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August 4, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

Abreu Walks to New York

by Jim Baker

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Bobby Abreu drew his first Yankee walk in his first Yankee game on Tuesday night. That's not too surprising in that Abreu had been walking about once per game in 2006 prior to his departure from the Phillies. Here's the Yankee lineup from that night:

Johnny Damon: .5
Derek Jeter: .6
Jason Giambi: .8
Alex Rodriguez: .6
Bobby Abreu: .9
Jorge Posada: .5
Bernie Williams: .3
Melky Cabrera: .4
Miguel Cairo: .1
Total: 4.7

The numbers next to their names are the average frequency of their walks on a per-game basis. Damon and Posada walk once every two games. The total is impressive. If Gary Sheffield is inserted at DH instead of Williams and Robinson Cano goes in for Cairo, the total noses a little closer to five.

What can a team that walks five times per game do to their opponents? Break their hearts, mostly. Not surprisingly, teams that walk five times per game do very well. How well? Since 2004, this is the breakdown of what teams do when they draw zero through 10 walks per game:

BB    W    L  PCT.
------------------
0   257  602 .299
1   670 1223 .354
2  1116 1429 .439
3  1180 1172 .502
4  1105  881 .556
5   851  562 .602
6   543  279 .661
7   336  162 .675
8   188   67 .737
9    98   24 .803
10   45    9 .833
Not much of a surprise there. In fact, the winning percentage increases every step of the way. (Note: this includes all games. It might be slightly more informative to remove extra inning contests from the totals.) It would be an oversimplification to say that a team that walks five times a game would win 97 or 98 games, but you would have to think that any team that did so would have to screw up a lot of other stuff not to at least crack 90--at least in this day and age. In a more walk-heavy environment--like the American League of the late '40s--it wouldn't be quite so easy.

Before Abreu's arrival, this was the Yankees record based on the number of walks they had drawn: 2006 Yankees

 0:  1 - 5
 1:  6 - 5
 2:  4 - 6
 3: 14 - 11
 4:  7 - 4
 5:  9 - 4
 6:  9 - 3
 7:  4 - 2
 8:  3 - 0
 9:  3 - 0
10:  1 - 0
14:  0 - 1
As you can see, things really begin to take off at the five-walk threshold. This is true of most teams, obviously. Since 2004, teams getting five walks or more in a game have posted a winning percentage of .652. Not all teams take advantage of the five-walk windfall equally. The Yankees do make the most of it, though. Here are the best records for five-walk-plus teams since 2004:
NYA: 122 39 .758
MIN:  65 23 .739
CHA:  62 23 .729
ANA:  48 18 .727
SLN:  81 31 .723
CLE:  82 33 .713
BOS: 123 52 .703
The Red Sox have the most such games and the Yankees the second-most. The third-highest number belongs to Philadelphia but, since they just shipped their main walking cog to New York, that's bound to change. While the two most-prolific walking teams are on this list, the least prolific is as well. The Angels have had the fewest five-plus walk games since 2004. While they have shown that it is possible to compete without clogging the bases courtesy of free passes, a glance at their .727 winning percentage in these high-walk games illustrates what they might be capable of doing if they were more patient. If the Angels could increase their five-walk-plus games by 50 or even 25 percent, they'd be able to breathe easier in a tough divisional race.

Of course, a pure walk count exists in a vacuum. Drawing five walks is nice but not as nice when your pitching staff is coughing up seven. Let's look at the success rate of teams based on walk differentials. This next chart shows how teams fared when they out-walked their opponents by specific amounts:

Diff  W   L  Pct.
-----------------
0   926 926 .500
1   947 694 .577
2   895 549 .620
3   642 324 .665
4   510 160 .761
5   301  93 .764
6   165  33 .833
7    96   9 .914
8    34   8 .810
9    24   3 .889
10+   9   1 .900
(You're probably wondering about the team that managed to lose a game in which they had 10 or more walks than their opponent. It was, not surprisingly, an extra-inning contest in which the Phils out-walked the Orioles 18-6 but lost in 16 innings.) Going back to the Angels for a moment, they are an awesome team when they out-walk their opponents, winning three-quarters of their games in that circumstance. That's about the same as the Yankees and better than the Red Sox. The difference is that, since 2004, the Yankees have 253 such games, the Red Sox 305 and the Angels just 173. While the Angels are better at handling the adversity of being out-walked by their opponents they really have to be since it's happened to them twice as many times as it has Boston or New York.

You probably think I'm suggesting that out-walking your opponent is the sole gateway to victory Valhalla. On a game-by-game basis, which teams have the best records:

Teams that out-walk their opponents?
Teams that out-hit their opponents?
Teams that out-homer their opponents?

Since 2004, the teams who post more hits have won at a .788 clip. The teams with more home runs are at .746 and the teams with more walks are at .659. So, no--suggesting they are the be-all and end-all is not the point of this exercise. When a team like the Yankees--who were already third in baseball in walks this season--add a player like Abreu, though, the parameters of big-walk games demand some scrutiny.

I'm not saying that Abreu in and of himself makes the Yankees unbeatable, but he assures them of having more of the type of individual games where the records show teams have a much easier time winning. Ideally, that is what all deadline deals should do for those in competition.

Thanks to William Burke for his research.

Related Content:  Walks,  Surprise Teams

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