Oh those intentional base on balls

The Tigers struggled with walks in 2008. This is well documented and fairly obvious with the Tigers issuing more walks than every team other than Texas. It resulted in Chuck Hernandez losing his job and the Tigers bringing in a coach who built his reputation on pounding the strike zone. But a significant chunk of those walks came at the hands of Jim Leyland.

The Tigers led the American League in intentional walks with 63. The next closest team had 45 which means Detroit issued 42% more walks than the next most free pass happy team. It also means that instead of ranking 13th in the AL in walks, they rank 11th in unintentional walks. Still poor, but not as ridiculously awful.

Let’s take a look at Leyland’s intentional walk profile for 2008:

  • Justin Verlander led the way with 8 IBB’s. Bobby Seay and Nate Robertson each had 7 and Fernando Rodney had 5. Probably a bad sign when your closer has 5 intentional walks.
  • Over half the walks came from the 7th inning on. Two were issued in the first inning. That can’t be a good sign.
  • Justin Morneau picked up 5 intentional walks, that probably was actually a good move. 
  • Opposing catchers received 11 intentional walks with AJ Pierzynski leading the way. 
  • 21 of the walks came when the Tigers were already trailing by 3 or more runs.
  • 20 of the walks resulted in the bases being loaded.

Many of these seem to be indicators of trouble and would seem to be ill advised. The blog Fire Jim Bowden took at look at all the IBB’s issued in 2008 and classified them as to whether or the walks were “maybe smart” or “definitely not smart.” The criteria for these classifications is laid out in The Book. What he found was that Jim Leyland ranked second in all of baseball in “definitely not smart” IBBs.

While a statistical and logical basis is a wonderful thing to have, sometimes managers play their hunches and intuition. Maybe things will work out? Earlier in the year I looked at how poorly things were turning out after IBBs were issued. The Bill James Handbook tracked the results and they broke down like this:

  • Good: The inning resulted in a double play and/or the team escaped without further runs being scored (37)
  • Not Good: Runs scored and a double play wasn’t turned (26)
  • Bomb: Multiple runs scored (13)

Both Leyland’s 37 good and 26 not good were tops. Clearly there was a volume thing in play here. And I can’t tell you how many of the 17 “definitely not smart” IBBs produced the following results, I’d venture a guess that hunches didn’t out weigh the logic. And the resulting ratio isn’t particularly impressive.

Charlie Manuel by comparison issued 64 intentional walks, but had a 46:18 good to not good ratio. But Leyland’s ratio wasn’t horrible either. Eric Wedge only issued 28 IBBs and only 6 of those were classified as good.  Ron Washington and Dave Trembley ended up on the wrong side of the ratio as well. Coincidentally the Orioles and Rangers were also languishing at the bottom in total walks allowed. I’ll go out on a limb and say that taking a pitching staff that has a hard time throwing strikes, and then putting extra runners on base probably isn’t a good idea.

Fortunately Leyland doesn’t have a history of issuing a lot of IBBs. In 2006 he only allowed 35 so in some way he was probably just responding to the struggles of his staff in ’08. But the Tigers could improve their walks allowed in 09 simply by the manager allowing fewer “free” free passes.

13 thoughts on “Oh those intentional base on balls”

  1. Intentionally walking boatloads of batters when the pitcher is surrounded by lead-booted infielders doesn’t make a lot of sense either. Or maybe it can just be chalked up to those seemingly countless situations where Leyland was forced to try something “drastic”.

  2. I get so irked at IBB. I hope it was just a fluke that Leyland issued so many. Hope he’s a reader of your blog, so he can see how it doesn’t work out well!

  3. I would rather see the Tigers try to pitch around more guys than just issuing the IBB. Give the guy a chance to swing and miss or the pitcher to throw one on the corner at the knees. If you miss 4 straight times, what’s the difference? At least you have a chance to get the guy out. Couple the IBB’s with the general wildness of our staff and you are asking for trouble. There are definitely situations to issue the IBB, but not as much as Leyland did last year. These numbers are shocking.

  4. My sense is that Chuck Hernandez was getting everyone to develop a 2-seamer, and then encouraging guys to pitch to contact to keep the pitch count down. Leyland took that another step further and relied on his guys too often to get a ground ball in a given situation. Hence, put a guy on, then get a ground ball. This is also why Leyland likes Miner coming out of the bullpen, IMO. He wants him to bust off a good sinker and get a ground ball.

    Should be interesting to see how Jimmuh handles the pen this year, there is clearly a different mindset with the emphasis on throwing strikes.

  5. I don’t know exactly why, but I just have a good feeling about this year. If our expectations are to be a .500 ball club, I think we will overperform. Improved defense, improved pen, and depth at starting pitcher. Between Inge, Sheff, EJack, and Willis, 1 or maybe even 2 of them are going to have a comeback year. Verlander and Bondo will not disappoint. I think we’re going to get our Mojo back.

  6. Ken,

    I am certain you can get some decent odds on that call. Why not throw some money down on the Tigers to win the Central? You’re in the right place… (it’s totally a good thing I don’t live in Vegas, I’d be broke, hungry, and then dead in a matter of a few days – a week tops.)

    Incidentally, I couldn’t find a line on the Tigers to win the Central, but found out they are 26-1 to win the World Series, which isn’t great. Cleveland at 22-1 is probably a better bet.

  7. Mark,

    Are you telling me to put my money where my mouth is? Yeah, for some reason I just can’t put money down on futures bets. I need that instant gratification. It’s probably the same reason I haven’t ever put money into CDs.

    You can count on this though. I will bet on just about every third game or so during the season. I can’t help it. They killed me last year though, because for the first half of the season, everybody thought we were going to wake up any second, so we were often the favorite despite an awful record. Hopefully, Vegas won’t be so high on us this year, so I can get some decent money lines.

  8. Chris in Nash, Leyland probably DID order tons of “pitch arounds” too…explaining the high overall walk total. I pointed this out a week or two ago, look at the 2006 stats vs. 2008. Almost every pitcher walked fewer than average in ’06 but more than average in ’08.

    The only time an IBB makes sense is with 2 outs, runners on base, in the 4th inning or before, with the PITCHER on deck. That doesn’t happen much in AL.

  9. Ken, that sounds positively painful and entirely unpleasant. You are due for some good karma, so you should get better lines, like you said. There’s a fortune to be made, just gotta figure out how.

  10. “The only time an IBB makes sense is with 2 outs, runners on base, in the 4th inning or before, with the PITCHER on deck. That doesn’t happen much in AL.”

    IBB make even less sense when there are 2 outs. The perfect reason to intentionally walk a hitter is if the go ahead run is on base, while 1st base is open. Sometimes it’s about setting up a double play or pulling the infield in for a force out at the plate. Odds always favor that the pitcher gets an out.

    It’s not like we had a goto pitcher for tight games either. We had mop up guys cleaning up messes for our mop up guys. Those mop up guys were pitching in key situations almost every game. We had a pen full of choke artists and the Tigers probably had more blown leads than any other team. Anything Leyland tried didn’t work and the lousy Defense made matters worse.

  11. Allow me to clarify, X. I believe it was Bill James, way back in the 80s, that defined each event as contributing to runs score. Walks contributed 0.25 runs, singles 0.35, doubles 0.59, etc. So for my managing buck, it’s only worth it if the next batter has an OBP or AVG .250 less than the player you’re walking. That never happens with position players, only when a lousy-hitting pitcher comes to bat. I added the 2-out stipulation, because I would only put runners on base if the next batter were to end the inning. I don’t want a decent-hitting lead off batter to drive in the runners I just put on base. Lastly, I said 4th inning or before, because I wouldn’t walk a batter and have the other team pinch-hit for the pitcher.

    I think setting up a DP is just not worth it. Double plays happen less than 5% of the plays, but walks contribute to scoring 25% of the time.

    Therefore, I only issue IBB in the situation I defined here (playing MLB simulation games). It’s fine if everyone has different opinions, I just wanted to explain how I arrived at this particular strategy.

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