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One of the things we’re always yammering about is control of the strike
zone. We evaluate players based on their on-base percentage and walk rate
and pitchers by their strikeout-to-walk ratio. We emphasize–some would say
overemphasize–plate discipline for hitters and control for pitchers when we
talk about minor leaguers, and often tout players for no apparent reason
other then they have this one very important skill.

If it’s so important, it should show up on the scoreboard, right? Teams that
draw walks and whose pitchers don’t give them up should see that difference
show up on the scoreboard.

The following chart shows each teams "Walk Gap", its rank in the
league, and then its run differential and rank in that category.

American League

Team Walk Gap Rank Run +/- Rank

Seattle +59 1 +65 1 Oakland +39 2 -1 8 Cleveland +27 3 +63 3 Minnesota +21 4 +35 4 Toronto +14 5 +34 5 New York -1 6 +24 6 Baltimore -3 7 -30 10 Anaheim -5 8 +1 7 Texas -8 9 -34 11 Boston -14 10 +64 2 Tampa Bay -16 11 -108 14 Detroit -29 12 -12 9 Chicago -34 13 -61 13 Kansas City -50 14 -40 12

Only five of the 14 teams in the AL have a positive walk gap, but four of
those five have large positive run differentials. The five include the three
best teams in the league and all of the five are at .500 or better. At the
other end, three of the worst four walk-gap teams have three of the four
worst run differentials.

The outlier is the Red Sox, who are third in the league in slugging and
batting averages on the offensive end, and lead the AL in lowest batting and
slugging averages against on the pitching side. You can make up for an
unimpressive walk gap, but that’s the kind of performance you need to pull
it off.

National League

Team Walk Gap Rank Run +/- Rank

San Diego +78 1 +47 2 Arizona +33 2 +35 5 Houston +28 3 +6 7 Los Angeles +23 4 +2 10 New York +13 5 -71 16 San Francisco +9 6 -44 13 Philadelphia +2 7 +6 8 Colorado -1 8 +46 3 St. Louis -8 9 +52 1 Atlanta -10 10 -18 11 Chicago -14 11 +5 9 Pittsburgh -20 12 -64 15 Montreal -27 13 -58 14 Cincinnati -29 14 -32 12 Milwaukee -31 15 +42 4 Florida -46 16 +10 6

The relationships are less clear in the National League. The two worst
walk-gap teams are fourth and sixth in the league in runs, respectively. Two
teams with positive walk gaps are among the four worst in the league in run
differential. Two of the three highest-run-differential teams have slightly
negative walk gaps.

My first reaction was that intentional walks might be screwing this up in
the NL, but the effect is small. If you take out IBBs, the Marlins look even
worse and are still last; the Brewers move up a few slots, but really, the
list looks pretty much the same.

I’m going to head back to the lab and look at some data from other seasons
to see if the walk gap has the significance I believe it does.


Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by

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