Friday, April 14, 2006

Walks DO matter

OK, you here it all the time, and you’ve heard it even more vociferously since Moneyball came out a few years ago: walks are an important part of the game. Some would place OBP among THE most important stats in baseball.

The backlash was to be expected. “I don’t get paid to walk, I get paid to hit” is the common response a lot of the more simple-minded players came up with to defend their approach at hitting. They surmise that it isn’t necessary to draw walks if you want to be a good hitter.

Until recently, I would’ve gone either way, even though I am a fervent OBP supporter—I think it’s a great way to measure a player’s ability and hitting style (if he sticks to making contact with two strikes, if he swings at bad pitches, if he’s patient and not afraid to hit with two strikes, if he has a good enough eye to know which pitches he should and shouldn’t swing at, etc.). Since I can’t be there to watch all the games, OBP becomes incredibly useful. It brings me closer to the action.

Walks play a big role in OBP, but here I want to talk exclusively about walks. I went to (a great resource, by the way, for minor league numbers and career numbers for all players of all eras) and looked up some career numbers for some great hitters: Ruth, Foxx, Mantle, Ted Williams (my favorite), Bonds, etc. They all have something in common besides their incredible career batting averages: walks. TONS of them. Not only that, most of them have a disproportionate amount of walks compared to strikeouts (read: they walk WAY more than they strike out). Walks ARE important.

These great hitters fall into one of two categories: either they strike out a lot (80-100) and walk a lot (80-100), or they walk a good amount (60-70) and strike out VERY rarely (20-30).
And these are the greatest hitters of all times. Look at the ratios for some of these guys, it’s incredible how rarely they strike out and how often they walk. You don’t see these kinds of numbers every day. In fact, in an unscientific search I ran, very rare contemporary players met the criteria: Pujols, Bonds, McGwire, Todd Helton, Brian Giles, etc.

So next time you hear a guy say that walks don’t matter, look up their career average and you’ll notice that, while he may be OK, he ain’t nowhere near great.


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