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View Full Version : Walk the Walk - Joe P on Walks



westofyou
06-06-2009, 10:37 AM
http://joeposnanski.com/JoeBlog/2009/06/06/walk-the-walk/


Everyone here who would care knows that Iím a big fan of the walk as an offensive weapon.* I think for all the walk talk of the last few years, the walk is STILL underrated. in fact, Iím fairly confident that right now some brilliant reader is already cracking his/her fingers and preparing to write an extensive response about how a walk is not as good as a hit and how you canít drive a runner home from second base with a walk and how teams cannot walk their way to victory and so on.

*It is my appreciation for the walk, no doubt, that makes me DESPISE the intentional walk. Man, do I hate the intentional walk. And so, you can imagine how pleased I was this week to see (thanks to BR Nick) that my old friend Ozzie Guillen blew not one but TWO games against the Oakland Aís with intentional walks. To be fair, he didnít actually BLOW either game since his team was shut out both days Ö the Sox werenít going to win those games. But both ludicrous intentional walks did the exploding cigar in his face.

Tuesday night, with the score 2-0, fifth inning, the Oz made the miraculous decision to intentionally walk Jack Cust with runners on second and third and two outs. Iím a big Jack Cust fan Ö but this would almost never make sense. For one thing, the guyís a lifetime .240 hitter. Yes, he will run into the occasional ball (he had hit a home run earlier in the game against Bartolo Colon, which probably influenced the decision) but heís not really the guy you fear with runners on second and third and two outs.

Here was the real kicker Ö the next batter was MATT HOLLIDAY. As in, the guy with a lifetime .317 batting average. As in the guy with a 131 career OPS+. As in a MUCH BETTER HITTER than Jack Cust. It was as baffling a move as you could make Ö and Matt Holliday smacked the three-run double to prove it.

Move ahead two days. Now the White Sox were trailing 1-0 in the sixth inning. Repeat: The score was 1-0. Runner on second base, one out. And this time, the Oz decided to intentionally walk Ö right, Matt Holliday. At least this one made strategic sense ó lefty Mark Buehrle on the mound and lefty Jason Giambi was coming up and it set up the double play.

But intentional walks in the sixth inning, down 1-0, are always wrong, always, no exceptions, and Giambi put the exclamation point on it with the three-run homer that served justice.

The thing is Ö everyone knows a walk (in some circumstances) is not as good as a hit. In other circumstances, itís just as good as a hit. In rare circumstance, you could argue, a walk could be better than a hit. Joe Morgan always thought so. At least he did when he was a player Ö in a book I keep hearing about, Morgan talks about his perfect run, where he would draw a walk, steal second, steal third and score on a wild pitch or passed ball or short sac fly ó he believed that scoring a run without a hit destroys a pitcherís mental well-being in a way that even a 500-foot homer cannot. This does make sense to me, but obviously thatís just an opinion and anyway, Iím not here to say that a walk is ever better than a hit.

Iím here to say that a walk is NEVER an out. And, because a walk is never an out, itís a powerful offensive weapon. It puts a runner on base, of course. But it also eats up a pitcherís pitch-count. It makes the pitcher throw the from the stretch, opens up the left side of the infield, puts the middle infielders at double play depth. A walk changes the complexion of games Ö and even now, even with all the talk about walks the last few years, I STILL think people wildly underestimate the power of walks.

So, I decided to look at something: How do walks affect games? I decided to look at this because I noticed during the Kansas City Royals horrendous 25-game streak (5-20 now), they have had five games where they walked zero times. Thatís awful, awful baseball. Last year the New York Yankees had only five games ALL YEAR where they walked zero times, and the New York Mets had only four games*.

*Not surprisingly, at least to me, last year the Royals were far and away the leader in games with zero walks.

1. Kansas City, 30 games with zero walks.
2. Seattle, 18
3. Anaheim, 17
4. Pittsburgh, 16
5. Toronto, 15

Anyway, it made me wonder ó how often does a team win when they donít walk. So, I ran a few numbers and came up with this chart that includes all games over the last five years:

Number of walks: Winning percentage

0 walks: .305
1 walk: .363
2 walks: .432
3 walks: .495
4 walks: .547
5 walks: .619
6 walks: .645
7+ walks: .715

I ran the numbers individually for each year Ö they stay pretty consistent. Each of the last five years, teams that walked zero times won anywhere from 28 to 32% of the time. Teams that walk one time won anywhere from 34 to 37% of the time. And so on. There were no wild swings at least not over the last five years. A little later on, I will run a few numbers from years past to see if the walk has gained or lost value over the years.

But for the moment, letís focus on these numbers. Look: There are hundreds of ways you can break down baseball games. For instance, you can break down games by the number of hits a team gets, the number of times they strike out, the number of doubles they hit and so on. You can break down a team by the number of homers a team gets per game Ö generally, teams that do not hit a home run in a game win at about a .350 clip, and you can add about 150 points of winning percentage for every homer they hit. Here are the numbers since 2004:

Homers per game: Winning Percentage

0 homers: .342
1 homer: .512
2 homers: ..647
3 homers+: .764

Thatís interesting enough Ö those numbers stay consistent too. But home runs are not easily controllable events. A team cannot really PLAN to come into a game and hit two or more home runs in a game. I mean they can TRY to plan it, but home runs are a combination of many factors. A lot depends on the ballpark (the Chicago White Sox led baseball with 69 games of 2+ homers, and the Philadelphia Phillies led the NL with 62 and both play in bandboxes), the weather, the wind direction, the opposing pitcher, the closeness of the game (will they bring in the closer? Is the pitcher nibbling?), the size of your payroll (sluggers are expensive), the liveliness of the ball and numerous other difficult to measure variables such as which hitters get the mistake pitches.

But walks Ö sure, there are variables with walks too. But in large part, a team can have a plan to walk a lot. A team can be be built to walk a lot. There have been countless stories written about the Tampa Bay Rays last year and why they were so successful. Well, the Rays had a lousy batting average, and they were middle of the pack as sluggers. True, they were second in the league in ERA, but, Toronto was No. 1 by a lot, and the Rays finished 11 games ahead of the Blue Jays.

Walks? Could be. The Rays went 44-15 in games they walked five times or more Ö those 44 wins were the most in baseball. Meanwhile, they only had six games all year where they walked 0 times, among the lowest totals in baseball.

The 2008 Rays by the walk numbers:

Walks: Record
0 walks: 1-5
1 walk: 8-8
2 walks: 16-12
3 walks: 16-16
4 walks: 12-9
5 walks: 14-8
6 walks: 11-4
7 walks+: 19-3

Thereís something to this, I think. Compare those numbers to the Kansas City Royals of 2008:

Walks: Record
0 walks: 13-17
1 walk: 8-23
2 walks: 13-19
3 walks: 16-10
4 walks: 7-7
5 walks: 7-8
6 walks: 10-2
7 walks+: 1-1

The Royals had a preposterous 61 games when they walked once or fewer ó far and away the most in baseball. They went 21-40 in those games. When they walked even TWO TIMES, they actually had a winning record last year. But it didnít happen nearly enough.

The Rays, on the other hand, had only 22 games where they walked fewer than two times.

That was why I was excited to hear Royals general manager Dayton Moore talk about the importance of on-base percentage during the off-season. I know itís too simplistic, but Iím convinced that for the Royals offense to go, they need to walk. Theyíre not going to slug with teams Ö and anyway, Kauffman Stadium is a tough home run park. They are a million miles away from building a speed-based team. I figured they HAD to go out, get some scrappy offensive players, guys who foul off pitches, walk a ton, can wear down pitchers. Those arenít easy guys to find but, hey, nobody said the job is easy.

Anyway, the Royals went entirely the other way. They spent the last two off-seasons acquiring and signing guys like Jose Guillen, Miguel Olivo, Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs, who donít walk. They have given 789 plate appearances to Tony Pena since the beginning of the 2007 season, and he has walked 17 times. Their own players ó David DeJesus, Billy Butler, Mark Teahen ó donít walk much either, even though all three had at one point shown promise.

Now, thereís only so much any general manager and manager and hitting coach can do. Maybe the Royals DO have walking as a high priority and theyíve simply been unable to execute their plan. Maybe they canít find players with plate discipline. Maybe they are trying to teach it, but it just isnít taking.

Iíll be honest though: It just doesnít look that way. I think that while the Royals have had a pointed and lucid plan for building the pitching staff, theyíve been drifting in the wind offensively. They brought in Crisp and Jacobs and Guillen and hoped. They tried to find a middle infielder, could not, and went into the season with Mike Aviles, who was overmatched. They have left first baseman Kila Kaíaihue in Class AAA ó the guy walked more than 100 times in the minors last year, and he has a .431 on-base percentage down in Omaha this year.

They talked about walking more, they hired a hitting coach in Kevin Seitzer who preaches discipline and hitting the ball up the middle, and for a while the Royals were getting on base at a surprising rate. But as they say, water finds its own level ó or as running back Priest Holmes always used to say: ďA cornerback can PRETEND to be a safety. But sooner or later, heíll go back to being a cornerback.Ē

Meaning: The Royals are not built to walk. The last 25 games, the Royals are averaging barely more than two walks per Ö thatís a good way to go on a 5-20 run.

I promised earlier than I would do a quick look back to see if the walk has become more valuable over time. Well, Iíll try this chart. Not sure how it will line up.



Walks 0 BBs 1-4 BBs 5+ BBs
2009 0.280 0.462 0.623
1995 0.297 0.449 0.655
1985 0.260 0.467 0.644
1975 0.299 0.460 0.635
1965 0.276 0.474 0.653
1955 0.223 0.468 0.607

camisadelgolf
06-06-2009, 09:04 PM
So what he's saying is that if your team is walked more, they will win more? If the opposing pitcher is wild, the team he's facing has a better chance of winning? If it's something like that, that's pretty revolutionary. ;)

What's the correlation between hits in a game and winning percentage? I'd bet that a team with zero hits wins a lot more often than a team with zero walks.

I think this could have been a good article if it had delved more into the effectiveness of intentional walks, but it hardly scratched the surface. I'm usually a fan of yours, Joe, but this article really disappointed me.

And if someone wants to turn this into a discussion about the Reds and 'base-clogging', keep in mind that the Reds preach pitching to contact as opposed to pitching around hitters.

westofyou
06-06-2009, 10:04 PM
What's the correlation between hits in a game and winning percentage?

The tools are out there, do the leg work and add something to the piece. Anyone can be a critic, but it takes the leg work to produce the stuff folks criticize.

camisadelgolf
06-06-2009, 10:58 PM
The tools are out there, do the leg work and add something to the piece. Anyone can be a critic, but it takes the leg work to produce the stuff folks criticize.
I'd love to. Care to point me in the right direction?

TheNext44
06-06-2009, 11:23 PM
Anyone who has read JoePoz knows that he wrote that article more to demonstrate how miserable the Royals have been, than to make any type of statement about the values of walks. He does loves walks, no doubt about it, but his focus is always one the level of suck that the Royals maintain.

What this does suggest, (it is too incomplete to prove anything), is that walks are very valuable, and contribute to winning, and more importantly, that not walking contributes to losing. This might be obvious to Redszone members, but not to the casual fan, which is JoePoz's audience.
To be honest, many casual fans don't think that walks lead to victories. Most fans thinks they are nice, but that they are not an important part of winning. This is just one more piece of evidence that suggests that they are.

kpresidente
06-06-2009, 11:41 PM
I'd love to. Care to point me in the right direction?

Nice. Your criticism of the article certainly contributed more than his criticism of your criticism. No sarcasm.

RedlegJake
06-06-2009, 11:46 PM
Redzoners may not be aware either that JoePoz is making reference partially to the Royals strong emphasis on hitters walking and working counts this year, which has led to them hitting behind on a LOT of at bats. The team just isn't a walk capable lineup with disciplined hitters, or guys who are very good hitting behind in the count. Imo, one of their problems is they've become very tentative at the dish, and other teams are using it against them. Why use caution in not throwing too good a first strike if you know they aren't swinging? Despite the emphasis the Royals AREN'T getting the walks because there hitters just aren't dangerous enough, especially when you can get them in a hole quickly. It worked at first but the league's pitching has adjusted and know Hilman and Seitzer are hard line about taking pitches so they've turned it around on the Royals.

westofyou
06-07-2009, 12:30 AM
Nice. Your criticism of the article certainly contributed more than his criticism of your criticism. No sarcasm.

Yeah, I'm a jerk.

westofyou
06-07-2009, 12:30 AM
I'd love to. Care to point me in the right direction?

www.retrosheet.org.

SunDeck
06-07-2009, 08:37 AM
I think this is an interesting confluence of old time philosophy and fancy pants number crunching, but I can't say I have really ever read or heard anyone saying walks are inferior to hits, except maybe where runners are already on. And even with that, I can't honestly say I've ever heard anyone groan when a player walked rather than hit in a RBI situation. (Marty may have criticized Dunn's strike outs, but I can't remember him complaining when the guy reached on a walk).

On the other hand, from the first game I ever played the game one thing has been drummed into my head- make the pitcher throw. This is old time baseball thinking; the more pitches a guy throws, the more you get to know him. The more he throws, the less gas he has in the tank and I am sure someone has looked at those numbers- winning percentage when a team faces increasingly higher numbers of pitches per inning. It ought to correlate roughly to what Posnanski is saying here because after all, walks represent at least four pitches per at bat.

But the real advantage to reaching base, whether by walk, aside from representing a run, is that it earns you an extra out in the game. The better a batter protects the plate and extends the at bat, the more likely it is that he will earn a walk and the more likely it is that the run producers will get their fourth and fifth at bats in a game.

It's a thing of beauty to me, watching a good batter defend the plate, waiting for his pitch- the one he wants, where he wants it and if he earns a walk he may have cost that pitcher ten or twelve pitches on top of earning the extra out for his team. Conversely it is endlessly maddening to watch players who hack away without regard for the place of each pitch within the context of the game.

Chip R
06-07-2009, 09:57 AM
I think this is an interesting confluence of old time philosophy and fancy pants number crunching, but I can't say I have really ever read or heard anyone saying walks are inferior to hits, except maybe where runners are already on. And even with that, I can't honestly say I've ever heard anyone groan when a player walked rather than hit in a RBI situation.


Good one. :lol:

camisadelgolf
06-07-2009, 11:35 PM
So what he's saying is that if your team is walked more, they will win more? If the opposing pitcher is wild, the team he's facing has a better chance of winning? If it's something like that, that's pretty revolutionary. ;)

What's the correlation between hits in a game and winning percentage? I'd bet that a team with zero hits wins a lot more often than a team with zero walks.

I think this could have been a good article if it had delved more into the effectiveness of intentional walks, but it hardly scratched the surface. I'm usually a fan of yours, Joe, but this article really disappointed me.

And if someone wants to turn this into a discussion about the Reds and 'base-clogging', keep in mind that the Reds preach pitching to contact as opposed to pitching around hitters.
I just realized that I had a major typo in this post. The typo made it look like I was trying to be sarcastic, which may have completely changed the tone of my post. I didn't mean to come off as cynical as I did. Anyway, westofyou, retrosheet is giving me server errors (500) at the moment. Even without the errors, I wouldn't know how to find an efficient way to correlate the number of hits with winning percentage like Joe Posnanski did with walks. Could you maybe help guide me a little more? I'm sure you believe there's a higher correlation with hits and winning than walks and winning, so it's not like it's necessary, but I think it could be an interesting number to have, and I'd love to post it after I find it.