You wouldn't think that Orioles outfielder Adam Jones and Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams have much in common. Both measure 6'3", but the Oriole gives up 35 pounds to the hulking Cardinals. Jones is entrenched in center field, a premium defensive position, and playing it well in 2014 while having perhaps the best defensive season of his career. If Adams plays another position besides first base in his career, you can bet it will be designated hitter.
So where's the common thread? Both have had excellent offensive seasons, but uniquely, both are soaring despite miniscule walk rates.
Jones, playing in his third straight All-Star Game Tuesday, has never been much of a walker, but his walk rate has still dropped to new lows this season, with the outfielder drawing a walk in only 2.7 percent of his plate appearances. His 69 strikesouts and 11 walks give him a 0.16 BB/K ratio, the third-lowest mark in the league among qualified hitters. Despite this low ratio, he hit .301/.321/.486 with 16 home runs in 385 at-bats over the first half.
Adams had done a decent job of drawing walks in his short career coming into 2014, but that can't be said for this season, with the first baseman managing a free pass in just 2.8 percent of his plate appearances. He's struck out 61 times while drawing just nine walks, meaning he owns a 0.15 BB/K ratio, second-worst in the league among qualified hitters. Like Jones, Adams has shrugged off the lack of walks to hit .329/.345/.532 with 11 home runs and 301 at-bats.
Hitting .300 while walking so rarely isn't common. Doing so with any modicum of power is near impossible. Both Adams and Jones rate behind Braves third baseman Chris Johnson's 0.12 BB/K ratio, but Johnson has managed to hit just .277/.301/.378 while hitting only six home runs. That's more in line with what you would expect from a guy who doesn't walk.
Since 1995, a batter has managed to post a BB/K ratio of 0.16 ratio or lower just 13 times over a full season while qualifying for a batting title. Only two of those 13 seasons featured a guy hitting .300, and both did it right on the nose. One was Shawon Dunston, who also owns one of the other low BB/K seasons, hitting .296 that year. The other was Alfonso Soriano -- more on him in a second. None of the other 10 batters to accomplish the feat hit better than .281, and none posted a slugging percentage better than those of Adams and Jones this year.
And then we have Soriano. In 2002, he walked just 3.1 percent of the time with the Yankees while posting a 0.15 BB/K ratio. But he also managed to hit .300/.332/.547 with 39 home runs in 696 at-bats. Is the exception that proves the rule?
Out of the lowest 20 BB/K ratios of the last 20 years, Soriano's .335 BABIP is the highest mark in that category. That brings us back to Jones, who owns a .327 BABIP, and Adams, who checks in with a .376 BABIP.
Jones isn't going to turn in a season like Soriano's 2002 campaign, but he's certainly proven capable of delivering quality production across the board, even when he doesn't take a large amount of walks. He may not maintain a .300 batting average, but it shouldn't fall all that far. In fact, Jones has turned in a BB/K ratio under 0.20 two other times in his last four years and still managed productive offensive numbers, including last year's .285/.318/.493 line with 33 home runs. Translation: He'll be fine.
Adams is likely headed for a fall. While he's an excellent power hitter, he shouldn't be competing for a batting title, yet he's second in the National League behind Troy Tulowitzki and his .345 batting average. His BABIP will likely regress, and without showing an improved ability to take walks, his aggressiveness should be exploited over the second half. His excellent power potential coupled with an extremely fortunate batting average make him a clear sell-high in fantasy leagues.