WAR Zone: Luis Arraez’s anti-walking crusade

Why on-base percentage matters. Also, why it doesn’t.

Arraez makes contact in his retro Marlins uniform.

“WAR Zone” is a column by Dominic Varela about some of his favorite stats in baseball and the wacky stories they tell us that runs every Monday.

Luis Arraez needs to stop causing problems.

For years, I’ve echoed the sentiment of Billy Beane in Moneyball to anyone who will listen (a surprisingly low amount): a walk is as good as a hit. I don’t care about “batting average.” At a minimum, I evaluate players based on their on-base percentage and the slew of statistics that complement that figure.

But the Marlins’ Luis Arraez doesn’t care what I think. He’s managed to do something I never thought I’d see: get a hit so often that it makes walking nearly inconsequential.

Nearly halfway through the year, Arraez is tied for 111th in walks (24). But nearly halfway through the year, Arraez leads the league in on-base percentage – by 26 points.

As of June 26, Arraez has a batting average of .399. If he manages to hover above the line over the next week, Arraez will join a microscopic club of hitters since World War II to go into July with an average of over .400.

In late May, his average dropped to a season-low .371. To make up for it, he batted .438 in June and had three five-hit games in a two-and-a-half-week period. Derek Jeter had five such games in his entire career.

Agonizingly, Arraez has managed to do all this while being in the 39th percentile in average exit velocity (speed of the ball off the bat) and just the 2nd percentile in hard-hit rate (percentage of balls hit 95 mph or harder). Basically, it shouldn’t be possible for Arraez to do what he’s been doing because, well, most players need to hit the ball hard to get a hit. But not Arraez.

To put it simply, Luis Arraez gets on base more than anyone in baseball, even though he doesn’t like to walk, and when he puts the ball in play, it doesn’t go that fast. Great. That doesn’t bother me at all.

But let’s take another look at the leaderboard. On the other end of the on-base spectrum is the Padres’ Juan Soto, whose .273 batting average is good for 50th in the league. Certainly not bad, but a far cry from Arraez’s eye-poppingly impossible mark.

Unlike Arraez, however, Juan Soto probably HAS seen Moneyball and chooses to end 20.8% of his plate appearances in a walk. Thanks to his league-leading 71 walks, Soto’s .425 on-base percentage is enough to take the silver medal. Soto and Arraez have been better at getting on base than anyone in baseball, and they’ve done so through completely contrasting methods.

But see, that’s the funny thing about on-base percentage. It does not care if you got on via a walk or a hit, just if you got on base at all. For most players, that probably means a healthy mix of both outcomes. Arraez and Soto have each chosen to focus primarily on one aspect and run with it.

I’m willing to bet that Arraez probably could walk more if he wanted to. After all, it’s not like his plate discipline is lacking; he strikes out less frequently than he walks. In a strikeout-dominated world, his vision and feel-for-the-strike-zone skills are highly exceptional.

But for him — and ONLY him — he doesn’t need to walk more. Walking more would actually be a detriment to not only his game, but the Marlins offense as a whole.

For what seems like the first time in years, the Marlins have life. As of June 26, they have the third-best record in the National League. They’ve won 70% of their games in June. None of that would be possible without Arraez.

That’s because that .400 mark holds a power that no other statistical figure in the sport can. Pitchers fear it. Defenses do their best to stop it. Managers stay up at night, thinking of a way to avoid it.

But most importantly, it gives the Marlins — and Luis Arraez — something to rally behind. And while that league-leading on-base percentage is higher and probably more impressive statistically, I’m willing to bet that the Marlins would let Arraez swing away instead of taking a walk 100 times out of 100.

Because of course, you definitely can get on with a walk. But you can also reach base on a 70-mph single to left field. For one man on this planet, such an unnecessary risk is truly necessary.

And I think Billy Beane would be proud.