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When Drawing a Walk is a Bad Thing

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.

drawing a walk

Do you really want a pitcher hitting after drawing a walk by the last batter?

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.

Comments

  1. I think there are a number of factors to consider here, but the first thing to consider is the likeliness of the position player driving in a run vs. the likeliness that the pitcher does so. Remember, that each situation will be different, so the inning, the number of men on base, the score at the time will all impact the decision. Is the 8th man twice as likely to score the run than the pitcher? Or is it only 10% more likely? Remember that each will face a different situation (# of men on base).

    Replacing the pitcher every time he bats in a situation like this may not make sense… if it is in the first 2 innings of the game then you will have to tax your bullpen in order to try to score runs that may not change the outcome of the game. For instance, if you wind up winning the game 10-1 and you scored 1 run as a result of pulling your starter in the 2nd inning, then you have unnecessarily made your bullpen pitch extra innings.

    The number of men on base will also impact your decision. Taking a walk when it will load the bases is more effective than taking a walk when it doesn’t load the bases. This is it increases the expectation of scoring runs, since if the pitcher takes a walk then a run would score. Also, the pitcher may be more likely to get a hit if the opposing pitcher is forced to throw strikes to him, as he will not want to give up a run by walking the pitcher!

    Finally, the score matters. If you are well ahead in a game, then it may help your odds of winning to keep your pitcher in the game for longer. Another possibility is that you are so far behind that it is unlikely that you will win anyhow. Technically a game is NEVER out of reach, but baseball is a long season. You don’t want to burn up your bullpen by replacing the pitchers too frequently in a game that you have very little chance of winning. Far better to save your pitchers arms for the next days in a game that you have a better chance of winning.

    Finally, you have the opposing pitchers pitch count to consider. By taking a walk instead of swinging away you force the opposing pitcher to throw more pitches. This can be especially important against phenomenal pitchers that you need to wear down and tire them out over 7+ innings. It is hard to knock an ace out of the game by hitting him and scoring runs, so the only alternative is to make him throw so many pitches that he becomes less effective or too tired to continue. In this case, it is good to take a walk, as every additional pitch will get you closer to an opportunity to hit less effective pitches (whether from the tired pitcher or his replacement).

    I know this is a really old post, but I enjoyed thinking through this. Hope you enjoy my comments.

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