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Lars Nootbaar Has a 43.5% Walk Rate and Is a Superstar

You’ve gotta love early season stats.

Pittsburgh Pirates v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

Lars Nootbaar has a 43.5% walk rate.

That’s it. That’s the post.

Ok, I’ll give you a little more than that. Still, isn’t that an amazing small sample size stat? I love early season samples. You get the weirdest data. It’s scrumptious.

And while Nootbaar is not likely to maintain a walk rate that high, it did start me wondering how high his walk rate could get.

Walking is a skill that Nootbaar has mastered in his very short MLB career. Last season, Nootbaar had a 14.7% walk rate in 347 plate appearances. The year before, in just 124 PAs as a rookie, Noot walked 10.5%. He had a walk rate of over 10% in A (13.1%), AA (14.5%), and AAA (12.5%).

That was always the hope with Nootbaar and why he hung out on the back end of prospect lists with a high chance of making the majors even in the lower minors. All a young outfielder who can already walk at an elite-for-the-minor-leagues level and limit K’s has to do to be a productive Major Leaguer bench player is develop a little power.

Noot did that. And more. Now he’s on the verge of not just social media stardom but actual baseball production stardom.

Back to my question. How high could Nootbaar’s walk rate climb?

Well, let’s start at the top. Can you tell me who has the highest single-season walk rate in history?

----- Pause so you can guess -----

If you lived through the late 90s and early 2000s this was an easy quiz for you. The answer, of course, is Barry Bonds who has the 4 highest totals, all in consecutive years. He topped out with a 37.6% BB rate in 2004, the best in history. He trickles that down to 4th place at 26.7% in 2001.

Noot is on pace to be better than Bonds!

The best non-Bonds total is provided by Ted Williams, who walked an impressive 25.9% in 1954.

Let’s do the quiz thing again. Can you tell me who has the Cardinal’s single-season record in walk rate?

----- Pause so you can guess -----

No, it is not Mark McGwire. I know the steroid era probably got you thinking of that. McGwire is second on the list with a 23.8% behind another slugging first baseman from a slightly earlier era.

How many of you knew that it was Jack Clark who holds the Cardinals’ record? 24.3% in 1987. That was the highest total of his career, but he did have two other seasons over 20%. His career BB rate is a very impressive 15.3%.

Before he started with the cream and the clear and broke the home run record in ‘01, Bonds’ walk rate was at 16.9%. It skyrocketed after that as teams became less inclined to pitch to him.

As of today, with his 43.5% included, Nootbaar’s is at 15.0% career.

He’s already in elite company and his career is just getting started.

Juan Soto is MLB’s current walk king, with a 22% walk rate last year and a 19.1% in his career. Aaron Judge had a 16% rate last year and is at 15% for his career. Max Muncy is always up there. So is Carlos Santana. But really, it’s just Soto who is clearly better than Noot.

I guess that’s where we should take a moment and consider what I just wrote.

You probably recognize all those names.

Many of them are among the best hitters this game has ever had. Barry Bonds. Ted Williams. Juan Soto. (Yes, he counts). Aaron Judge.

Jack Clark isn’t an all-timer, but he did have 340 career homers and over 50 fWAR. He was a heckuva player.

Does Nootbaar belong alongside some of those names?

Well, it’s way too early to say one way or the other. But Nootbaar did put up 2.7 fWAR last year in just 347 PAs. This year he started with a wrist injury – which can really sap a player’s power – and he has already provided a .451 wOBA and a 184 wRC+. He has .3 fWAR on the season in 23 PAs.

Man, early season stats are fun! .3 fWAR in 23 PAs. What’s that over 600? It’s 7.8 fWAR. That would win the MVP award.

And it’s not that far out of the realm of possibility for Noot, who will walk and will hit for power and will probably get enough innings in centerfield to bump up his defensive positional adjustment.

Nootbaar only has 23 PAs on the season. He’s seen 87 pitches. He has 8 batted ball events. The sample size this season is beyond tiny. But he’s already done some really impressive things with those plate appearances, even while he walks nearly half the time.

His average exit velocity is 93.9 mph so far. Last year he was in the 90th percentile in all of baseball with 91.7 mph. His max EV this season is already 109.2 mph. That’s short of his high last year of 113. But, again, he has 8 batted ball events.

He’s hitting the ball hard. Very hard. While recovering from a wrist injury.

And he’s walking 43.5% of the time.

Because of his tiny sample size, I shouldn’t mention that Noot has a -13.4 degree launch angle on the season and an 87.5% ground ball rate. Last year that was just 43.8% and 10.7 degrees. He made major strides at keeping the ball in the air once reaching the majors. He had a GB rate of over 50% from A+ through AAA.

If we’re going to make a big deal over his small sample size successes, it’s only fair to mention his small sample size concerns. This season will tell us a lot about how real his improved ground ball rate and exit power are. I suspect they’ll be just fine.

And even if they’re not quite as good as last year, Nootbaar will still be fine. Because he will walk at an elite rate. That batting eye still plays.

Speaking of batting eyes…

Yes. Lars Nootbaar has his own ad promoting a Japanese eye ware company. He’s a superstar. An international superstar. And his performance on the field will likely justify the attention that he’s getting. He should be fun to watch this season… even if all he is doing is walking 43.5% of the time.