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October 25, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Rethinking the Intentional Walk

by Larry Granillo

I've never been one to complain about the intentional walk. Sure, it's boring to watch and usually ill-advised, but it's never really bothered me as part of the game. I've always just viewed it as a tool that managers use sometimes.

I know there are plenty of smart, baseball-loving writers out there who hate the move. Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, and Tom Tango, for example, have all written about their hate of the intentional walk many times; they are certainly not alone. It's not a popular part of baseball, but, other than it being boring, I was never convinced that it needed to be fixed (the word "unsportsmanlike" is used a lot, and, frankly, that's not convincing). In fact, a couple of years ago I wrote an article called "The Intentional Walk Has to Stay." My main argument had two points: one, we harp so much on the value of getting on-base these days that a manager's willingness to give a team that positive outcome cannot be viewed as removing the offense's weapons and, two, that we shouldn't be removing something that's been around since the game's inception without good reason (and "I don't like it!" isn't a good reason).

I still believe in those points, but I've been re-thinking my intentional walk position recently. Then Tony LaRussa brought in Lance Lynn in Game 5 of the World Series to intentionally walk a batter for the sole purpose of giving his better pitcher an extra chance to warm-up - now I can't help but rethink that position.

Intentional walks, while a clear positive for the batting team, can be too easily used for reasons that aren't on the field. An "intentional stall tactic" is only the worst of these reasons. There should be a penalty issued to the pitching team - above and beyond the extra man on base - if they choose to intentionally walk someone. In that way, any ulterior motives for issuing a free pass will be pushed aside and the game can get back to where it belongs.

How can we do this? It's not as hard as it may seem. The rule I would like to see in place is this: for any four-pitch walk, the defensive team is issued a "pitched-ball balk". All balk rules apply (baserunners advance, if present). This change would flow seamlessly into the game (we all know what a balk is) and it wouldn't even go against the spirit of existing rules (balks are issued for pitching mistakes). In fact, I don't even think this would be all that different from current rules. We all know that a player can't bunt a ball foul with two strikes without a special penalty. How would it be so different to have a penalty for a pitcher throwing a ball on 3-0?

I'm not one to react strongly to a single moment and demand change. Usually those reactions are proven to be over the top and wrong-headed in the light of day. I've been thinking about this "pitched-ball balk" idea for two years now, though, and it just gets better and better in my head. The LaRussa/Lynn shenanigans from tonight's game just gave me another reason to favor it. It'll never happen, of course. Bud Selig and his pals are too busy changing divisional alignments, interleague play, and the Wild Card set-up to ever consider rule changes at this level, but I honestly think it could work. How am I wrong?

Related Content:  Balk

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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FlagrantFan

Tradition is a bit of a stretch. That said, even if you ban the intentional walk, a team can still unintentionally, intentionally walk someone (is that even functional English there?). Anyway, personally, I find the intentional walk abominable, not for the reasons of the analysts. For me, it takes away a part of the game for the fans. This might be the only time that people in some parts of the country can see a guy like Pujols play. To walk the guy every time he gets up takes away from those fans. I also find it an act of cowardice. The stench of that cowardice will never go away for me in those years when Barry Bonds was being walked in every plate appearance. The fact that baseball allowed something like that turns my stomach. Those stains on the baseball records are for me much worse than his chemically induced output with his bat. Anyway, it's late and I'm rambling. I just hate the intentional walk. I hate about as much as I hate anything in baseball.

Oct 24, 2011 22:14 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

With this rule, the "unintentional intentional walk" would only work if the pitcher were to somehow throw a strike in there first (all 4-pitch walks). Of course, walking the batter with the bases empty - like they did with Pujols last night - wouldn't change, but at least that's a pretty rare occurrence.

And your aversion to the intentional walk is how most people who dislike it view it. I agree - just never thought that was enough reason to change the rule.

Oct 25, 2011 07:14 AM
 
dannimal

This is no different than the Hack-a-Shaq or intentionally fouling the worst FT shooter on a team so they can't get the ball to the star for easier points.

In football, it's angle kicking or punting out of bounds to prevent the Devin Hester's from running it back on you for the TD.

I hate the IBB as much as the next guy that hates it. It's almost always a bad idea, but if a team wants to make a mistake, let them.

Problem #1 with the idea of any 4-pitch walk falling under this rule: There are plenty of times where a pitcher just is wild and walks a guy on 4 straight because ball 4 was bad enough to not even get the courtesy/pity strike call.

Heck, there are plenty of times when a guy is so out of it he throws 8+ straight balls and walks 2 guys. That'd be 1st and 3rd on the 2nd walk with this setup.

Worse still, the batter KNOWS that he's almost certainly getting a BP fastball down the chute on any 3-0 count with runners on, just to avoid the balk.

If I were to argue for this (and I'm not, I don't like it), I'd suggest that only the IBB where the catcher is not in the crouch would count. Pitching around someone still leaves the chance for missing over the plate or throwing a wild pitch and paying for it.

Better yet, if you want to IBB a guy, don't require any pitches to be thrown. Just have the manager/pitcher signal the Ump that you want the batter on 1st base and move the game along. You can no longer 4-pitch/catcter standing up half out of his box IBB. Prevents this as a stalling tactic, speeds up the game, and makes it look even stupider as a management call.

Of course, the jerk-move in this would be to just bean the guy you'd otherwise IBB to avoid this.

Oct 25, 2011 08:03 AM
rating: 0
 
deep64blue

>>>Better yet, if you want to IBB a guy, don't require any pitches to be thrown. Just have the manager/pitcher signal the Ump that you want the batter on 1st base and move the game along. <<<

To me that's the way to go - you want to put a man on base, go ahead and do it but don't dawdle, just get on with it.

Oct 25, 2011 13:03 PM
rating: 2
 
jetson
(660)

Or for that matter using timeouts to manage the clock at the end of games. That wasn't why they were invented.

Oct 27, 2011 09:21 AM
rating: 0
 
Doug Thorburn

The 3-0 ball/balk rule would help to limit those "unintentional" IBB's, but man it would wreak havoc on a pitcher's approach. The dynamic of 3-0 would completely change, as would the dynamic of 2-0 (for fear of reaching 3-0). I think this would really sway the advantage for the hitter.

Then again, plenty of batters waste the current advantage that they enjoy on 3-0, choosing to watch meatballs slide across the plate because (apparently) it's a cardinal sin to willlingly give up on a near-walk situation. If there is one thing that drives me more nuts than IBB's, it's pitchers who toss BP fastballs on 3-0, and even moreso the hitters that watch those pitches pass by.

So I guess that's my long-winded, circular way of saying that you might be on to something...

Oct 25, 2011 00:49 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Yep, those are definitely some of the things that would have to be considered.

I actually think that the biggest affect of this is that umpires would now be even more lenient on that 3-0 strike than ever before. The obvious balls would still be called balls, but the edge of the plate might expand by 1/4 of an inch or something. This might also mean that batters swing less at the 2-0 pitch, giving pitchers at least a little bit of leeway.

Bunters sometimes try that two-strike bunt knowing the consequences; I think pitchers would sometimes take the risk too.

Oct 25, 2011 07:18 AM
 
fantasyking

Um... why?

Oct 25, 2011 06:06 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Besides being boring, unseemly, and "unsportsmanlike", the intentional walk is too often used outside of the normal flow of the game (stalling tactics to get a new pitcher ready, controlling matchups, etc). Yes, these are normal, allowable parts of the game, but they don't have to be.

Batters used to be able to bunt to their heart's content, possibly racking up 6 or 7 balls bunted foul until he could force the pitcher to throw a ball he wanted - ie, he controlled the pitcher until he got something favorable to him. Everyone decided that, while this was a normal, allowable part of the game, it changed the flow of the game (for lack of a better term) too much, and the "foul-bunt strikeout" was created. The "pitched-ball balk" would be something similar implemented for similar reasons...

Oct 25, 2011 07:23 AM
 
Drungo

"that we shouldn't be removing something that's been around since the game's inception without good reason."

Has it really been around since the game's inception? I'll admit I don't really know the history of this particular thing, but it's hard to imagine Tommy Bond (who walked 8 in 497 innings in 1874) figuring a way to intentionally pass Long Levi Meyerle despite the necessity of 9+ balls, not exactly defined as today, to do it.

Although there are references to Abner Dalrymple being intentionally walked with the bases loaded in 1881...

Oct 25, 2011 06:20 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

I don't know if it's been around since day 1, but I'd say it's been around long enough...

Oct 25, 2011 07:24 AM
 
RedsManRick

I like it. Anything that encourages pitchers more strikes is a good thing. The original rules of the game had a keen insight -- the most exciting part of the game is when the ball is batted in to the field of play. That it's become such a game of cat & mouse between the pitcher and hitter is part of why it has slowed down so much.

Oct 25, 2011 08:02 AM
rating: 0
 
aplutzik

Has anyone researched whether intentional walks are even a good idea? There are two rationales for them -- 1. walking a better hitter to face one who is perceived to be less scary, or 2. walking somebody when first base is open, to set up a force play. Sometimes the two motives are combined.

One scenario that seems particularly questionable is this: Men on second and third, with first base open. The batter is intentionally walked "to set up a force at any base." And then, often, the pitcher walks the next batter, forcing in a run. How often does the defensive team even avail itself of the "force at any base"?

Oct 25, 2011 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
jetson
(660)

All the time if it's a game changing run.

The intentional walk is an obviously good move in one instance - man on second, tie game, bottom 9, none or one out, and you're walking a hitter who presents danger not significantly less than the couple guys that follow him. In that case, you add forces to the mix, you remove the incentive for a hitter to hit a groundball to second base (which now likely trades 2 outs for a base instead of one), and other decent stuff.

Oct 27, 2011 09:27 AM
rating: 0
 
PaddyE

Aside from changing to the automatic manager-signaled IBB to remove the stall gambit and the boring process, I'd leave the IBB alone.

Contrary to the rest of you it seems, I think it's a worthwhile part of the game, allowing the defense manager to take a risk (as generally ill-advised as it may be) in exchange for a choice of batters to face or the setup of a force. Whatever you do you're still going to have "unintentional/intentionals" and the proposed change would just introduce the whole host of problems y'all have pointed out when you've got a pitcher who just happens to be wild.

btw, I've seen the load-the-bases for the force work many times. And I'm a Giants fan who suffered through all those Bonds IBBs, which didn't actually work to the other team's advantage for most situations anyway.

I say let managers display their ignorance. That really has always been part of the game!

Oct 25, 2011 12:09 PM
rating: 5
 
escapingNihilism

I have long dreamed up the following the scenario. consider:

Phillies 6, Mets 0. top 5th, Phillies coming to bat. in the forecast, bearing down on Flushing Meadows is a tremendous storm that is almost certain to suspend play for good. why not continually issue intentional walks, then constantly make pickoff throws, etc. to stall?

this of course requires the literal perfect storm of events.

Oct 25, 2011 12:18 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

The existing rules allow entirely comparable things to be done -- and also give the umpires the authority to keep them from being done, if in the judgment of the umpires, those things make a "travesty" of the game. From Rule 4.15: "A game may be forfeited to the opposing team when a team ... (b) Employs tactics palpably designed to delay or shorten the game..."

I have never seen this called in a major-league game, and suspect that it would be called only in really extreme cases. However, what you're talking about probably qualifies. That introduces the question: did what TLR do also qualify? Interesting question, but I don't think so, at least no more than taking a long, slow walk to the mound to change pitchers does, rather than trotting briskly out and signaling to the bullpen while en route. Furthermore, in this case, he paid a severe tactical price for buying time.

I'd be very interested to know exactly, in detail, what happened in this weird situation. We probably never will.

Oct 25, 2011 13:03 PM
rating: 1
 
ragerd

We all know that the way to avoid this is to actually decide that regular season games are important and not let them end after five innings. If it can be done for the playoffs, it can be done in season.

Oct 25, 2011 15:13 PM
rating: 1
 
davidlthomas

The "pitched ball balk" should be used for HBP first. Also I saw that one pitcher walked the first 3 batters on 12 pitches, then struck the next 3 on 9.

Oct 25, 2011 18:33 PM
rating: 0
 
jetson
(660)

And encourage Chase Utley? No thank you.

Oct 27, 2011 09:28 AM
rating: 0
 
davidlthomas

It should be struck out the next 3 batters on 9 pitches.

Oct 25, 2011 18:35 PM
rating: 0
 
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