By In Baseball

Rule Change No. 1: Decline the Walk

In honor of the World Series, I’m going to offer five rule changes that might be good for baseball. The key word here is “might.” Rule changes, by their nature, tend to lead to unforeseen consequences. I often think about how much the save rule has changed baseball. The save was added to the official rule book in 1969 — I don’t know that anyone thought the simple forming of an official statistic would fundamentally change the game.

But it did, though it took a couple of decades. In 1969, only about 23% of all recorded saves were one-inning saves. Relief pitchers simply were not used that way. More than 37% of the saves were two innings or longer. Of the few one inning saves, a substantial number of them were extra innings. The one-inning save simply did not exist as a concept — it happened for various reasons (pinch-hitting for the pitcher being the main one) but the idea of bringing in a dominant pitcher just to get the final three outs had not formed.

And it would not be fully formed for a long time. The one-inning save actually went DOWN over the first 15 years of the save rule. In 1975, for instance, only 16.1% of all saves were one-inning saves. Closers were generally expected to do what we now consider two or three jobs — get the team out of trouble, finish off the eighth inning AND finish off ninth. That’s why they were called “Firemen.” They were supposed to put out fires. That year, 1975, Goose Gossage led the American League with 25 saves. More than half were two innings or more. Do you know how many of those 25 saves he came in to start the ninth inning? Zero.

But over time, as we know, the one inning save started to take hold. Tony La Russa and Dennis Eckersley seem to have been pivotal in the transformation. Eck started closing games full-time in 1988. In 1990, Bobby Thigpen blew everybody’s mind with a record 57 saves (41 of which were one-inning saves). In 1990, three closers had 40-plus saves, a record. In 1991, there were five. In 1993, there were eight.

Look at the percentage of one-inning saves go up:

1987: 24.5%
1988: 30.4%
1989: 36.0%
1990: 38.5%
1991: 45.8%
1992: 50.2%
1993: 57.0%

It kept climbing quickly … two years later to 63% … four years later to 70.%. In 2013, 87.6% of all saves were exactly one-inning saves. It was the highest percentage in baseball history.

Would this have happened without the save rule being crafted exactly as it was, giving a pitcher a save if he pitched one-inning with his team up three runs or less? I honestly don’t think so. The strategy catered to the statistic. It seems to me that the save rule gave everyone a big and dry umbrella to stand under. Managers now had a push-button system that would shield them from criticism or guilt about late innings — hey, I put my best pitcher in the ninth inning. Closers found that with this new one-inning strategy, they could pile up LOTS AND LOTS of saves, which led to bigger contracts and newfound fame. Fans of the game now had a ready narrative for every game — let’s bring in the big bad closer. And relief pitchers of all shapes now had a goal: Be a closer somewhere and become a star.

Is the one-inning closer REALLY the best use of the guy who is probably your best relief pitcher? People still argue it, but at some point, that question wasn’t even worth asking. It was the only way to go. The system funneled every bit of momentum toward the one-inning closer. And I think it was the save rule, written two decades before the revolution, that made it happen.

So, yeah, rule changes often (always?) lead into unexpected directions.

That said: Let’s have some fun and throw out five rule changes anyway. Let the arguments rage, starting with rule change No. 1:

Rule change proposal: Batters should be allowed to “decline” walks.

The problem: The intentional walk is a plague on the game. It is boring and anti-competitive and against the spirit of baseball. Nobody would argue that the baseball is a better game, more interesting, more exciting to watch and to play when teams cannot simply tiptoe around the game’s best players in the game’s most exciting moments. The walk was put in place to encourage pitchers to throw strikes — that is to throw pitches that potentially can be hit. That is at the heart of baseball. The fact that so many teams are now avoiding hitters (there were more than 1,000 intentional walks in baseball in 2013) suggest that the deterrent is simply not strong enough. David Ortiz this year was intentionally walked 27 times. That’s more than Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle were ever walked. That is not good to the game.

The rule change: I’m going back to an old Bill James idea — batters should be allowed to turn down walks. If the batter turned down the walk and was walked again, he would get TWO bases instead of one. So if you double-walked a batter with runners on second and third, the man on third would score. If you double-walked a man with a runner on second, you would have runners on second and third.

The problem: Well, I’m sure there are a lot of problems with this, but the one I kept having wwas that it seemed unwieldy. Would batters turn down walks throughout the game? That wouldn’t make the game better. My original solution to this was to make it so that batters could only turn down four-pitch walks … but there are problems with that too. The biggest one I think is that it’s not really consistent with the game. If you can turn down walks you should be able to turn down walks.

The solution: I was reading an old Bill James essay, and in passing he made a suggestion that I think makes perfect sense. The solution is to make the STRIKES but NOT the balls carry over if someone turns down a walk. So, for instance, if the pitcher walks a batter on a 3-2 pitch, then the batter can turn down the walk, but the next at-bat starts with the pitcher ahead 0-2.

It seems to me quite an elegant solution. Here’s what I think would happen: Nobody would turn down a two-strike walk — there would be no point in taking another at-bat down 0-2. I don’t think batters would take a one-strike walk either. Those things would just be in the background — not unlike the two-point conversion in football. Coaches almost always kick the extra point unless the situation DEMANDS they go for two. I think the same thing would happen with turning down a walk if you carry over the strikes.

Here’s what else I think it would do: I think it would strongly discourage pitchers from intentionally walking anybody. I would bet with this rule in place, the intentional walk would plunge into irrelevance, where it belongs.

On the surface, this seems to me like it would be absolutely fantastic. It would add strategy to the game (Take the walk? Turn it down? Would managers ever freely give up the double walk?). It would be a much stronger disincentive against walking a batter just to avoid facing him (and this would include teams trying to bail themselves out by walking down to the pitcher). And it would give the batter a fair chance to make a play.

There is nothing in other sports, in my mind, quite as unappealing as the intentional walk — it feels like a tax loophole to me. Sure there are ways you can TRY to avoid the other team’s stars in other sports. You can double team players, you can hack a Shaq, you can punt the ball out of bounds to avoid the return man. But there are counters to these — beat the double team, make both free throws, and let’s face it, it ain’t that easy to punt a ball out of bounds without giving up a lot of real estate. With the intentional walk, the pitcher can simply choose to skip over a batter and the batter has no counter. Heck, I could intentionally walk someone. Enough of this nonsense. This rule’s time has come.

But, perhaps — more than perhaps — there are unintended consequences of this rule change I’m not seeing. I fully expect you will let me know in the comments. And if you have any of your own rule changes, put those in there as well. I have my five rule changes but, to be honest, I’m not crazy about three of them. I suspect you have better ones.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


97 Responses to Rule Change No. 1: Decline the Walk

  1. Josh says:

    Barry Bonds’s numbers would have been so much crazier than they already were without the crappy IBB.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      It’s just the opposite. Without all the IBBs Bonds would never have put up OBPs over .500 (and over .600 in one year). He would’ve had some more HRs of course, but he would’ve made many more outs. Overall his numbers would’ve been much LESS crazy without the IBBs.

    • Naw, unless you r control really sucks, it’s easy to throw four unhittable pitches. And you don’t want to see a return to the Sal Maglie days (one pitch to hit a guy is easier than four wide ones).

  2. I understand your point and agree on the whole, but the percent of intentional walks is near historical lows, .21 a game in 2013, the lowest since they began being measured in 1955

    • Dan says:

      Could be a function of (a)poor offense necessitating fewer IBBs – 2013 had the lowest slugging percentage and OPS since the pre-steroid era, and the lowest OBP since 1972! – or the general improvement of all players meaning there are fewer than ever “easy outs” that teams are trying to get to. Or a general smartening of teams learning that putting people on base is almost never the answer.

  3. Dan says:

    One negative: anti-walk managers might start actively harming their teams by ordering players to pass up walks they should, by all the evidence, take – say, a walk with runners on second and third with one out, to avoid the double play.

    On the other hand, it would be a great way to quickly identify terrible managers.

  4. oira61 says:

    Before you finish, may I suggest that the best rule change possible would be to eliminate wild-card teams? Bob Costas is right. How good would the races have been this year with no wild-card teams? And how tiring is a month of playoffs? They’re not even on Fox anymore — some aren’t even on TBS. Personally I don’t have the energy left for the MLB Finals this year.

    First-place teams only, please. Why else play 162 games? I don’t care whether you go to 4 divisions or have two of the three division champs play each other first. Just please, no more second-place teams in the playoffs.

    • NevadaMark says:

      It makes the World Series sort of anti-climatic, doesn’t it?

    • If we start realigning divisions just to allow only division winners in the playoffs, the changes are superficial and arbitrary. The issue (if you want to call it an issue) is that having lots of playoff teams cheapens the value of baseball’s very long regular season, which for decades rewarded one team in each league. In that case, the problem is not the wild card, but playoffs period. After all, having just two playoff teams per league and no wild card didn’t keep the 1973 Mets and their 82 wins out of the World Series.

      As it goes, I’m plenty fine with the wild card, since a return to pre-division days is just not going to happen. And for every pennant race the wild card eliminates, it creates more. The madness of 2011’s last day comes to mind. That Rockies’ stunning pennant run in 2007. We’d never have had those remarkable back to back ALCS’s between the Yankees and Red Sox in 2003-04 without the Wild Card. Are wild card races the same stakes as, say, the legendary 1967 AL pennant race? No. But then pennant races that close were excruciatingly rare to begin with. Playoffs and the wild card at least increase the odds of interesting October baseball.

      So yeah, I don’t think the wild card is remotely the biggest thing baseball needs to get rid of.

  5. Mike says:

    Don’t allow catcher to stand. Balk if he stands too early. Risk of balk or wild pitch — not to mention risk of “missing” over the heart of the plate — will offer a disincentive to walking batters. Guys with good command will still “pitch around” hitters, but at least there we’re dealing with skills . . . and the chance a Vald Guerrero will reach out and cream the unintentional, intentional ball.

    • John says:

      I like this one. Great idea.

    • nscadu9 says:

      Was thinking the same thing. Maybe you are inferring this, but also cannot leave the chalk box. Vlad Guerrero and watching Miggy reach out for a single on an IBB came to mind.

    • Tonus says:

      That makes a lot of sense, too. Both the batter and pitcher must stand in (or start from) a specific area. Why not demand the same of the catcher? It might make it tricky to perform a pitchout, but that’s an acceptable trade-off as far as I am concerned. You can still pitch around a hitter, you’ll just have to take the risk that your “high and outside” pitch winds up just being “high” and ends up in the bleachers.

  6. DB Cooper says:

    I love it. Though I actually think guys like Ortiz would accept the walk (1.000 OBP is 1.000 OBP), and there’s still a real hitter up. What it would do is eliminate the IBB of the #8 hitter in the NL.

  7. bailorg says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just ban catchers from standing before receiving a pitch?

  8. Flip says:

    Here’s my solution: 4-pitch walk = next batter has option to walk also or bat as normal. You could still pitch around a guy, but the next guy could potentially walk.

  9. Josh says:

    No mound visits.

  10. Bob Lessick says:

    The one-inning save went down in those first 15 years, but the save rule changed during that time period. It changed significantly. Originally, if more than one pitcher qualified, the official scorer could choose which one got the save–it did not have to be the last pitcher. By rule, it was three innings pitched or if you had the tie run at the plate–even if the pitcher who got the save caused the tie run to come up!

    Most importantly, the original save rule from 1969 to sometime in the mid-to late-’70s did NOT include the one-inning, three run rule. So it’s not at all surprising to me that the one-inning save increase came after the rule change that created the three-run save.

    • Eric Huynh says:

      I dislike LaRussian bullpen usage as much as anyone and I agree that without the SAVE stat, managers would handle their bullpens differently. However, a minor pet peeve of mine is when people complain that managers who only use their closers to start the 9th inning with a 1-, 2- or 3-run lead are “managing to the save rule.”

      In fact, the save rule does not discourage managers from bringing in their “closer” in the 8th inning (or earlier) of a close game — that’s also a “save situation,” as long as the reliever finishes the game and doesn’t give up the lead.

      The save rule shouldn’t have eliminated the multi-inning fireman, because those guys — if they existed — would still be qualifying for saves. The LaRussian closer came about not (only) because of the save rule, but because somebody, probably LaRussa, determined that those one-inning, bases-empty saves were the way to go. (Probably because they’re the easiest form of the save except for the 3-inning blowout save.)

      It’s fine to blame the save rule for the fact that managers won’t use their closers (supposedly their best relievers) in games where they’re tied or behind, but the 9th inning thing… I don’t think you can really blame the save rule for that. As Bob Lessick points out above, the change in the save rule likely increased the number of easy one-inning relief appearances (without the save rule, would Mariano Rivera be summoned in the 9th with a 3-run lead against the Astros?) but it shouldn’t have reduced multi-inning saves.

      • lee says:

        Im Australian and dont understand baseball that well but what the Red Sox did the other night showed me the stupidity of the closer. When Detroit had bases loaded no outs in the 7th surely that was the time to use ur best reliever (Uehara)

        I know they got away with it. But saving him for the 9th seemed crazy to me when the game was on the line in the 7th

  11. Steve Adey says:

    The best rule change would be to get rid of the designated hitter. This follows similar logic to the “decline the walk” rule. Have the ballplayers play ball.

    • I would go the other way and encourage the NL to use the DH. What is the fun in watching pitchers either automatically bunt (with men on base) or hit .132/.164/.169? That’s almost as boring as the intentional walk.

      • Wilbur says:

        Eliminating the DH would then eliminate maybe the most important in-game decision for a manager: whether to take out a struggling pitcher when he is due to hit the next inning.

        This used to be a pet peeve of Jack Buck on local Cardinal broadcasts – how many games he saw where a team lost a game or even a decent chance to win because a manger would try to get one or two more outs from a starter so he wouldn’t have to waste a relief pitcher on just one or two batters.

  12. Stephen says:

    Could you decline a hit-by-pitch too? Because if not then you just hit the batter to get him on base…

    • NevadaMark says:

      I think a batter who is hit should get two bases and force any baserunners two bases. Make it a meaningful penalty.

    • nscadu9 says:

      HBP comes with the risk of a wild pitch allowing runners to advance. I’d like to see no base awarded if a batter is hit on any kind of elbow guard or armour. I’m tired of seeing batters fearlessly crowd the plate and painlessly taking a base after deflecting the ball off a huge piece of plastic.

  13. Matt D says:

    I was in favor of your previous walk-declining iteration, and I think this one is even better. Bravo!

    Since you asked…other rule changes:

    1. Since instant replay is apparently a rule now: no on-field challenges. An official sits in the booth (or off-site), and if they see a play that merits an additional look, they challenge it and reverse it if necessary. Quick, easy, out of the way.

    Flag-throwing Instant replay has ruined the flow of NFL football, and I don’t understand why anyone would wish this malady on the game of baseball. If the goal is to get it right, then try to get it right every play, and use a booth-based replay. If the goal is to add more commercial breaks, well, mission accomplished.

    2. Get rid of the infield fly. I still don’t understand why it is a thing. Sure, a pop-up with no outs and two men on is a rally killer. A ground ball to the shortstop has the same end result. Why is the GIDP acceptable but the pop fly maligned? If the players want to let the ball drop intentionally to try to get the DP, they still have to make the play, and it becomes just a little more exciting.

    3. Do something with balks. I would make a suggestion if I actually comprehended them.

    4. No DH. Yeah, I’m one of those.

    • dominicancamp says:

      I agree with getting rid of the infield fly. I think it would be a great rule change at the MLB level. Even moreso, many baseball leagues adopt MLB rules. As a high school baseball coach, I don’t have the confidence that a lot of H.S. players would even be able to execute the play if they tried to drop the ball and turn a double play.

    • DJ says:

      In response to 2., the infield fly rule is intended to protect the batting team from the defense intentionally dropping a pop fly and then proceeding to score a double or triple play. Without the IFR, the runners on base would be in a no-win situation on a pop-up in the infield: run, and get doubled up on base when the infielder catches the ball, or stay, and the infielder lets the ball drop and starts the double play. The infield fly rule is entirely necessary.

      • BSG says:

        The solution is to change the IFR from an automatic out to an automatic base for all baserunners if the ball is dropped.

      • Wilbur says:

        I know why the rule was enacted, but I question the foundation: the premise that the batting team need to be protected. From a smart, yet often difficult play by the defense?
        Sounds like a pretty exciting play to me. If you pop up, too bad.

      • Matt D says:

        If a team hits into a triple play on a pop fly, they’re doing something wrong.

        As for the double play, so what? Why are pop flies privileged? Why not also declare Infield Ground Rule when a grounder is hit sharply at an infielder?

        You make it sound easy, but think about what has to happen to execute the DP. A team might send one runner halfway, and keep the other runner near the base. But which runner? The runners will be trying to deke the fielding team, the other fielders will be yelling out to the player catching the ball to tell them whether to catch or let it go.

        And they can’t just let the ball hit their glove and drop it intentionally–that’s a dead ball. They have to let it drop, then try to catch it on the short hop. What if it kicks off the dirt or spins away?

        The players still have to execute. The infield fly rule should go away.

  14. MtheL says:

    I see a problem – a lot more guys getting plunked. I could even see a whole core of relievers dedicated to plunking guys. If a player can decline the walk, just hit him instead to guarantee he goes to first. However, I think this could be remedied by allowing a guy to decline the free base when plunked, much in the same manner he could turn down a walk. But without that correction, I can certainly see more hit batsmen coming.

  15. Dave says:

    I could see an increase in HBP… pitchers, rather than issuing the intentional walk and taking the penalty, could just start drilling guys to put them on

  16. Karen says:

    Proposed rule change: If you wear body armor for protection and are hit by a pitch on the extra padding, it counts as a ball, not a hit by pitch. You only take a base if you are hit somewhere without padding.

  17. Joe Wilson says:

    No more than two pitching changes per inning.

  18. Brian Smon says:

    Proposed rules change: relievers who enter a game mid-inning get only 2 warm-up pitches, unless they enter due to an injury. They have plenty of time to warmup in the bullpen. If this doesn’t reduce the constant changing of pitchers to get match-ups, at least it will reduce the time necessary to do so.

  19. Rockwall Tim says:

    MLB needs to make a rule keeping the batter in the batter’s box. When you look at video of games in the 50’s and 60’s, batters DID stay in the box, the pitchers then threw quicker, and the game moved at such a better pace. And, with the batter staying put in the box, the pitcher can throw pretty much as quickly as he wants…without having to wait on the batter to adjust his gloves, scratch his butt, and study the moon cycles.

    • jimmy1138 says:

      Such a rule already exists – 6.02d. I’d like to see that one enforced, especially when guys adjust theit gloves after taking a pitch. That’s just plain ridiculous.

  20. […] “Rule change proposal: Batters should be allowed to “decline” walks. The problem: The intentional walk is a plague on the game. It is boring and anti-competitive and against the spirit of baseball. Nobody would argue that the baseball is a better game, more interesting, more exciting to watch and to play when teams cannot simply tiptoe around the game’s best players in the game’s most exciting moments. The walk was put in place to encourage pitchers to throw strikes — that is to throw pitches that potentially can be hit. That is at the heart of baseball. The fact that so many teams are now avoiding hitters (there were more than 1,000 intentional walks in baseball in 2013) suggest that the deterrent is simply not strong enough. David Ortiz this year was intentionally walked 27 times. That’s more than Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle were ever walked. That is not good to the game.” [Posnanski/Joe Blogs] […]

  21. AMR says:

    One thing I don’t like about football is how there’s so much Coaching “strategy”: when to call timeouts, when to punt or go for it, when to throw the red flag. I want to see games decided more by athletic events, and less by the decisions their bosses make, and even less by the after-the-fact hyper-analysis of those decisions.

    Joe’s proposal here replaces one boss’s decision (when to issue an intentional walk) with many more (when to accept _any_ walk). It’s a noble goal, but I think it’d only make things worse.

  22. drbryanadams says:

    Please please let “computer calls balls and strikes” be a proposed rule change …

  23. terryph says:

    How about an IBB results in the following batter ending up on first and the initial batter still up to bat with a fresh count.

  24. Dave Gilland says:

    If your walk rule were put into play, wouldn’t an intentional hit by pitch be a better option than a walk for the defensive team? Wouldn’t you have to include two bases for a HBP also to keep this from happening?

  25. Owen says:

    I have been beating this drum for a little while now: Hometown DH Choice. Instead of the lopsided one league having a DH and the other league not, the home team would announce, at a designated time before the game if that game would be played with a DH or not. In Joe’s Leyland post, he discussed the three elements of being a manager (strategy, working with GM/upper management and working with players/the media) and this adds fascinating elements to all three. Do you sit your 100 OPS+ DH against the Red Sox, or do you not risk insulting a key member of your lineup? If you have a good hitting pitcher, do you let him play? It creates more markets for sluggardly sluggers, but let’s the home team take the bat out of their hands.

    I think this is way more fun than universal DH, which seems to be the eventual other option.

  26. ABH says:

    Wouldn’t this create a strategy where players refuse walks in order to drive up the pitch count and get to weak middle relievers?

    • John says:

      I think that’s exactly the point. I might decline a walk in a 4-1 count in the second inning and two outs just to make the guy through another 3 or 4 pitches.

  27. Jeff says:

    Easier change here. A 4 pitch walk advances all runners.

    • W Burnette says:

      I love this. Only make it all the time. A walk would be like a balk. If everyone moved up, then teams would NEVER walk anyone without a good reason. I heard a story long ago about someone stopping at first on obvious doubles so they wouldn’t walk Stan Musial. Not sure if it’s true, but I wouldn’t be surprised. This was stop that type of thing.

  28. Guilherme says:

    Just force the pitcher to tell the umpire he’ll throw an IBB. If he does that he has to pitch all on the strike zone, with the batter just watching. Pitch one out, and it’s a two-base walk.

    (No, I have no idea how accurate a pitcher is when not facing a batter.)

  29. Bob Post says:

    I’ve often thought a similar thought in basketball. I think a team should be able to turn down free throws and take possession of the ball instead. I hate it when a team is up three in the closing seconds, and they choose to foul instead of play defense. This rule change would, I believe, sharply reduce those ridiculous fouls.

  30. The problem with the one inning rule is that few managers will now go out of the box to do something else. There is some good logic in limiting closers to one inning, only in save situations, during the regular season. Going outside of that philosophy can add up the innings & lead to burn out of your most important reliever, presuming you don’t provide estra rest to compensate. The problem is, managers tend to manage like robots….this guy starts & pitches six innings, then I go to the 7th inning pitcher, 8th inning pitcher and closer. They write this stuff down before the game. If the starting pitcher manages to go 7 innings (meaning he didn’t reach 100 pitches before then), then you just skip the 7th inning pitcher & continue according to plan. Simple, cook book recipe. Every game is treated like every other game. I think the manager role is positioned for some new thinking. Someone who truly treats every game as different, with different potentials. A starter might be able to throw 120 pitches if he’s dominating… and maybe give him an extra day rest if you do that. A closer can go 2 innings in a key divisional matchup game & look to give him some rest when they play the Marlins regardless of the situation. If I was an owner or GM, I would look for someone who didn’t manage like everyone else. Who entertained different strategies (not gut feels) and played every game as a dynamic effort requiring shifting solutions to the problems encountered.

  31. Rick R says:

    I have argued this for a long time, with one exception—a team should only be allowed one potential two-base walk per game (with one more allowed in extra innings). Otherwise, you’ll create a class of hitters who do nothing but try to walk—fouling pitches off forever until they get a two base walk. That’s the last thing I want to see. By limiting it to one double-walk a game, there’s the strategic element of when to use it. Do you burn it in the early innings when there’s men on second and third and your best hitter is up, or do you keep it in your pocket for later when the game is on the line?

  32. Mark Daniel says:

    I don’t know if baseball wants to do down this rule change road. The NFL keeps changing their rules, and sometimes it’s just maddening to watch games after these changes. This comes to mind after the debacle at the Jets/Patriots game, where a new, unenforced rule was suddenly enforced, handing the game directly to the Jets. It also happened a few years ago when Calvin Johnson of the Lions caught what would have been a game winning TD with about 20 seconds left in a game against the Bears. But it was ruled incomplete because of a bizarre new rule implemented that year. In both games, new rules handed the game to one team over another. I don’t necessarily see how baseball could make rules so convoluted as the NFLs, but the NFL is so whack that I’d rather not see baseball even try.

    • John Gale says:

      It was an unenforced rule (one that the *players* wanted, by the way) precisely because it was new (this season). It probably should have been called a couple other times earlier in the season, and the league made a point to the referees that they needed to start calling it. So they did. This isn’t like the Tuck Rule that was on the books for three years but was never enforced until it could help out the Patriots and then was eventually abolished after the heat died down.

  33. I once lost a playoff game I was pitching 1-0 when the other team’s best hitter singled to drive in the winning run in the last inning. My Dad was the coach. On the ride home, I was kind of pissed, so I told him we should have walked him since the next batter wasn’t nearly as good. He glanced at me and said “we’re not girls and this is baseball, not softball”. End of discussion. In all my years of coaching baseball, I never ordered an intentional walk. I’d tell the pitchers, if you want to win the game, get their hitters out. We’re not going to try to maneuver around the other team’s best hitters by walking them. If you want to talk self esteem, imagine the self esteem gained by getting a good hitter out in a critical situation. That’s something they’ll always remember.

    • NevadaMark says:

      I agree with you (and your dad) 100%, but there is a problem here. You were playing and coaching baseball. Professional baseball is of course different, in that the ONLY object in pro ball is to win. So your father’s philosophy, noble as it is, is not going to cut it. If the manager thinks 9 IBBs and 5 HBPs is going to increase his chance to win by 1%, then that is what we are going to get. An old umpire told me that years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.

  34. BTW: this whole topic has gotten absurd. Baseball is never going to change the rule and disallow intentional walks… partially because teams will still do it via “unintentional” intentional walks and HBPs…and partically because all of the suggestions to combat intentional walks introduce potentially ridiculous scenarios that fans will find annoying…. and partially because IWs are still considered a valid strategy that does contain an element of risk. In fact, this blog commonly berates managers for issuing IWs because those runners often end up scoring, and because IWs often increase the odds of scoring runs and winning games for the opposing team. Have we run out of fresh topics to discuss?

  35. jim louis says:

    PROPOSED RULE CHANGE (This has been touched on a little bit already above): A batter can only “stall” ONE time per at bat. The pitcher would be able to pitch the ball as soon as the pitcher is ready to throw. The batter gets only ONE time out from umpire, whether that’s to adjust gloves or bang dirt off his cleats. Some of these playoff games seem an eternity are many time painfully slow. I LOVE the game of baseball, but I find myself flipping over to Big Bang Theory re-runs or Pawn Stars in the middle of innings. When watching the NFL or college basketball, I’m glued to the game.

    RULE CHANGE JOE HAS MENTIONED BEFORE THAT I LIKE: If a batter hits the ball and gets on base, it’s a HIT. It makes no difference if an outfielder mis-plays a ball or if it goes through an infielder’s legs. It’s INSANITY that a batter can hit a routine infield pop up, and that ball drops untouched between a 3rd baseman and SS because they didn’t communicate properly, and that batter gets credit for a hit. Yet, a batter can make solid contact and hit a hard grounder to SS, and it takes a slightly bad hop, making the SS slightly bobble the ball before throwing slightly late to 1st, and this plays is ruled an ERROR. Errors are a weird stat anyway, as Joe has mentioned before. There’s no errors given for outfielders taking bad angles on hit balls. If a ground ball bounces up and hits a SS in the chin and he’s unable to make a play, that’s a hit, because it took an unfair hop. But if the ground ball takes a bad hop, but it’s only bad enough to make the ball go slightly to the left or right….making the ball hit the fielder’s glove in a bad spot causing him to fumble the ball…it’s ruled an error. And a sac bunt should count against the batter’s average, because it’s a SACRIFICE.

  36. Tom Pareti says:

    I have a lot of ideas regarding rule changes about relief pitching: (1) change the save rule so that a save is earned only if the pitcher inherits the tying run in scoring position; currently the “save” isn’t a save at all but a non-screwup. (2) relief pitchers can only be removed from games between innings OR if they’ve already allowed a run in the game (3) no warm up pitches for relievers; in what other sport is a guy allowed to come onto the field and warm up? Take the mound and start pitching

  37. Tom Geraghty says:

    1. The National League needs to give up the ghost and adopt the DH.

    2. Speed up the game – stop giving batters timeouts betwen pitches etc, consider limiting the number of pitcher substitutions in an inning etc.

  38. Randy says:

    Change the rule so that if the batter walks, everyone moves up a base.
    Runner on second, with first base open: batter walks, runner moves to third.

  39. Carl says:

    Law of Unintended Consequences in Action:

    I have runners @ 2nd and 3rd and I can’t give an IBB? No problem. I’ll drill him in the ribs. Less IBBs will lead to more hits batsmen, and I’ll bet at least one more benches clearing brawl.

  40. Bob Lince says:

    Disagree with this rule change.

    No batter, declining a walk, would bat 1.000 in the resulting ABs. Therefore, by declining the walk, he would lower his OBP below what it otherwise would have been.

    There is some thought that OBP is the single most significant hitting statistic in the game.

    A hitter would leave himself open to being crucified by the sabremetric boys if he declined a walk.

    Regarding “…make both free throws….” Huh? If the player could make both free throws he wouldn’t be hacked in the first place.

  41. Joe M. says:

    Games need to be sped up, but there’s no clock in baseball (nor should there be, I don’t think). My proposed rule change (and I can’t imagine I’m the first who ever thought of it): a batter can’t step out of the batter’s box after taking a pitch. I think that would help immensely. And I suppose you’d allow for an appeal to the umpire; if a pitch barely missed your head and you didn’t swing at it, well then you technically “took” it but you might need a second to compose yourself so surely permission to step out of the box would be granted then. It would be like calling timeout. But umpires would be encouraged to grant permission very rarely, and only with very good reason.

  42. Jeremy Jolley says:

    My suggestion:
    No more warnings or ejections for hitting a batter and anyone other than the players on the field, managers and guy on deck who leave the dugout during the game gets suspended (like NBA players who leave the bench). If a player gets hit, the other steam should get to retaliate and if they want to start a beanball battle, that’s their business. These things should be settled on the field, not in the commissioner’s office.

  43. Clark Addison says:

    How about:

    Any four-pitch walk is treated as a ground rule double, batter and runners advance two bases.

    This is simple and requires no extra time or judgement on the umpire’s part. It addresses the problem of the walk decline (potentially dragging the game out, refusing walks to tire the pitcher), and would essentially end the IBB in high leverage situations. It would also end the “unintentional” IBB, ya gotta give the batter at least one good pitch.

  44. Jo says:

    I’ve always wondered why batters just don’t swing twice during the intentional walk. You’re giving the pitcher to free strikes and daring him to pitch to you. Challenge their manhood and see if they throw a strike.

  45. Make it so that if you intentilly walk someone the batting tem gets an pitch runner ahead of the intentionally walked batter. So if you intentionally walk Ortiz he goes to 1st but Ferral can put Quentin Berry on second as a free pitch runner. If someone was already on 2nd they get to go to third.

  46. DJ says:

    Joe, what are you doing proposing a rule like that? My Royals have a hard enough time walking, and you want to give them the chance to turn them down??!!!


    Seriously, though, I love the idea of turning down a walk, but keeping the strike count if you do so.

  47. As long as hit by pitch is the same as a walk (or catcher’s interference) any rule change needs to address both alternatives. Given that a (I believe) unintentional HBP completely changed the tenor of the NLCS by breaking a rib of the Dodgers’ best hitter in his first at bat, you really don’t want to encourage more HBP. You would also need to add a neutral zone to both sides of the plate. Call it six inches between the plate and the batter’s box (maybe more). HBP in the batter’s box, or four pitch walks, or catcher’s interference, or IBB, are two bases, with no pitches needed to IBB somebody. HBP in the neutral zone, with some effort to avoid the pitch (currently in the rule book but rarely called) is only one base, so pitchers can still pitch inside without undue penalties. Let the pitch location cameras help umps decide on neutral zone or batter’s box. Thus, no extra reward for headhunting, penalty for IBB.

  48. In travel ball, a couple of times we ran into umps who hated the step out, look at the 3rd base coach for a sign, adjust batting gloves and step back in. They told the teams that the players could only step out of the box with one foot and that the pitcher could pitch, when ready. Well, after a couple of semi quick pitch strikes and after us coaches telling the kids they better get ready, everyone quickly adjusted and played quicker. It cut about 30 minutes off the game. Nobody complained at all either. It really wouldn’t be hard to do this either. Yeah there’d be a little bitching about it, but then everyone would adjust.

  49. Wilbur says:

    I agree completely.

    If the umpires would enforce the rule, the players would adjust. I believe the directive to the umpires would have to come before spring training and publicly announced so the players would have a chance to adjust.

    They should also enforce the between-pitch time limit on the pirchers.

  50. expat says:

    One problem that I haven’t seen address is that in some situations, it gives the pitcher an unfair advantage. For example, in any situation that it is possible/likely that a batter would refuse the walk and the pitcher gets into a hitter’s count (2-0, 3-0), then a refused walk lets the pitcher start the at bat over at 0-0.

  51. PF Chang says:

    What about turning down walks to up pitch counts?

  52. Tampa Mike says:

    Sorry Joe, I guess I don’t carry your distain for the intentional walk rule. I don’t like the strategy of it, but I don’t mind it being allowed. I’m honestly surprised by the hatred for it here. Everyone goes on and on about OBP here and this is just giving up a free base.

    To me it’s like kneeling on the ball, holding the puck, etc. It isn’t exciting but it’s an allowed strategy.

  53. Oaktown Max says:

    Joe I’ve loved your writing for a long time and I love your opinions on almost everything, but your intense hatred of the intentional walk has always confused me. You act like it’s a plague on the sport, but if you give a fair shake to most other opinions in sports. The intentional walk can be used to set up a double play, but outside of that it’s not usually that good of an idea. If anyone on my team gets intentionally walked, I’m happy about it. I just don’t see the big hate for it, walks are important, baserunners are important, all of that comes into strategic play. Ortiz is intentionally walked not only because of his power but because of how slow he is. That is his disadvantage and the pitcher is taking advantage of it, and it’s up to Napoli or whoever is behind him to make them pay. If we cared so much about one player getting his shot, we should watch basketball, baseball is about the next guy up, not one guy controlling the game

  54. John Gale says:

    Well, I think the carry over strikes change is the least terrible (I have nothing good to say about any of the gimmicky “solutions” that would give two bases or an additional baserunner beyond the batter). Still, I don’t like it. The intentional walk is a part of the game, and I think it’s a perfectly acceptable strategy.

    It’s also not nearly as ubiquitous as Joe claims, as there’s only one every three or four games, and it’s been like that for the last 30+ years (the height of the intentional walk was from 1965-1975, with the nine highest rates on record–though even there, it never went higher than .4 intentional walks per game–sorry, but that doesn’t scream “plague” to me).

    Still, I’m OK with trying to put some limits on it, similar to the way intentionally fouling in basketball is allowed, but eventually it triggers automatic free throws as a deterrent. I think the only real time intentional walks are abused are those situations when a team keeps walking the same guy (e.g. Barry Bonds) over and over again in the same game. Walking a guy once doesn’t feel anti-competitive. Walking him four times does.

    So I would propose a change that would allow teams to intentionally walk a particular batter no more than once per game and any batters no more than three times per game. This would create some strategy (is it *really* worth intentionally walking Miguel Cabrera with a man on second and one out in the first inning, or should it be saved for later in the game?) without effectively outlawing it, and we’d avoid those situations where Bonds got intentionally walked four times in a game.

    Now, there would need to be a penalty for violating the rule after the limit is reached. I think this would only come into play if A) a player who had already been intentionally walked (or if the team has already intentionally walked three players total) is walked again on four pitches and B) the umpire determines that the pitcher made no real attempt to throw a strike (if all four pitches are an inch off the plate, I think the batter has a reasonably chance to try to put at least one of them in play). If that happens, maybe we can talk about declining the walk and making the pitcher keep pitching until he can throw a strike. But I’d like to make that as rare an occurrence as possible.

  55. Pedro Martinez actually said that in last week’s Sports Illustrated: “You can hit him in the leg with a changeup, and he’s at first and you save three pitches.”
    I’m sure the beanball would become the new IBB.

  56. Dave says:

    Love the suggestion that a walk moves up all runners. Make it any walk, not just a four-pitch walk. HBP too.

  57. brendt says:

    I came here from your “Let the players decide” post. In that, you greatly detailed the managerial chess match (including John Farrell’s poor play of said match and the defensive issues that arose from that poor play). Some great insights.

    Then I come here and read you saying that the IBB is anti-competitive. Really? Sure, it’s anti-competitive to the n00b who’s been watching baseball for 3 days. But I suspect that that’s not you. Let’s see what happens as the result of most IBBs:

    * There is now the potential for a double play or a force play that didn’t exist before. The defensive manger re-aligns his defense accordingly.

    * If he can help it, the offensive manager had better not bat a guy next who hits a lot of grounders.

    * The risks of additional runs, having to watch a runner for a potential steal, etc, go up on the defense (particularly the pitcher).

    The isolated incident of batter vs pitcher is boring during an IBB (unless the pitcher throws like pre-glasses Rick Vaughn). But the ramifications are nowhere near “anti-competitive”. Such an allegation is beneath a student of the game.

  58. just now reading this… one modification that would speed things up is create a “one-ball” walk. Anytime the catcher stands up to receive, it is an automatic walk as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.
    I believe another old BJ suggestion was to change the walk so that ALL baserunners advance, forced or no. That would put an end to MOST intentional walks, but keep it available as an option.

  59. […] about baseball.” That does seem to make a bit more sense. My first rule change to cut out the soul-killing intentional walk in baseball. The second was not a rule change at all but a plea to make the minor leagues more […]

  60. Scott says:

    Fouling at the end of basketball is a loophole that is even worse than the intentional walk. The intentional walk is one of many, many examples throughout sport in which some penalty is not strong enough to prevent the undesired behavior. Thus people knowingly suffer the penalty in exchange for breaking the rule — in baseball, not allowing the player to hit the ball. You have proposed a nice way to increase the penalty.

    Basketball fouls at the end of the game, however, is at a level not see in any other sport: Teams break a rule BECA– USE OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE PENALTY ITSELF. (Actually, this may be like an intentional walk of an average player when there is a man on second and fewer than two outs). If there were a “Please Penalize My Team” button, a basketball coach would simply push it. This is totally perverse.

  61. Robert Gregory says:

    There is, it has occurred to me recently, another way of abolishing the intentional walk. I come from England, where the most popular summer sport is cricket (baseball, invented in the English countryside, was unaccountably palmed off to America like an unwanted Christmas present); and in cricket, if a bowler throws the ball wide of the wicket (that’s the three wooden sticks in the ground) it doesn’t count for anything. Unless it’s a no-ball, in which case the batting team is awarded one additional run. What if the baseball authorities altered the rules along these lines? What if there were no such thing as a walk? What if a ball pitched outside the strike zone didn’t count towards the contest between pitcher and batter at all? Four balls could mean that any base-runners were allowed to advance (even if first base were open); but the batter wouldn’t be affected at all. That way, the pitcher would have to pitch to the batter; and the integrity of the contest would be preserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *