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Jason Heyward walked in the first 8 games of 2011 in which he appeared. At first blush, this seems like a sort of fun-but-meaningless statistic. On second blush, however, it reveals a hint of meaning. (Just a hint, though.)

First off, let’s talk about how impressive it is to have any streak of 8 games with a walk (not just to start a season). Even a batter with a very high walk rate of 15% (Heyward is at 15.05% so far in his career) will have a less than 50% chance of walking in a given game unless he gets 5 plate appearances:

3 PA: 38.6% chance of at least one BB
4 PA: 47.8% chance of at least one BB
5 PA: 55.6% chance of at least one BB

If you assume 4 PA in each game, the chances of even a high-walk-rate batter walking in any given 8 straight games are quite small:

4-game BB streak: 5.22% chance
5-game BB streak: 2.50% chance
6-game BB streak: 1.19% chance
7-game BB streak: 0.57% chance
8-game BB streak: 0.27% chance
9-game BB streak: 0.13% chance
10-game BB streak: 0.06% chance

So, mathematically speaking, a player walking in 8 or more consecutive games is highly unlikely, but not so rare that you wouldn’t expect it to happen every now and then, given the huge number of players in MLB history. That Heyward’s streak came at the start of the season just makes it more noticeable, and perhaps a tiny bit more impressive (since presumably not everyone starts the year in mid-season form).

I did a search using Baseball-Reference’s marvelous Play Index

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to find all the players who have walked in 8 or more consecutive games to start a season (since 1919). This is what I found:

Rk Player Strk Start End Games BB BA OBP SLG OPS Tm
1 Darrell Evans
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1976-04-09 1976-04-27 15
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19 .182 .429 .250 .679 ATL
2 Mickey Mantle
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1962-04-10 1962-04-28 13
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24 .406 .649 .688 1.337 NYY
3 Barry Bonds
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2004-04-05 2004-04-17 11
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13 .433 .605 1.067 1.671 SFG
Roy Cullenbine
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1940-04-16 1940-05-05 11
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17 .258 .521 .387 .908 BRO
5 Davey Lopes
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1975-04-07 1975-04-17 10
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14 .343 .540 .457 .997 LAD
Boog Powell
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1969-04-08 1969-04-17 10
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12 .229 .426 .229 .654 BAL
7 Mike Cameron
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2002-04-01 2002-04-10 9
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12 .321 .525 .500 1.025 SEA
Rickey Henderson
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1999-04-05 1999-04-14 9
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13 .333 .550 .704 1.254 NYM
Jeff Frye
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1996-06-06 1996-06-14 9
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11 .313 .500 .375 .875 BOS
Jeff Bagwell
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1995-04-26 1995-05-05 9
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13 .103 .395 .207 .602 HOU
Dwayne Murphy
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1985-04-09 1985-04-17 9
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14 .185 .463 .259 .723 OAK
Bob Johnson
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1944-04-18 1944-04-30 9
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14 .214 .476 .393 .869 BOS
Billy Klaus
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1957-04-16 1957-04-26 9
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17 .148 .477 .185 .662 BOS
14 Jason Heyward
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2011-03-31 2011-04-08 8
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8 .261 .452 .609 1.060 ATL
Russell Martin
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2010-04-05 2010-04-15 8
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9 .364 .545 .591 1.136 LAD
Adam Dunn
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2010-04-05 2010-04-14 8
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11 .136 .441 .182 .623 WSN
Edgar Martinez
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2001-04-02 2001-04-11 8
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13 .462 .641 .692 1.333 SEA
Willie Greene
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1998-03-31 1998-04-08 8
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9 .250 .455 .583 1.038 CIN
Rickey Henderson
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1996-04-01 1996-04-10 8
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12 .207 .452 .379 .832 SDP
Frank Thomas
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1994-04-04 1994-04-13 8
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9 .367 .513 .667 1.179 CHW
Roger Metzger
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1972-04-15 1972-04-23 8
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9 .133 .333 .200 .533 HOU
Al Rosen
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1953-04-14 1953-04-26 8
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12 .391 .600 .696 1.296 CLE
23 Jonny Gomes
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*
2011-03-31 2011-04-09 7
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11 .167 .467 .389 .856 CIN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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: View Play Index Tool Used
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Generated 4/9/2011.

* Gomes’ streak is still active through Saturday, so I put him on the list. There have been 19 other 7-game streaks.

This is some pretty exclusive company. Mantle, Bonds, Henderson (twice), Bagwell, Thomas, and Martinez all rank among the all-time greats. Many of the players with 7-game streaks were great, as well: Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Hank Greenberg, Eddie Mathews, and Joe Morgan. Many of the other players on the list were good, underrated players; this makes sense, since walks have been underrated for most of baseball history.

I love that during the record-setting streak, Darrell Evans otherwise really sucked (.250 SLG!). The great thing about walking a lot is that, even when you are slumping with the bat, you still provide some value to the team. Such is the case with several of the streaks on this list.

Technically speaking, Heyward walked in 9 straight games (he also walked in the last game of 2010). That ties for the longest streak since the start of the 2010 season. The others with 9-game streaks: Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew, Ben Zobrist, Kevin Youkilis, and Franklin Gutierrez. Of these players, Gutierrez is by far the biggest surprise. All the others had walk rate of at least 9.8% last year, well above the league average of 8.5%. Gutierrez, though, came in at 8.0%, which is decent enough but hardly what you’d expect from a guy with a 9-game walk streak.

To answer the question in the post’s title, I’d say that Heyward’s streak is fairly impressive, though not particularly meaningful. What is both impressive and meaningful, however, is Heyward’s plate discipline at such a young age. For a player to start his career at age 20 and walk at a 15% clip in his first year-plus is quite simply, amazing.

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