By Jesés Pérez Vichot (Chuchi)
Cuban hitters have earned the respect of their opponents and it is no coincidence. This is due to the excellent production that the Caribbean imports have had with the lumber throughout history. If a player’s offensive numbers at the end of a season are positive, it is to be expected that from that moment on his name will be synonymous with respect.
One of the statistics that reflects this tendency to consider or take into account a certain hitter are the intentional bases on balls. It is true that there are several factors that influence when it comes to sending a hitter to first base without the need for a delivery. The batter up, the pitcher’s characteristics, the situation of the game at that moment, the score and more.
However, when we review which players have received the most intentional walks (IBB) in Major League history, they all have a great reputation as hitters. For example, the top six all-time are: Barry Bonds (688), Albert Pujols (316), Stan Musial (298), Hank Aaron (293), Willie McCovey (260) and Ted Williams (258).
Among the Cuban players who have played in the Majors, Rafael Palmeiro (172, tied with Dave Winfield in 32nd place), Tony Pérez (150, tied with three other players in 53rd place) and Tony Oliva (131, tied with two others in 78th place) stand out in this department. Palmeiro’s highest number of IBBs in a season was 22, with the Rangers in 1993. Among Cuban players there is a curious fact: the spectacular shortstop Rey Ordóñez appears along with seven other players in 324th place with 64 IBB in his career.
Rey O’ excelled defensively, but was not a great hitter. In large part this is because the three-time Gold Glover played for eight of the nine seasons he was in MLB in the National League. Mostly Ordóñez had a spot in the lineup ahead of the pitcher (who had to hit back then in the NL) and this logically benefited him in this aspect. It was more feasible for opponents to send him to the first bag to try to dominate the pitcher, who was generally easier to retire.
Among the active players, the highest ranked Cuban is José Abreu (56, tied with eight players in 407th place). Pito’s case is atypical, since the year he received the most intentional base on balls was the year of his MLB debut (2014 with 15 IBB), finishing 5th in the Majors.
In a single season the Cuban with the best record is former shortstop Leo Cárdenas, with 25 in 1965 (tied with many players in 61st place). Cardenas playing for the Reds led the National League two consecutive years in IBB (1965 and 1966) and Tony Oliva with the Twins led the American League in 1968.
This season, Astros slugger Yordan Álvarez ranks eighth in MLB along with Freddie Freeman and Corey Seager (7 IBB each). Alvarez has already received 14 IBBs in his career, a number that should increase considerably. So far, Mets starter Pete Alonso (13) leads the way, followed by Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani (12).
Other active Cuban ballplayers who have received free (intentional) passes in their career are: Aledmys Díaz (13), Jorge Soler (10), Yasmani Grandal 10), Yandy Díaz (7), Randy Arozarena (6), José Iglesias (6), Yoán Moncada (5), Guillermo Heredia (5), Yuli Gurriel (5), Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (3), Luis Robert (2), Adolis García (1) and Yadiel Hernández (1).
There is no discussion, Rafael Palmeiro is the Cuban batter most respected by the rivals historically. As for active players, Pito Abreu rules. But Yordan Álvarez, who is on an impressive pace and just 25 years old, is likely to climb the ranks in IBB in a few years…. and Yordan produces even when he is dominated, he is the fourth most sacrifice flies in the American League (6, tied with Gio Urshela).