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Eddie Yost and the Walking Men

Yesterday morning, Eddie Yost, also know as “The Walking Man,” passed away at 86. Yost had a long career as a third baseman from 1944 to 1962, mostly with the Washington Senators. He also spent a couple of years playing for the Tigers before being selected in the pre-1961 expansion draft by the Angels and spending his final two seasons there. After he retired as a player, Yost coached in Washington, then with the Mets during the “Miracle Mets” era. His last coaching job was as third base coach for the Red Sox from 1977 to 1984. Of more interest for those reading this blog is how many walks Yost drew despite having little power. Now if we could just solve the mystery of his nickname. Oh wait, I’ve got it:0 the local scribe was a big fan of Giacometti.

In the New Historical Abstract, Bill James ranks Eddie Yost as the 24th-best third baseman of all-time. Yost also has the distinction of being the first third baseman to play 2000 games. Yost’s teams were mostly terrible, and he never went to the playoffs, although that is hardly his fault. Yost did make the All-Star game in 1952 despite it being one of his lesser seasons. Yost never played in the minors, and got into the majors out of high school (with a short break for military service). Here is a fun “wow, things have changed” fact: During the off-season, Yost went to New York University, eventually getting his master’s degree in Physical Education in 1954. I have not found any accounts of how his in-depth knowledge of dodge ball strategy informed his defensive positioning.

As one might have guessed, Yost is best known for walks. While it is true that in his Washington years he played in a park that severely limited home runs, I am skeptical of James’ claim that the park cost him “90 percent of his power” (558). This is not he place to get into the meaning of individuals’ observed home/road splits, however. His manager did not worry too much about the park effect one way or the other, noting Yost’s on-base skills and putting him at the top of the order. Yes, way back in the good old days, a team put a guy who never managed to double-digit steals in a single season at the top of the batting. Then again, that is probably why Yost’s teams never won, am I right?

For his career, Yost had a respectable 114 wRC+. Check out the his line, though: .254/.394/.371. A guy who almost never hit for average and slugged .400 or better only once in his major-league career (.403 in 1950) still managed to have almost a .400 on-base percentage. While he did not strike out much (only 10 percent of his career plate appearances versus a 17.6 percent walk rate) He was not a high-BABIP speedster with patience like Richie Ashburn, either. Yost’s career BABIP was .273, and, as we have seen, he was not much of a burner. It was not as if his power (.118 career isolated power, with a career high of .157 in 1959) was scaring people off, either.

To get a sense of just how incredible Yost’s walk rate was, take a look at some of his peers. Yost debuted in 194 and had 9175 career plate appearances, so I (somewhat arbitrarily) limited my search to players with at least 6000 career plate appearances who debuted in 1940 or later. That peer group is 407 players. Here is an exhaustive list of players who debuted since 1940, received at least 6000 career plate appearances, and had a career higher walk rate than Eddie Yost’s 17.6 percent (it would be better to normalize for era, but that introduced too many complications for this brief tribute post):

Barry Bonds, 20.3 percent

Yep, that’s it. The one player out of our group who had a better walk rate than Yost had a career .309 isolated power. The next five players on the list are Mickey Mantle, Mark McGwire, Jim Thome, Frank Thomas, and Joe Morgan. The only player on that list not known as a monster power hitter is Joe Morgan, whose .156 ISO is still considerably higher than Yost’s .118.

Now, all of those guys are Hall of Famers (or should be eventually). Yost was nowhere close to being on their level as a hitter. In a way, however, that makes his achievement that much more amazing. Teams had little reason to pitch around his power. Yet he still managed to walk more than almost every player with careers of similar length, and thus made himself into a very valuable offensive asset.