June 19, 2004

WALKS KILL (via The Mother Judd):

Baseball Stats Say: Let Barry Bonds Hit (BRUCE WEBER, 6/19/04, NY Times)

Jerry Reiter, who grew up and played high school baseball in Yankee territory, near Morristown, N.J., is a Boston Red Sox fan, for some reason. (O.K., he went to Harvard eventually, but still.) In any case, he's worried about his club, and he has something to contribute to the cause. In fact, it is rather urgent because this weekend the Red Sox are in San Francisco, home of the Giants and more to the point, of the Giants' left fielder, Barry Bonds.

Mr. Reiter's message to the Red Sox, to their manager, Terry Francona, and to the pitching staff, runs counter to the prevailing wisdom in baseball these days. But it's simple: do not walk Bonds. [...]

Mr. Reiter would like the world in general — and the Red Sox in particular — to know that this strategy is not only lily-livered but also self-defeating. An assistant professor of statistics at Duke University, Mr. Reiter, 34, has done what statistics professors and baseball fans everywhere do: he has run the numbers. The results, he said, make it clear that the Giants are likelier to score when Bonds is walked than when he is pitched to, and that overall they score more runs.

"What I did was go back to the last three seasons and look at every one of Bonds's plate appearances and examine what happened in the inning after the first pitch to him," Mr. Reiter said in a telephone interview. "In innings where he was walked and innings where he was pitched to, how many runs did the Giants score after the first pitch to Bonds?"

To account for different game situations, Mr. Reiter divided his study according to the number of outs and whether the bases were empty when Bonds came to bat or there was a runner on first base (these are the situations when giving away a walk is generally considered ill advised). For example, over the last three years Bonds came to the plate 377 times with nobody on and nobody out. He walked 79 times; the Giants scored in 37 of those innings, 47 percent of the time, and overall scored 0.9 runs per inning. But when Bonds was not walked with no one out and no one on, the Giants scored in 107 of 298 innings, 36 percent of the time, and an average of 0.6 runs per inning.

"According to the data," Mr. Reiter said, "the only situation where the numbers favor walking him are none on and one out." With none on and two out, he said, the risk of pitching to him and walking him is about the same. "You could flip a coin," he said.

You should never walk him--just hit him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2004 8:43 AM

Especially true for Pedro; got to keep that pitch count down.

Posted by: mike earl at June 19, 2004 9:56 AM

Yeah, hit him with a bat in the parking lot before the game starts.

Posted by: Brandon at June 19, 2004 11:26 AM

It's sad to see baseball fans descending to the level of ice skating by taking out your opponent before the competition. If your goal is to add a little refigerated violence, can't you at least aspire to hockey?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 19, 2004 11:41 AM

I've never understood the theory of the intentional walk--especially the intentional walk that loads the bases--and it seems like every game where I've seen one, it's turned into a run scored by the end of the inning.

Posted by: Mike Morley at June 19, 2004 1:57 PM

Doesn't Bill James make a similar argument? When you walk a hitter, it is equivalent to a single but without any chance for an out. Given that everyone's batting average is below 500, it would seem that the odds favor pitching to everyone.

Posted by: jd watson at June 20, 2004 4:46 AM