Saturday, August 23, 2014

Intentional walks in 2014 lowest since record keeping began-NY Times

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.

With 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.”

Mark McGwire, 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.

But 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

In 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 bad strategy....

As 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 the game.

But 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."

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