As I watched intentional walks by Tigers pitchers lead to runs on both Sunday and Monday this week, it seemed to be an all to familiar story. It seemed that the Tigers strategy of intentional walks was failing with remarkable regularity. So I went back to each of the 19 IBB’s the Tigers issued (that’s what happens on west coast trips when I’m up late) to see how they fared.
The table below has all the gory details:
In nine of the nineteen innings where walks were issued, a run went on to score following the walk. Now I don’t know the frequency with which this normally happens. Being that the IBB is only issued with a runner in scoring position already, I’d imagine that it isn’t that scoring isn’t that rare. But it’s the painful way that the innings played out.
Six times the IBB was followed by either another walk of a hit by pitch, which clearly wasn’t part of the plan. Twice already an IBB came around on a grand slam and another time with a triple.
As for how the Tigers stack up in frequency, they are tied for the league lead with the Blue Jays. The average AL team is at 12 this year so they are well above average. This is probably due in large part to the general struggles of the pitching staff. And there is probably a degree of over managing in these situations as well probably brought about by the struggles of the offense.
Surprisingly, there has been quite a bit written about the intentional walk already this season. MGL wrote a 2 part series at The Hardball Times. I recommend reading the articles of course, but here is the conclusion after looking at run expectancy in different situations, as well as traits of the batter being walked and the one being pitched to:
My recommendation to any manager would simply be to never worry about walking anyone intentionally, at least in the early and middle innings. Pitch to everyone. One, except perhaps in rare, ideal situations, you are probably reducing your team’s chances of winning. Two, it is not worth the time and effort, and perhaps a little stomach acid and a few extra gray hairs worrying about it.
On the other hand, a manager knows that he will get crucified by fans and in the press, and perhaps even in his own organization, if he doesn’t walk an opposing team’s elite batter, the game is on the line, and he ends up getting beaten (you know the old, and silly, axiom, “Never let the other team’s star hitter beat you”).
And for the sake of completeness, there was a rebuttal to MGL’s series that looked at game outcomes and found the conclusions to be less solid.
As for when the Tigers have issued the walks, I’ll let you be the judge. Some seemed quite appropriate but were undone when the pitcher walked the subsequent hitter. The manager only bares limited blame in these situations. Other times, like with 2 outs in the 9th inning of a blow-out seemed pointless.
Most of the IBB’s the Tigers issue seem to have more to do with getting the more favorable match-up than setting up a double play (and only one resulted in a double play). Ten of the walks issued came with 2 outs which seems to me highly indicative of the fact that Leyland didn’t trust the offense to come back from even one more additional run.
With some better pitching – which we’ve seen of late – and just as importantly some better offense and I’d expect the IBB rate to decrease significantly.