After the publication of “Moneyball” — the Michael Lewis book about the Oakland A’s and their use of statistical analysis — a lot of baseball fans caught on to the idea that walks were a rich source of runs and players that walked should be highly valued.
Any team that didn’t adopt that style of play was likely to be criticized; fans of sabermetrics wanted to see hitters take pitches and work walks.
But watching hitters take pitches is pretty close to watching a faucet drip; it’s not all that exciting and it makes baseball games longer.
For example: Wednesday’s game against the Twins
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On Wednesday, the Royals played the Minnesota Twins. For some reason the people who run baseball thought it would be a good idea to open the season just outside the Arctic Circle, but scheduled day games to keep frostbite and wolf attacks to a minimum.
15,171 fans showed up to see a three hour and six minute contest that featured 315 pitches and 12 walks. Nine of those walks were issued to the Twins and the Twins won, but even Twins fans had to find the game slow at times.
If I counted right it took 66 pitches to issue those 12 walks.
Ian Kennedy was taking an average of 24.4 seconds between pitches. Twins starter Hector Santiago was taking 20.1. Nathan Karns was taking 22.7 seconds; Matt Strahm has been taking an average of 21.6. Chris Young — smarter than the average bear — was taking 19.1.
(OK, I could keep looking up how long the pitchers took between pitches — thank you FanGraphs — but it’s a quarter to six in the AM, it’s starting to seem a little tedious and you probably already got the point; it took a while to deliver 66 pitches.)
If we’re being generous to the pitchers, let’s say it took 20 seconds to deliver each of those 66 pitches. That adds up 1,320 seconds — 22 minutes — where not much was happening.
But if walks help you win, isn’t a slow game worth it?
There’s more than one way to skin a cat; in 2014 and 2015 the Kansas City Royals were last in the American League in walks, but still won two AL championships.
When the Royals started getting national attention in 2014, a coach from another team called me and was excited about how the Royals were playing the game; he thought they were bringing baseball back.
The Royals didn’t stand around, taking pitches and working walks. They got the ball in play and ran the bases aggressively, and with good pitching and defense, they showed an aggressive style of play could work.
During Wednesday’s game, someone on Twitter criticized Paulo Orlando for swinging at the first pitch; they thought Paulo needed to take some pitches.
But as I pointed out in a previous post, Paulo had hit .463 on the first pitch and slugged .639. In 2016 the Royals team average on the first pitch was .381; as a group they slugged .619.
If a pitcher was going to groove a first-pitch fastball to get ahead in the count, hitting coach Dale Sveum was going to turn the Royals loose and let them swing away.
That style of play — swing the bat and run like something’s chasing you — won the Royals a lot of fans; they were entertaining.
If you want to see hitters walk, don’t complain about the length of games
Baseball is concerned about the length of games; fans would like shorter contests. But some of those same fans say they want to see hitters take pitches and work walks.
I’d say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but that’s never stopped anyone from trying.
The Kansas City Royals have shown you don’t have to take a lot of pitches and work walks to win and teams that use that strategy have a problem.