**Take a Pitch; A Walk Can Win a Game**

**By Keith Glab**

Little
Leaguers everywhere are taught that “a walk is as good as a hit.” Of course, we know

that
a walk isn’t quite as good as a hit. A
walk is tied with a Hit by Pitch for the least positive thing

a
batter can do at the plate. But it is
positive. Perhaps what coaches are
trying to convey with

that
axiom is that “a walk is soooo much better than an
out.”

The
way I approach this issue is to take a historically obvious walking situation
and show how

the
walk is possibly to the advantage of the offense, rather than the defense. In 1998, Mark

McGwire
hit primarily in front of Ray Lankford, a competent yet unspectacular
hitter. Mark drew

162
walks that year, but only scored 25% of the time when he was on base, on par
with his

career
average. Does this mean that he should
have been swinging away more often in an effort

to
hit more homers and drive in more runs?

Let
us begin to answer this question by analyzing one of the most obvious
situations to want

your
slugger swinging rather than walking: runners on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs. Based solely on

1998
numbers, McGwire had a 12% chance of singling, 4%
chance of doubling, 0% chance of

tripling,
14% chance of homering, and a 70% chance of making an
out, assuming he swings away

and
does not walk. Let’s say that a single
is guaranteed to score both runners.
This means that

if
he does not walk, McGwire has a 16% chance of driving
in two, a 14% chance of scoring three,

and
a 70% chance of ending the inning with zero runs scored.

If
McGwire walks, the bases are loaded for Mr.
Lankford. In 1998, Ray had a 14% chance
of

singling,
a 6% chance of doubling, a less than 1% chance of tripling, a 5% chance of homering, a

15%
chance of walking or being hit by a pitch, and a 59% chance of making an
out. Let’s

assume
again that a single scores two, and that the plodding McGwire
can’t score from first on a

double. The cardinals now have a 15% chance of
scoring 1 run, a 14% chance of scoring two, a

less
than 1% chance of scoring three, a 5% chance of scoring four, and a 59% chance
of inning

the
inning without scoring. Here’s a summary
in chart form:

Runs
Scored McGwire
Swings McGwire
Walks

0
70% 59%

1
0% 15%

2
16% 20%

3
14% <1%

4 0% 5%

Avg.
Runs .74 .75

So
when a player having a historically great season walks in front of a player
having a good

season
in a situation that traditionally begs for the defense to walk him, the team’s
odds of

scoring
go up by 11% while the average number of runs scored in that inning remains
about the

same. Keep in mind that we obtain these numbers
without even addressing the following factors:

1.
Players hit slightly better with the bases loaded than with runners just on 2nd
and 3rd

2.
McGwire is not going to hit as well when he expands
his strike zone

3.
If Lankford keeps the inning alive, there is more potential for further scoring
than if McGwire

clears
the bases.

The
reason that the value of McGwire’s walks are not
represented in his runs or RBI totals is that

the
players in front of him generally score the runs, while Lankford gets credited
with the RBIs. In

fact,
if McGwire walks and the Cardinals score, there’s an
87.5% chance that McGwire does not

score
on Lankford’s at-bat. So McGwire has helped increase the Cardinals odds of scoring,
but

does
not receive any traditional credit (R or RBI) for it.

Now
that we’ve examined a situation where the defense is quite likely to pitch
around or even

want
to walk a superstar, let us turn to the situation that McGwire
receives the majority of his free

passes
from: 0 on, 0 out. This situation occurs
24.3% of the timea, though for a #3 hitter like

McGwire,
the percentage will be lowerd (the situation is
unlikely to occur in his first at-bat of the

game).

It’s
difficult to map the inning’s hypothetical scoring from such an early stage,
but we do know that

on
average, a leadoff man reaching first base increases the odds of scoring from
25% to 30%

(an
increase of 5%), and increases the average number of runs scored in that inning
from .461

to
.813 (an increase of 76%).a We also know that the average player hits 20
batting average

points
higher with a runner on first base than with the bases empty, and 4 BA points
higher not

leading
off an inning rather than leading off an inningb.
(Being a left-handed pull hitter, Ray

Lankford
probably takes greater advantage of the right-side hole created from holding a
runner

at
first than the average hitter would, but we can disregard that for our purposes
here). So here’

s
what we have so far:

1.
Even a great hitter like McGwire is at a disadvantage
when leading off an inning. (This is why

leadoff
hitters who can succeed in that role are so valuable). He goes from a .299 hitter to a .295

hitter.

2.
Hitting with a man on first increases Lankford’s batting average by (at least)
20 points, from .

293
to .313. (Again proving the worth of an
effective leadoff hitter, but also showing why players

will
often have breakout seasons when hitting AFTER a great hitter, not just
before.) McGwire

has
just walked to bring up a player with a better chance of getting a hit than McGwire did.

3.
I don’t have statistics showing situational effects on slugging average, but if
we assume that it’s

about
the same as BA effects, McGwire’s slugging average
drops from .752 to around .744, and

Lankford’s
goes up from .540 to about .580. McGwire’s SLG is still 22% higher than Lankford’s.

But…

4.
If, on average, the number of runs scored in an inning increases by 76% when
you put the

leadoff
runner on first base, wouldn’t you want a hitter who’s only 22% worse than McGwire up in

that
situation, rather than having McGwire swinging at
pitches out of the strike zone?

I
suppose the question at this point is, “fine, if McGwire’s
walks are so darn valuable here, why isn’

t
he scoring more runs per time on base?”
Two fairly obvious reasons:

1.
If McGwire is forced out on Lankford’s fielder’s
choice, he can’t score a run. However,
he’s still

improved
the team’s chances of scoring over making an out to the tune of 6.7% and .102

average
runs (0 on, 2 outs) to 30% and .813 average runs (runner on 1st, 1 out)a . Whether

McGwire
or Lankford is forced on the play has more to do with luck than one player’s
ability to

score
runs.

2.
As previously stated, McGwire comes up with no one on
and no one out less than 25% of the

time. He comes up with a runner on first about
34.3% of the timea, meaning that when he walks in

those
instances, the runner(s) on base advance.
Now I don’t suppose that I need to expound on

how
runners who advance without a loss of an out are more likely to score, but I
will point out that

McGwire
will only get credit for an RBI walk about 2% of the time. Again, he helps his team score

with
nothing to show for it in the boxscore.

So,
having explored the issue from a couple of different angles, we see that in the
majority of

instances
a walk to a superstar benefits the offense, even in those instances
traditionally thought

of
as pitch-around situations. This brings
up the question, “then when is walking a superstar

beneficial
to the defense?” I can think of three
instances:

1.
The hitter behind the superstar is uncharacteristically bad

AKA:
the Santiago Scenario. Rarely is there a
case when one hitter is SO much better than the

one
behind him outside of the #8 hitter in NL games. But if there is such a case, it’s the

Bonds/Santiago
situation from 2002. Let’s rerun our
initial table with runners on 2nd and 3rd, two

outs:

Runs
Scored Bonds Swings Bonds Walks

0
63%
68%

1
0%
6%

2
26%
17%

3 11% 6%

4
0%
3%

Avg.
Runs .85 .70

In
this table, I assumed that the relatively speedy Bonds does score from 1st on a
double.

Regardless,
the team probably does have a better chance of scoring with Bonds swinging away

in
front of Santiago (keeping in mind the three points made earlier about why the
walk is slightly

more
valuable than this table shows).
However, we cannot just say that all of Bonds’ career walks

are
foolish, since usually someone of Jeff Kent’s caliber is hitting behind
him. It has only been for

the
past two years that we can really question the value of his walks. Even now, we can’t say that

Bonds
should just swing at everything within reach, because of

2.
The lefty/righty advantage

There’s
a reason that managers stagger their lineups.
In the case of Bonds and Santiago,

Bonds
has hit approximately 100 OPS points better over the course of his career
versus right

handed
pitchers than he does versus southpaws (95, actually). Similarly, Santiago has hit 102

OPS
points higher versus southpaws than versus the rightiesc. This makes it more

advantageous
for Bonds to swing away or expand his strike zone versus righties. Versus

southpaws,
he is certainly better off taking the walk.

3.
Runner on 3rd, one man out

In
this situation, a team is likely to score 69% of the time for an average of .98
runs scored in the

remainder
of the inning. With runners on first and
third with one out, the team is expected to

score
only 63% of the time, but for an average of 1.115 runsa. So assuming the batter at the

plate
is equal to the one on deck, you would walk him if one run is devastating, and
otherwise you

would
pitch to him. If the batter at the plate
is a superstar, and the one on deck is “a competent

yet
unspectacular hitter,” you’d be a fool not to walk the superstar.

Why
is this so? Well, with a runner on 3rd
and one out, a ground ball generally scores a run.

With
runners on 1st and 3rd and one out, a ground ball generally ends the
inning. We do need

to
consider the on deck hitter’s propensity for grounding into double plays, but
generally

speaking
this is a great situation for a defensive walk. (Note: this also applies to
runners on 2nd

and
3rd with one out). The only other
situations where, on average, you decrease the offense’s

odds
of scoring with a walk, are with a runner on 2nd and no outs, and with runners
on 1st and

3rd
with none out. But in each of those
cases you increase the average number of runs scored

by
so much that walks in those situations are precarious outside of the 9th
inning. There is no

situation
where the average number of runs scored in the inning decreases with a walk.

Wrapping
this all up, a player who avoids outs is tremendously valuable to any
team. It is

extremely
rare to find a player who is so far better than the rest of his teammates that
he would

be
foolish to take a walk. Even in the most
extreme case of all time, Barry Bonds with crap

behind
him, there are only certain situations in which he may be better off expanding
his strike

zone
than walking. Even then, the improvement
is a marginal one.

Yes,
it sucks. We would all like to believe
that walking all the time won’t win you games, because

it’s
more exciting to watch an elite hitter such as Bonds hit than walk. Just as we’d all like to think

that
stealing bases is an integral part of an offense because they’re so fun to
watch. Just as we’d

like
to believe that when hitters strike out it’s much more detrimental than a
ground out, since we’

d
rather see a ball put in play. But we
cannot let ourselves confuse what is exciting to watch with

what
is beneficial to a team.

**Homework Assignments**

1.
(Re)read the Babe Ruth comment in Bill James’ New Historical Abstract.

2.
Find as many players as you can that have led the league in runs scored or
RBI’s more than

five
times. Next, pick any two other
offensive statistics, such as hits, doubles, walks, homers,

slugging
average, etc. and see how many players you can find who have led the league
more

than
five times in those categories. Compare,
contrast, and then compose an essay on which

group
of stats you believe to be the most independent of variables outside of a
player’s control.

3.
Give me feedback on this essay.

**Appendix**

What
follows is an expected runs scored chart based on data from the 2000
season. I chose

to
site data from the 1959 and 1960 seasons because it was the pioneer for such
analysis, a

much
more reliable source than this 2000 data (Rob Neyer
Message board), and included the %

of
time each situation occurred. Notice
that in this chart, runs scored are higher, but the

situations’
relationships to each other are similar. Actually, according to this data, it
is even more

beneficial
now for the offense to take a walk than it was 40 years ago. Feel free to rerun any

calculations
using this data instead:

Bases
Occupied Expected Runs % Probability of Scoring

0 1
2 0 1
2

Empty 0.57 0.31 0.12 .30 .18
.08

1st 0.97 0.60
0.27 .45 .29
.15

2nd 1.18 0.73
0.33 .64 .42
.22

1st,2nd 1.63 1.01 0.48 .66 .44
.24

3rd 1.52 1.00
0.41 .86 .67
.28

1st,
3rd 1.92 1.24
0.52 .88 .66
.29

2nd,
3rd 2.05 1.50
0.64 .85 .71
.29

1st,
2nd, 3rd 2.54 1.70
0.82 .89 .69
.34

**Endnotes**

a
These statistics come from play-by-play data gathered by George Lindsey from
373 games and

27,027
total situations during the 1959 and 1960 seasons. Surprisingly, Pete Palmer later

developed
a computer simulation to test this data throughout baseball history, and most
of the

data
remained constant throughout the years.

b
This data is from the Elias Sports Bureau from American League hitters in the
years 1984,

1986-1988,
1990 and 1992, totaling 464,057 non-pitcher at-bats.

c
These lefty/righty splits come from the Yahoo!Bigleaguers.com website, and
actually only run

since
1987. Both Bonds and Santiago had some
at-bats in 1986 that would no doubt alter the

numbers
slightly.

d
Barry Bonds only came up with none on/none out 20% of the time in 2002