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.