 11 times. Not impressive. This season, however, Frenchy has eight walks in 15 games, with a mere six strikeouts. I did read in the spring how he was aiming at shortening his swing, but at the time hoped it wouldn't result in a loss of power, much like Wright's 2009. So far, so good. If Francoeur keeps this rate up, while hitting a home run per week, he might earn a better lineup spot, maybe where the struggling Jason Bay is. That means more RBIs.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies: He's on the disabled list because of a calf injury, but Rollins took seven free passes in the seven games he did compete in, which is shocking in and of itself. A season ago Rollins didn't draw his seventh walk until May 15, and he was playing every day. Rollins' career best in walks is 58; when he returns, if he continues to work pitchers like this, he'd be a candidate to steal the 50 bases he spoke longingly of back in March, and would obviously score runs at a far greater rate than normal, too.
Geovany Soto, C, Chicago Cubs: With 12 walks and only eight strikeouts, maybe it's not a big surprise that he's hitting .333. He has been hitting eighth, which lends itself to walks as pitchers avoid him to handle the opposing pitcher, but I think the power is coming. Soto is clearly more selective now.
Josh Willingham, OF, Washington Nationals: The former Florida Marlin has actually had a nice walk rate in his career, posting a .362 OBP. But currently he has drawn 14 walks and fanned only seven times, a serious rate that tells me a 30-homer season is not out of the question. I also like the three stolen bases in as many attempts. Hey, he's on base more, so why not? His career high in steals is eight.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers: His plate discipline was poor last season, when he walked 24 times versus 79 strikeouts. Fantasy owners want to see more power, and Hamilton finally did homer Wednesday at Fenway Park, but I'd argue this newfound discipline will lead to power. Hamilton has already drawn 10 walks and struck out only 10 times. Even in his monster 2008 he fanned nearly twice as much as he walked. This is a hidden, and soon to be critical, improvement.
Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox: With five home runs in 14 games, I'm finding owners in 10-team mixed leagues feel like Konerko is worth a pickup, but not in their long-term plans. However, the nine walks and only seven strikeouts tell a different story. Konerko has never been a big strikeout guy, with a career high of 109, but he has never drawn more walks than strikeouts. I don't expect this rate to continue, but it tells me last season's .277 batting average wasn't a fluke, and this potential 30-homer slugger should be owned all season.