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Patience: An Offensive Weapon
by Bryan Leonard - 05/15/2008
Home runs get most fans excited, but an offensive category far less exciting but just as important is drawing walks. Believe it or not, patience at the plate is a key ingredient to winning baseball. Currently these are the three teams in major league baseball in on base percentage, the combination of batting average and walks: 1) Cubs, 2) Cardinals, 3) Red Sox.
Two things stand out: Those teams are very strong offensively and are in first or second place in their divisions. The Cubs have been better than expected, especially offensively, while the Cardinals have been a surprise team. Certainly walks aren't the most important reason for their success, as a variety of things are necessary for winning. But drawing walks and clogging the bases is a key element, one that is often overlooked.
Drawing walks means getting guys on base. As a result, a team may hit into more double plays and will strand more runners on base than the average team. However, they will also increase the number of runs scored, which is the whole point of the game. Simple math is the reason. If players generally get a base hit once in every three at bats, then having more runners on base increases the likelihood of scoring runs when a players gets that one hit in every three at bats.
Another factor is that it tires out the opposing pitchers. Think about a four game series during the regular season. In Game 1, if a team is patient at the plate, taking pitches, drawing walks, it forces that starting pitcher to hit the 80-100 pitch count by the fifth or sixth inning. If the opposing manager keeps that starter in past 100 pitches, eventually that starter is going to get tired, missing spots, losing velocity and is more likely to get hit.
Or, if the manager is forced to go to the pen in the 6th inning, that means his best relief pitchers are going to see more work. This might be fine in the 7th and 8th innings of that first game, but what about the 9th? Or what about the later innings of Games 2, 3 and 4 of this series? Suddenly a team is using up its relievers fast, and some guys might not be available the next night. Or if a game goes into extras innings, that could blow up a relief staff causing all kinds of problems.
Let's look at the flip side of this argument for a moment. Here is a list of the four worst teams in baseball at drawing walks: Giants, Brewers, Nationals, Orioles, Royals, Twins, Mariners and Padres. What stands out about those teams? With the exception of the Twins, they are underachieving, poor offensively. Patience at the plate has its rewards in a variety of ways to help a team win.