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Offensive Patience is a Virtue
by Bryan Leonard - 06/01/2006
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 there are four teams in major league baseball with over 200 walks as a team. 1) Red Sox, 2) Reds, 3) Dodgers and 4) Yankees.
Two things stand out: Those teams are very strong offensively and are in first or second place in their divisions. 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.
There was an example of this over the weekend in the Red Sox/Devil Rays series. In the finale, Boston carried a 5-0 lead into the ninth, only to watch in horror as the Rays rallied off relievers Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez, scoring 4 runs and loading the bases. Boston manager Terry Francona refused to bring in ace closer Jonathon Papelbon saying that, â€œHe was not an option.â€쳌 He had worked plenty of innings the last few games and wasn't available. Drawing walks not only helps your offense, but can wear down the other guy's pitching.
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: Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners and the Chicago Cubs. What stands out about those teams? Underachieving, poor offensively, none have winning records and they are fighting last or second to last in their divisions. Patience at the plate has its rewards in a variety of ways to help a team win.