Joey Votto walks quite frequently. The 2010 NL MVP walks in 14.3% of his plate appearances, which is 77th all-time among players with 2000 or more plate appearances. Nearly everyone who walks this often is a good hitter, but many players are productive at the plate while walking far less often. Votto has drawn 470 walks in a mere 3285 plate appearances, which is about five and a half full-time seasons.
The following is a list of 14 good major league batters who walked fewer times in their careers than Votto has walked so far in his relatively brief career. I make no effort to compare these players to Votto or to one another. This is not an in-depth analysis. There may well be hitters who qualify that were better than some of these guys. I've simply ranked the players by Baseball-Reference's Rbat in their career. This metric measures the number of runs above or below average a player was for his career. Fangraphs has a good explanation of how the site calculates its equivalent of Rbat.
14. Jimmy Collins
426 BB, .294/.343/.409, 113 OPS+, 7452 PA, 116 Rbat
Collins was widely considered the best third baseman in the history of the game during the first half of the 20th century. He actually saved more runs with his glove than he added with his bat according to Baseball-Reference, though the numbers are close enough to call it a push. Collins was the first third baseman to play on the grass to field bunts, which revolutionized the way the position was played (Hamlet, SABR.org). Oh yeah, he's in the Hall of Fame.
13. Thurman Munson
438 BB, .292/.346/.410, 116 OPS+, 5905 PA, 122 Rbat
Munson's untimely death in 1979 at the age of 32 has led to many "what if?"s regarding his career. What if he played until a normal retirement? What if he had hit some big career milestones (1000 RBI, 1000 R, 2000 H)? Would he have made the Hall of Fame? Well, the bad news is that Munson was declining rather precipitously at the time of his demise. His home run totals plummeted in 1978 and '79 (shortened season) while his slugging percentages hovered around .375 in those two years. He was on the wrong side of 30, and there probably wasn't much left in the tank.
12. Felipe Alou
423 BB, .286/.328/.433, 113 OPS+, 7907 PA, 125 Rbat
If you were starting a team, would you rather have the 23-year old Felipe Alou or the 23-year old Moises Alou? (Among there many similarities, both father and son debuted at the same age.) They both hit for average and walked very little, but Moises hit for more power. Felipe was a good fielder, who played more center and right, but also spent a good deal of time at first base. On the other hand, Moises was an indifferent fielder who predominantly played left field.
11. Jack Glasscock
440 BB, .290/.337/.374, 112 OPS+, 7552 PA, 149 Rbat
Pebbly Jack was similar in some ways to Jimmy Collins. Both hit for decent averages and were outstanding fielders. Glasscock twice led the NL in hits and once led the NL in batting average.
10. Cecil Cooper
448 BB, .298/.337/.466, 121 OPS+, 7939 PA, 173 Rbat
Cooper played first base and hit third for the 1982 AL champion Brewers. Harvey's Wallbangers led the AL in runs scored by 77. The club scored 891 runs while the average team scored only 726. Amazingly, old County Stadium in Milwaukee was one of the severest pitcher's parks in the league. This is reflected in the Brewers' league-leading OPS+ of 121.
9. Nomar Garciaparra
403 BB, .313/.361/.521, 124 OPS+, 6116 PA, 188 Rbat
Through the age of 29, Garciaparra had 1231 hits, 272 2B, 173 HR, 685 R, 669 RBI, a slash line of .323/.370/.555 (134 OPS+), and a Rookie of the Year award. One could have been forgiven for thinking that he was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Unfortunately, he lost his glove in a bowl of chowda and couldn't cross Lansdowne Street without pulling a hamstring . . . One of my favorite players as a young fan.
8. Ernie Lombardi
430 BB, .306/.358/.460, 126 OPS+, 6351 PA, 207 Rbat
I know it was a different era, but Lombardi's strikeout totals are rather amazing. In 1938, Lombardi won the NL MVP award with a robust .342/.391/.524 (152 OPS+) while striking out only 14 times. That was the lowest total among the Reds' regulars, though Frank McCormick struck out a mere 17 times despite making 142 more plate appearances. Lombardi is our second Hall of Famer thus far.
7. Tony Oliva
448 BB, .304/.353/.476, 131 OPS+, 6880 PA, 215 Rbat
Much like Nomar Garciaparra, Oliva tore the cover off the ball as a young player, but injuries effectively ended his career without a graceful decline. Oliva led the league in hits, doubles, and average multiple times during the second deadball era of the 1960s. However, his productivity began to wane right as offenses rebounded in the 1970s.
6. Oyster Burns
464 BB, .300/.368/.445, 135 OPS+, 5160 PA, 223 Rbat
Burns played all over the diamond, appearing in the outfield, at shortstop, second base, third base, and even pitching a bit. He was a short man, only 5' 8", but stout and hit for good power. Burns led the National League with 13 home runs in 1890, which was a truly impressive total in that era. Two other players also hit 13 homers that season, but no one else had more than 8.
5. Kirby Puckett
450 BB, .318/.360/.477, 124 OPS+, 7831 PA, 232 Rbat
I first started following baseball in 1995, which was Puckett's last season before glaucoma prematurely ended his career. Much like Munson, there was an assumption that Puckett would have reached some lofty career milestones if it weren't for the disease. How many hits would he have collected? Puckett had 2304 hits when he retired at the onset of his age-36 season. He was still hitting well though he was walking more often, which meant his hit totals weren't quite as gaudy as they had been during his 20s. I think he would have collected 3000 hits, but not too much more than that. Puckett, of course, is in the Hall of Fame.
4. Juan Gonzalez
457 BB, .295/.343/.561, 132 OPS+, 7155 PA, 273 Rbat
Is Juan Gonzalez the worst player to ever win two MVP awards? I think so.
3. Joe Medwick
437 BB, .324/.362/.505, 134 OPS+, 8143 PA, 324 Rbat
Medwick is our fourth Hall of Famer on the list, and he adds another MVP award as well. He won the MVP in 1937 when he won the Triple Crown with a .374 average, 31 home runs, and 154 RBI. Medwick damn near led the National League in every important category that season: Runs, hits, doubles, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. His on-base percentage of .414 was "only" good for fourth. Oddly, it was the only season in which his on-base percentage was above .400 or even .390.
2. Sam Thompson
451 BB, .331/.384/.505, 147 OPS+, 6525 PA, 382 Rbat
Thompson is the fifth and final Hall of Fame on the list, which probably has you wondering who #1 could possibly be . . . Anyway, Thompson was a member of some of the greatest outfields of all-time with the Phillies of the 1890s. From 1891 to '95, Philadelphia's starting outfield consisted of three Hall of Famers: Thompson, Ed Delahanty, and Billy Hamilton. Despite the legendary outfield, the Phils never finished above third in those five years.
1. Pete Browning
466 BB, .341/.403/.467, 163 OPS+, 5315 PA, 400 Rbat
Browning was the original Louisville Slugger, and he certainly deserved the title. When he broke into the American Association as a 21-year old rookie with Louisville in 1882, Browning led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+. His hearing was limited by a lifelong battle with mastoiditis, and he drank heavily to alleviate the pain. The combination of the two resulted in trouble with his sense of balance which carried over to the field. Though a colossus at the plate, he was known to stumble around in the outfield. Via the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:
It was said that Browning could have been replaced in center field by a cigar store Indian to Louisville's advantage. There was always a chance that a drive might bounce off the statue and back to the infield to hold the batter to a double. -- William Curran, Mitts
James also notes that Browning is the subject of many stories due to his odd personality. My personal favorite is that upon hearing of President Garfield's assassination, Browning reportedly "asked who he played for" (p. 748). If you're of the mind that the Hall of Fame should continue to honor all players, even long dead men who played a century ago, then I believe that Browning is worthy of the honor.
So there you have it: 14 good major league hitters who drew fewer walks in their careers than Joey Votto has already drawn in his short career. You have five Hall of Famers, and you could argue for at least two more in Glasscock and Browning. The team has multiple Rookie of the Year and MVP award winners. In fact, if you assembled this team in their prime, then it would almost certainly win the pennant going away even if its pitching was only average. The roster would look something like the following.
C - Ernie Lombardi
1B - Cecil Cooper
2B - Nomar Garciaparra
SS - Jack Glasscock
3B - Jimmy Collins
LF - Joe Medwick
CF - Kirby Puckett
RF - Sam Thompson
DH - Pete Browning
Backup C - Thurman Munson
UTIL - Oyster Burns
OF - Tony Oliva
OF/1B - Felipe Alou
OF - Juan Gonzalez
Hell, you could trade two of the backup outfielders for a couple of good pitchers, and you'd have one of the greatest teams of all-time.