By In Baseball

More Intentional Walk Talk

From NBC SportsWorld:

Yes. I still despise the intentional walk. Harper’s historic and frustrating seven plate appearance, zero at-bat day was a good enough reason to gripe again.*

*Many people have written already to blame Dusty Baker for not hitting Daniel Murphy behind Harper. That’s fair.

Many people have written already to say it’s not fair to blame Cubs manager Joe Maddon for just doing what he believes is right to win. That’s fair too.

But I’m not saying either of those things. I’m talking about the intentional walk (and really all pitch arounds) in a bigger sense.

Walk it Out

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43 Responses to More Intentional Walk Talk

  1. invitro says:

    Intentional walks are almost like you were able to foul a basketball player -intentionally-. Can you imagine that?

    • wogggs says:

      That is simply nonsense. No one would ever allow that…. Hey, did you see the NBA game last night? The last minute and a half took 20 minutes to play and they shot 15 free throws. I was on the edge of my seat.

    • MikeN says:

      The intentional walk does not end the inning. The intentional foul and free throws ends the possession, with the team getting pretty close to their average amount for the play, with high variability.

      • invitro says:

        I’m just being silly. I hate the intentional walk as much as Joe, and I’m not a fan of the intentional foul, either. I don’t blame managers/coaches/players for using them, of course, I blame the fans for not demanding better game rules.

        • Go Indians says:

          I am indifferent to the intentional walk, but I don’t watch basketball because of the intentional foul. It seems anti sport to intentionally break the rules in sight of the referee in order to gain an advantage. You should never get an advantage from getting caught breaking the rules.

          I am a Cleveland fan hoping to see an eventual champ, but I’ve probably only watched 15 minutes of Lebron’s entire career.

  2. wogggs says:

    “I don’t know why anyone would throw a strike to Bryce Harper for the rest of the season.” I so hope this is the game’s slogan. I would giggle every time I heard it. Maybe they could have famous people saying it and then cut it together like they do openings of playoff and World Series games.

  3. Sadge says:

    “The Hack-a-Shaq preys on a player’s weakness: Shaq can’t shoot free throws. The intentional walk allows teams to elude players’ strengths.”

    Not seeing how this argument backs up anything here. By hacking Shaq instead of the good shooter with the ball, you are eluding that other player’s strength. And in this case, you are preying on the next batter’s weakness compared to Harper. In both cases, you are taking advantage of the rules to avoid the better player.

    I don’t love the intentional walk but it is a strategy within the rules. And good teams have to figure out how to beat this strategy if it is used against them. Until the rules change, managers will continue to use it until you have a player that can make them pay.

    • professorbohn says:

      Football teams do this all the time and no one complains. Quarterbacks attacked weaker corners rather than throw at Deion Sanders. Kickoff teams kick away from great return men—especially once they’ve been burned in that game. Heck, defenses double or even triple team elite receivers to prevent passes from going to them. I never see anyone say that squib kicks need to be taken out of the rules

  4. Scott says:

    One potential option is to pay close attention to where the pitch is thrown and if they’re out of the batter’s box, call it a balk. It seems to happen frequently and would be a major deterrent if pitchers started to balk-in runs. That being said, good pitchers would likely be able to split the difference and we’d be back at square one.

    • Gene says:

      I think you are referring to a catcher’s balk. Technically, the catcher is not permitted to leave the catcher’s box until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. I have watched and played in countless games over the past 54 years and have never seen it called. It could make the IBB more interesting, especially when the pitcher’s control is a bit off (like Rick Ankiel.)

    • Kuz says:

      If I understand this correctly, then a pitch out would be a balk.

  5. I think Joe Maddon is the best manager in baseball, but nobody loves the intentional walk more than he does. He achieved notoriety by intentionally walking Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded, which is the type of stunt that can win you the battle but lose you the war. Sure you won the game, but how many fans did you turn off by using that cheap ploy? Why would anyone want to watch a game in which the best players never get to perform in a meaningful situation? Maddon could care less that he’s killing the sport by pitching around the game’s best hitter even with the game’s best pitcher on the mound, he got the W, and that’s all that matters.

    I think that making a 4 pitch walk worth 2 bases is an intriguing solution. You don’t want a walk to be too appealing, otherwise you’ll have hitters trying to work a walk every time up, but if you force pitchers to throw one hittable pitch per at bat or face a two-base penalty, I think that’s a fair trade. So how do we make it happen?

    • invitro says:

      I’m sure you know that Maddon’s job is to win games and develop his team, not present an aesthetically appealing strategy. It’s the fans’ responsibility to require the MLB bosses do that.

  6. MikeN says:

    How do any of these solutions prevent teams from doing unintentional walks?

  7. King John says:

    If this continues, then almost as a form of protest it would be awesome to see Harper swing at the intentional walk.

  8. invitro says:

    I favor Bill James’ solution, whatever it is. I think it’s just two bases for a four-pitch walk, but it may be more complicated. No one alive understands how to balance the penalty more than Bill.

  9. First, I know that MLB would like to forget Barry Bonds, but take a look at his walk totals. Bryce Harper isn’t the first, and Joe Maddon isn’t the Tom Edison of this problem.

    Second, we could always go with the method that Don Drysdale supposedly used. The story is that Walt Alston signaled that he should walk Frank Robinson intentionally. Drysdale told John Roseboro to get in his crouch and went through the signs until Roseboro flashed the knockdown, Drysdale nodded, his F. Robby in the ribs, and prompted Alston to run to the mound. Drysdale’s reasoning? “Why waste four pitches?”

    Finally, if Bryce Harper keeps yelling obscenities at umpires who have ejected him for being a jerk, he may not have many more at-bats anyway.

  10. Marc Schneider says:

    I don’t have a problem with the intentional walk. I’m a Nats fan but it was the Nats job (ie, Zimmerman) to make the strategy sub-optimal. He did not. My problem with the Hack-a-Shaq in basketball is not the idea of it but the effect on the flow of the game. A professional basketball player should be able to make free throws and, if he can’t, why not foul him. It’s like saying, in tennis, this player’s backhand is weak, so I’m going to hit to his/her backhand all the time. But, in the context of a basketball game, the strategy disrupts the flow of the game because it stops a after every foul. In baseball, walks happen anyway and it doesn’t really slow the game down any more than it already is. I have no issue with it if it works. If Zimmerman had hit a home run, no one would be saying Maddon is a genius.

    I’m not a baseball purist, but I think changing the IBB rule would be like trying to outlaw the shift. I just don’t see the sense. If the team isn’t good enough to make the other team pay for the strategy, that’s their tough luck.

    • Brett says:

      I think I agree with Marc on this one. The IBB creates the necessity of a team.

      Think of how much variance there is in who’s at the plate in a given situation. The IBB allows the other team to mange that variance. If the batting team’s roster isn’t suited to counter the move, then the better team will win more times than not. Disallowing this strategy would create much more variance and allow a poor team with one great hitter to be rewarded more than it should be over 162 games.

      I like the comparison to the triangle-in-two defense. You’re taking away the other team’s best player but accepting added risk of another player beating you.

  11. Brent says:

    Of course, walking Harper worked this time, but it has been proven that walking a player every time is a VERY dumb strategy. I think Bill James took a team of average players, put them with Babe Ruth and ran simulations where Ruth was walked every time and ran some when he wasn’t. The teams with him walking every time broke scoring records.

    • otistaylor89 says:

      I totally agree.
      You are now putting a lot of pressure on the pitcher to get the next guy out, a guy who is probably not happy that the other team thinks they can. It worked in this case because Zimmerman is a mess, but it is not a long term winning strategy.

  12. shagster says:

    What if the intentional walk ‘returns’ an out to the walked Team?

  13. Alex says:

    Is anyone having trouble accessing these articles? Anything I click on at NBC Sports just takes me back to Joe’s author page with all his articles…

  14. Grzegorz Brzeszczyszczykiewicz says:

    It wouldn’t be so automatic if the catcher’s balk rule would be enforced.

  15. Brian says:

    A player who is intentionally walked in every at bat would have the most valuable season in the history of baseball. The defensive team isn’t avoiding that player’s skills, they’re letting that player beat them by default. A guy who was so good that he was walked in all 650 of his plate appearances might be worth $100 million a year.

    In this way, the intentional walk isn’t like any of the strategies mentioned in the article. It’s not Hack-A-Shaq, it’s fouling Steph Curry once he gets the ball, knowing he will hit to free throws because at least they didn’t score three points. It’s taking a knee instead of punting, because at least now it wasn’t returned for a touchdown.

  16. Jack Bartram says:

    And for the record, the Tigers walked Harper 3 times in the next game. I’m a Nats’ fan, and I think it sucks for the fans and the game to see the bat taken out of Harper’s hands. Having said that, I do have one quibble with you, Joe.

    You said that the Hack-a-Shaq strategy exploits a player’s weakness, mainly the player being fouled’s inability to shoot free throws. But one could argue that walking Harper exploits a team’s weakness in a game where team matters a lot more than in the NBA. If the Nats don’t want Harper walked, protect him in the order.

    That said, at this point the way Harper is swinging the bat, the Nats have no one that can protect him. As well as Murphy has hit so far, you’d still walk Harper to get to Murphy 95 times out of 100. Unless the Nats can get a Goldschmidt or a Trout or a Cabrera or someone of that magnitude, teams are still going to be better served to pitch to whoever rather than Harper.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      Agreed, and Zimmerman hit two home runs last night. And, as you say, Murphy is not going to hit .390 for the year; eventually, teams would rather face him than Harper, especially given the disparity in power. Zimmerman is much more likely to hit a home run behind Harper than Murphy, at least based on their career numbers.

  17. Steve Adey says:

    At any given time, a ball team is supposed to have nine guys playing who can hit. (Yes, I expect NL pitchers to be competent.) If an intentional walk is a “problem” because the next batter can’t hit for beans, I’d say I’d say the real problem is the team lacks balance. Tough luck.

    • professorbohn says:

      I doubt the Nationals are complaining. In the long run, getting free baserunners benefits the offense. If teams want to put Harper on base every time he comes up, they’re going to pay

  18. professorbohn says:

    Yes, I’d rather see Harper swing than just stand there. But, this fouling Shaq argument isn’t the analogy you want.

    The analogy is Deion Sanders. You can read any number of articles citing Sanders’ greatness because quarterbacks would simply not throw to his side of the field. (He’s not the only CB this was said about, of course, as the same was often said about Nnamdi Asomugha, at least when he was in Oakland.) If a QB decided to not throw at him, no one complained that the fans were being robbed the chance to watch him get an interception, have an exciting return, and possibly score a touchdown.

    Or what about great returners? If Devin Hester returns a kick for a touchdown, and the next kick is angled out of bounds, or to the other return man, do we complain that the kicking team is somehow going against the spirit of the game? If a team squib kicks it to an up-back who immediately falls on the ball, are they criticized because what they’re doing isn’t in the aesthetically pleasing? Wouldn’t the last minute of a two-point football game be more exciting if the offense *had* to run the ball into the defense, risking a fumble, rather than being able to simply kneel down?

    I never see anyone complaining about all of these anti-competitive practices in the NFL ruining the aesthetics of the game.

  19. John says:

    What if the penalty for walking a hitter increased by a base each time you walked him? Walk Harper the first time, he goes to first. Second time, he goes to second. Third time, to third. Etc. As it goes along, somewhere the other team would have to take a chance on pitching to him rather than giving away runs, I’d think.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      The problem is, you are changing the rules for a single hitter. Would your suggestion apply to anyone that gets walked? So, if a guy walks anyone twice, the hitter gets an extra base? I think it’s pointless. Just let them play. Eventually, walking Harper all the time will hurt the other team. I just don’t see the big deal here.

      • Karyn says:

        I think he’s saying, yes, any hitter. Freddie Freeman, Dustin Pedroia, Bartolo Colon, etc.

      • John says:

        Marc, yes, I meant if you walked Harper the second time he would get two bases. If you walked the guy after him and it was the first time you walked him intentionally, he would just get one base.

  20. Nick says:

    Why not limit the number of intentional walks a team can give per game (i.e. each team can only throw 2 intentional walks a game). This preserves the strategy of the intentional walk yet also keeps power hitters in the hunt….

  21. Go Indians says:

    Sorry Joie, you are dead wrong on this one. The law of unintended consequence will cause massive problems in the rest of the game in order to get rid of a minor annoyance. If you increase the “penalty” for a walk, you are incentivizing players in playing for a walk. This will result in them taking more close pitches instead of aggressively swinging. You will never see anyone swing at a 3-0 count. Why swing if you can get a double by resting the bat on your shoulder. Baseball flow works best when players are swinging, not when they are taking pitches. We should never change the rules to make taking pitchers a better strategy. Anything that makes walks more of a penalty is in effect increasing the incentive to not swing.

    • John says:

      There would only be penalties for Intentional Walks.

      • Go Indians says:

        Sorry, but you didn’t read the proposal very carefully. They dealt with all walks, not just intentional walks. Besides, how do you tell an intentional walk from a any other 4 pitch walk? If there is a penalty with the catcher standing up and pointing, then they will stop that procedure, while still ensuring that none of the pitches are hittable.

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