Money Ball…The Lost Art of Base on Balls

Art of the Walk

The walk is so important. It significantly impacts an individuals success, as well as the team’s success.

I was fortunate enough to play in many games, against many great players in college and professional baseball. However, it took just one game that changed my understanding of hitting forever. That game opened my eyes on hitting, and helped me start to understand more deeply how to be successful at the plate.

I was catching in a AAA Tucson game that day. Making his AAA debut on the other team was JD Drew. I recalled each at bat in the first game we played against each other. Mostly because of the personal interest I had in him as he spurned the Phillies in the draft.

First At-Bat

In his first at-bat, he worked the count to 3-2 and struck out on a pitch on the outside corner without taking the bat off his shoulders. He didn’t swing at one pitch the entire at-bat. I thought, wow, what’s this guy doing.

Next Three At-Bats

His next at-bat was very similar but he drew a walk, again without swinging. His third at bat he swung at the first pitch on the corner and hit a hard ground ball to short for an out. In his last at-bat, he took the first pitch for a ball, then he crushed a 1-0 fastball that was in the middle of the plate deep into the right field stands for a HR.

Efficiency

In four at-bats, he had just two swings. One swing he hit a pitch on the corner for a hard out, the other he hit a meatball a mile. The other two at-bats were a strikeout and a walk. It was then when I started to really understand hitting. Why walks and swinging at good pitches was so important. His advanced stats on the day in four plate appearances, and two swings were:

  • Average: .333
  • On Base Percentage (OBP): .500
  • Slugging: 1.333
  • On Base Plus Slugging (OPS): 1.833

If he would have swung the bat on the time he walked, he would have gotten out and been 1/4 instead of 1/3. His stats would have been as follow:

  • Average: .250
  • On Base Percentage (OBP): .250
  • Slugging: 1.00
  • On Base Plus Slugging (OPS): 1.250

Which stat line would you want? Which one will keep you in the line-up? Which one would keep you at the top of the order?

This is a big difference over a long season at any level as well. Not only personal statistics, but you are giving your team more opportunities to score runs by getting on base.

Money Ball

moneyball

Some of you may have read the New York Times best selling book MoneyBall. Probably more of you have seen the movie with Brad Pitt. The book is awesome and the movie is good. Without getting into too much specifics about either, this weeks article was inspired by the writings in the book. Giving you a greater understanding of how important a simple base on balls (walk), is in the game of baseball.

The book is based on an organizational philosophy of the Oakland A’s and Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). More specifically how they evaluate and acquire talent for their major league team. Both through the draft and free agency.

The A’s are a small market team with limited money to spend a compared with larger markets like the Yankees and Red Sox. The organization decided to move away from traditional thinking in baseball of how to project players success at the big league level. The focus was to determine how best to spend their limited resources on players, and how to make sure they had a higher level of success rate with the money they invested.

On base percentage and walks they deemed as one of the best statistical numbers that would better produce more runs for a team. Not the glamour stats like homeruns and batting average. At BullyBats we have a similar philosophy. We feel its important for our players to understand why the walk is so important to the success of the hitter as well as the team.

Teaching Youth Baseball vs. Big Picture

At an early age, we as coaches are constantly telling our players to swing the bat and don’t go up there looking for a walk. Young hitters, while it’s nice to be on base, would much rather get the opportunity to mash the ball. I 100% agree with this. Baseball can be boring at a young age, and players need to learn to be aggressive and swing the bat.

At 10 years old and younger, I’m a fan of nose to the toes. If you get a pitch that you can hit, swing at it. As we continue to play the game and players reach higher levels of baseball, the game changes. Bad pitches are tougher to hit, and swinging at them will not help your teams success. Most of the time will result in an out.

Remember if you FAIL two out of three at bats in Major League Ball, you will be a hall-of-famer. Getting a hit is hard. At this point, the walk becomes an integral part of team and a hitter success.

The Value of Walking

1. You have to score runs to win the game.

The only way to score runs in a baseball game is to hit a homerun, or get players on base and knock them in. Most teams at every level have few players that consistently go deep. However, every player has a chance to get on base. For the most part there are only 3 ways to get on base; a hit, an error, or a walk. The more baserunners you have in any given game, the better chance you have to score more runs than the other team.

2. A fundamentally sound hitter’s success is determined by the pitches he swings at.

Each hitter faces four different types of pitches:

  1. A pitch way out of the strike zone that shouldn’t be tempting at all to swing at as it’s easily recognizable (BALL)
  2. A pitch in the big part of the strike zone that every hitter is looking for and should be attacking with the ferocity of a lion going after the limping antelope in the herd (Strike)
  3. A pitch on the edge of the strike zone that is a strike (Strike)
  4. A pitch outside the edge of the strike zone that is a ball (BALL)

Pitch #1: A good hitter will never swing at.

Pitch #2: This is the pitch BullyBats teaches our hitters to be great at hitting. This pitch should be hit hard consistently. This of course doesn’t ensure a hitter reaching base, as fielding and where the ball is hit, is generally out of the hitters controls. (This pitch JD Drew hit a HR in above example)

Pitch #3: A pitch on the corners and just in the strike zone is called a pitchers pitch for a reason.

A pitchers goal is to throw pitches on the edges for a reason, they are tougher for a hitter to hit hard consistently. So a hitter should do his best to invest his time in being patient each at bat to get a better pitch than this pitch. Success rate is significantly lower when swinging at this pitch. These pitches we must swing at with two strikes, but should be more selective ahead in the count. (This pitch JD Drew hit well, but got out)

Pitch #4: This the pitch just out of the strike zone and is a ball. Good hitters will recognize this, stay disciplined, and not swing.

If a hitter consistently swings at this pitch, he will get out most of the time and not have great success both hitting it hard or getting on base. (JD Drew didn’t even wince at these)

What Does This All Mean

Ok let me put this mumbo jumbo in perspective as it pertains to walks before I lose you entirely. A player that has drawn a walk has seen 4 pitches outside the strike zone during his at-bat. Obviously he didn’t hit any of pitch he’s seen, ball or strike.

If this player was to offer at any of the 4 balls, the likelihood of that player hitting the ball and reaching base is very low. Had he made an attempt at one of the 4 balls, he would have most likely got himself out, instead of taking the walk. Thus, reducing this players batting average, on-base percentage, and diminish his confidence. Most of all, he would hurt the teams chances of scoring by not getting a runner on base, and giving up an out.

Changing Culture

In the old days (my years), there was a constant theme of “A walk is a good as a hit”. Somewhere along the way, that message was lost. Probably during the steroid era/homerun era in MLB, where the HR took precedent and walks became less prevalent. The commercial around the same time “chicks dig the long ball”, I’m sure perpetuated this myth of swing at everything incase you hit it.

Evaluating Good Hitters is Not Just About Hits

When I evaluate hitters I look at two things:

  1. Do they have a technically sound swing?
  2. Do they have patience and discipline to recognize balls and strikes? Not swinging at the balls out of the strike zone and only swing at the pitches on the edges when the count goes in the pitcher’s favor.

If a hitter has a great plate approach and can demonstrate the ability the lay off the borderline pitches, they will ultimately draw more walks and make less outs. In addition, the fact they are recognizing these pitches as not good to swing at, tells me that they are truly seeing the ball which in turn will drive their success rate through the roof when they do swing.

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