8/23/14, "Someday Soon, There May Be No Such Thing as a Free Pass,
" NY Times, Benjamin Hoffman
"The statistic for intentional walks a game is down to just 0.2 per team
per game this season, its lowest point since baseball started compiling
it in 1955,
and a full 50 percent below its peak. In the National
League, where pitchers are still expected to bat, the average is 0.22,
which is also the lowest figure in recorded history.
some context, it appears the statistic was well into its decline even
as Bonds broke every individual record in the category, with 120 in 2004
and 688 in his career. Most people probably neglected to notice because
of the attention Bonds drew.
Several factors have contributed to the decline, which has been fairly steady since the early 1990s. Yankees
Manager Joe Girardi cited the decline in overall offense, which has
made the tactic less necessary.
He also said he did not consider the
intentional walk all that important. “It’s not something we do a lot of,” he said. “We have belief in our pitchers.”
the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was intentionally
walked 150 times in his 16-season career, thinks a strong era for
pitching, especially the emergence of strikeout-heavy relief
specialists, has been a major factor.
“When pitchers dominate, you don’t really have to intentionally walk,” McGwire said.
the decline of intentional walks was already beginning as Bonds and
McGwire were being sent to first so often during the offensive explosion
of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
the National League, with no designated hitter, the peak for
intentional walks was from 1967 to 1990, when the average was 0.4 to 0.5
a game nearly every season. This season will mark the fifth consecutive
year that the average is below 0.3, with the three most recent seasons
the lowest on record.
In the end, the primary reason for the decline in intentional walks may
be as simple as managers realizing that putting a runner on base is a
for Bonds, the fear he instilled was never better shown than when
Manager Buck Showalter of the Arizona Diamondbacks intentionally walked
him with the bases loaded in 1998
. Showalter took criticism for the
move, but it worked as the Diamondbacks retired the next hitter to end
to base any strategy off a world in which a hitter as dominant as the
Bonds of that season exists is flawed. In the modern game, with what
teams know about run expectancy, the intentional walk has faded into the
background. And in retrospect, Bonds became the symbol of a strategy
while actually being an exception to the rule."