Saturday, June 06, 2009

In praise of the base-on-balls (ie. "the walk")

The basketball season is nearing an end, thank God.

No disrespect, but it's just not my game. I really can't stand to watch a whole game on TV, except maybe if the Rockets are playing a playoff game or there's an NCAA tournament game that catches my fancy.

Perhaps it's because I never played much of the game. Played two years in junior high, none after that. And our team, the Cedar Bayou Junior High Bears, were atrociously bad. None of us really grew up playing the game much. To call our game a Chinese Fire Drill would be an insult to the Chinese, to quote my friend Wilson in St. Louis (who not only is an avid hoops fan but hosts a weekly pickup game in the alley behind house, not to mention coaching youth teams.)

So, anyway, with basketball nearing an end, we all can focus our attention on baseball. Now, I know many of you can't stand the game, for any number of misguided reason, but I'm sorry to say this is simply ignorance talking.

This all is leading up to this link to a piece by Joe Posnanski, who is an excellent baseball writer up in Missouri.

It's about the importance of the "walk," officially known in your boxscore as a base-on-balls.

It's real important to winning games, Joe writes:

The thing is … everyone knows a walk (in some circumstances) is not as good as a hit. In other circumstances, it’s 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 … 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 — he believed that scoring a run without a hit destroys a pitcher’s mental well-being in a way that even a 500-foot homer cannot. This does make sense to me, but obviously that’s just an opinion and anyway, I’m not here to say that a walk is ever better than a hit.

I’m here to say that a walk is NEVER an out. And, because a walk is never an out, it’s a powerful offensive weapon. It puts a runner on base, of course. But it also eats up a pitcher’s 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 … and even now, even with all the talk about walks the last few years, I STILL think people wildly underestimate the power of walks.


… 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 … 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.

If you find this preposterously boring, then you don't love baseball, but I urge you to give it a chance. It's a great sport, and it was invented right here in America.

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