Why walks are so important.

There is a big, obvious explanation as to why we place so little value on walks in “traditional” metrics like batting average … it’s that to earn a walk, technically speaking, you don’t necessarily have to DO anything. You don’t have to have a skill. You don’t have to be a baseball player. You don’t even have to be alive. … The walk is one of the few positive statistics you can earn simply by doing absolutely nothing.

Brilliant Reader Craig – From Joe * Blogs

This, of course, is simply not true. Walks come from a situation in the game where the batter must possesses some skill. Either it is the struggle between pitcher and batter, or the with an intentional walk, the batter is deemed too dangerous to pitch too.

Still, most people don’t consider the walk very important. So why do sabermatricians value it so highly? Why is the talentless base on balls so revered?

There is a number in baseball that is more important than any other. In fact, it is leaps and bounds more important than all other numbers in the game. That number is “3”.

It is the 3 outs you are allotted every inning. Before you get to 3 outs, anything can happen. Once you make the third out, nothing can happen. So every out is one step closer to ending your chance to score runs. Anything that increases the offenses chance of making an out is bad. Anything that decrease it is good.

The measure of this in baseball is On Base Percentage (OBP). OBP tells the rate at which a batter gets on base. Or more precisely, it describes the chances that the batter will not make an out. It gives the probability that the batter will not take a step towards the end of the inning, thus giving his team a chance to score more runs.

While hits certainly contribute to OBP, we evaluate a batters prowess at hitting by his batting average (AVG or BA). And this is an important tool. But when evaluating an offense you look at getting people on and then driving them in. But you first have to get them on. And the ability to draw a walk is a valuable part of this. But it is has been overlooked by fans and baseball people alike for most of baseball history. It wasn’t until people like Bill James and books like Money Ball, have we come to understand how important the lowly walk is to the success of a Baseball team.

The thing that walks tells you about a hitter is his ability to control the strike zone. Rather the ability to not swing at balls out of the strike zone. This appears to be a talent. Something that a player possesses or does not.

When looking at a players stats I always look at their slash numbers. AVG/OBP/SLG. How often does he get hits (AVG). With power, I range SLG by 50s. So 350-400, no pop. 400-450, is OK. 450-500 is better. Over 500 is a true power hitter. Go look up last years stats and sort by SLG. You’ll recognize those players as power guys.

With plate discipline and walks, I look at the difference between AVG and OPB. (OBP-AVG). 40-50 is average. Over 70 is very good. 90+ is excellent. You’ll see so many players with less than 40 difference here.

A couple of years ago, the Mets were loaded with them. Plawecki (219/280,296), LeGares (259,289,358), Flores (263,295,408), Tejada (261,338,350) and even Murphy (281,322,449). That’s a lot of guys not getting on base and not much power. Of course they made some trades (Cespedes, Johnson and Uribe), brought some guys up (Conforto and Wright) and made it to the World Series. But the first half of the season was brutal watching that offense. Pitching and Washington sucking it made that possible. Great baseball story.

One other addition to this piece.

Wade Boggs is a great example of how Major League teams used to improperly evaluate talent. When Boggs was at AA, the Red Sox had another shortstop in their system at AAA. Glenn Hoffman. They looked at Hoffman’s 11 HRs in 78 and Boggs lack of power and promoted Hoffman on this small sample of homers. Instead they should have looked at his slash numbers and seen a player who could put the bat on the ball and get on base. But Boston sent Boggs to play at Pawtuckett AAA for the 79 and 80 seasons while Hoffman moved to the majors. Of course Hoffman faded away and Boggs became a Hall of Fame player. They wouldn’t make that mistake today, as Boston is one of the best franchises now combining Sabermetrics, economics and traditional baseball wisdom.


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