A batter drawing a walk is a good thing. If you have seen the movie or read the book, Moneyball, you know that Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane is a big advocate of hitters drawing walks. His philosophy is that you need runners to get on base for hitters to drive them in to score runs. One thing Beane does not have to worry about though is his pitchers having to hit.
Drawing a walk is typically a good thing. Most coaches will tell you the cliché that a walk is as good as a hit. Although it doesn’t help a hitter’s batting average to draw a walk, it does increase his on-base percentage. Having a runner on base is always a good thing since it means the offense is 90 feet closer to scoring a run. Or is it?
When a pitcher is on-deck to hit, the defense usually has an option to pitch around the current batter to force the pitcher to hit. Unless the bases are loaded with nowhere to put another runner, an open base with the pitcher hitting next means there is a likely chance the pitcher will reach the batter’s box. If it is late in a game or close enough to where a team can’t afford to have a pitcher swing the bat, they could opt for a pinch hitter.
So when is a walk not as good as a hit? When the pitcher is on deck with two outs and the bases aren’t loaded. It may load the bases, but the odds of those runs scoring are greatly diminished.
Can pitchers come through in the clutch when hitting? Of course. Pitchers have batting averages too, as well as RBIs and an even an occasional home run. However, I think most coaches would rather have a position player swinging at a borderline pitch trying to put the ball in play rather than have him draw a walk and leave it up to the pitcher to help himself out.
Although there is a smaller chance of scoring a run with a pitcher hitting rather than a position player, you don’t want a player swinging at balls in the dirt on 3-0 just to get another pitch. If he strikes out, then you are left with the pitcher leading off the next inning. Either way, it is not a good outcome for the team trying to score. Pitchers are pitchers for a reason – they get paid to throw the ball, not hit it.
If Billy Beane were the GM of a National League team, his philosophy on walks might change a little bit. Walks create opportunities to score by putting men on base. But if you put a position player on base and leave it up to the pitcher to drive them in, that team probably isn’t going to lead the league in runs scored. Beane could possibly use pinch hitters early in the game for pitchers; he might even opt to use one every time unless there is an opportunity for a sacrifice bunt.
Walks are offensively productive, but make sure you know who is hitting behind you before looking for a walk just because there are three balls in the count.