Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leadoff Walks

During last nights Jays/A's game, BJ Ryan came into the ninth inning to close out the one-run lead, and immediately issued a lead-off walk to Mark Ellis. I hate leadoff walks, and so does Rance Muliniks. In fact, Rance remarked (paraphrasing):

"I would estimate that the leadoff walk comes around to score 60-65% of the time."

I generally like Muliniks, but whenever a broadcaster makes a claim like this, something triggers in my brain. Rance went on to give reasons why he thinks walks come around to score so often, but I wasn't listening.

In The Book, the authors present a table of run values for all the batting events by base/out state. The unintentional walk, with the bases empty and no outs, has a run value of 0.41, so that doesn't help Rance's case. Not ever someone to take someone on their word, I ran the numbers myself, using data from 1998-2007. Here's what I found:

BBs R %
27929 10797 .3865

So in 27,929 leadoff walks, the runner came around to score about 39% of the time. Pretty close to the value from the book, and not nearly as high as 65%.

But that's not really the issue. The assertion, see, is that leadoff walks are "special." That is, the runner is going to score more often after being walked than he would had he singled (or reached first some other way.) That's easy to check.

Let's see what the numbers are for leadoff singles:

1Bs R %
62645 24031 .3836

Oh. 38%. Basically the same. Drat.

Sorry, Rancey baby.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Of course leadoff walks are bad. So are leadoff home runs, leadoff doubles, leadoff singles, triples, HBP, and ROE. Oh yeah, and CI.

Now, since it is obvious that leadoff walks are worse than a leadoff out, he must be presuming that a leadoff walk is somehow worse than some other leadoff "non-out" which is clearly not the case. You didn't have to do any research to find that out, did you?

Anyway, the funny thing is, from as pitcher's perspective, when you have at least a 2 run lead in the 9th, you never, ever want to walk a guy, since a walk is almost as bad as a HR. Of course, sometimes you can't help it, but your walk total when the batter is not the tying or go ahead run in the 9th should be microscopic as compared to your overall walk rate, as a pitcher. If it is not (in the long run), then you are a stupid pitcher. In that situation, you must throw more fastballs and you must work more towards the middle of the plate. And if you get behind in the count, you pretty much throw fastballs down the middle of the plate (how much of the middle and what percentage of fastballs depends on your control and your control of the various pitches).

Anyway, if you absolutely don't want a lead-off walk when you are ahead by 2 or more runs, then you MUST not mind a lead-off walk if you are ahead by only 1 run (or tied). Obviously you would prefer an out, but YOU MUST PITCH CAREFULLY TO EVERY BATTER WITH A 1-RUN LEAD, AND THEREFORE YOU WILL END UP ISSUING MORE THAN YOUR SHARE OF WALKS.

So Lance should ONLY be bitching about the "dreaded lead-off walk" in the 9th inning when the pitcher's team has a 2 or more run lead. NOT with a 1-run lead. He should be praising the pitcher for not throwing a "cookie" when he was behind in the count and letting up a homer to tie the game.

Just example number 1,847,363 of ex-player commentators who appear to know little or nothing about the strategy of baseball. At least as compared to those of us who still live in our mother's basements.

MGL (of course)