Intentional Walk This Way

Had a minor tweet-storm the other day when it was reported that for the upcoming season, MLB would forego the process of having pitchers throw four balls when issuing an intentional walk. Now, there will just be a signal from the dugout.

That’s just change for the sake of change.

Seriously. Commissioner Rob Manfred is all jacked up about the pace of play. It’s not difficult to agree that baseball needs to do something about the length of games. Forty years ago, games finished in under two and a half hours. These days, it’s rare to get out of the ballpark in under three hours. It’s a problem.

But intentional walks? Come on.

Mound visits, pitching changes, commercial breaks between innings, and yes, even replay are larger time sucks than what it takes for someone to lob four baseballs out of the strike zone. As noted above, this is change just to be doing something, although there is an underlying reason for this and it’s that the Commissioner feels the need to flex his power. This is coming off a settlement of the collective bargaining agreement last winter that felt, on the surface, like a win for the owners. At the same time the news comes out on the intentional walks, Manfred is also making noise about how in the new CBA ownership has the power to unilaterally make changes it sees fit about the pace of play starting in the second year of the agreement. So while this is change for the sake of change, it’s also a bit of a middle finger in the direction of the players and their union. Kind of a “maybe you should get on board because we’re going to do things whether you like it or not.”

It’s far too early to see how this impacts future labor peace, but this isn’t a good start.

The numbers don’t lie. There were 932 intentional walks last year, an average of around one issued every three games. There’s just not a massive benefit to the pace of play on this.

How does this impact the Royals? It doesn’t. Don’t start trying to figure out what you’re going to do with that extra half hour Manfred just saved you because an intentional walk in a Royals game is fairly rare.

Ned Yost, for all his anti-analytic bent, does fall in line with sabermetric thinking when it comes to the intentional walk. He barely uses it. In fact, last year, he ordered only eight intentional walks. Eight! It was the third consecutive season the Royals issued the fewest intentional walks in baseball.

On the other hand, Royal batters were recipients of 23 intentional walks. Eric Hosmer led the way with five and was followed by Sal Perez, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain with three apiece. Two intentional walks were issued in that epic comeback against the White Sox, including the one that came packaged with a wild pitch, allowing a runner to move from second to third. That’s become a rallying point among those of us who saw the game as a reason to keep the status quo.

That’s a valid point. Another point is that on a baseball diamond – hell, let’s open it up to include almost all sports – events happen that are an outcome. In baseball, the goal of the batter is to reach base. That’s how a successful plate appearance is generally defined. Can you think of another instance in sports where a participant is just handed a successful outcome? It’s like a awarding a guy who shoots 90 percent from the free throw line a point. Or when an infraction is committed in the penalty box in soccer, just going ahead and scoring a goal for the team that suffered the foul. Everything in sport should be earned. The outcome isn’t just decided. It’s small potatoes, but the automatic intentional walk seems very anti-sport.

Eh. Baseball will survive a couple of poorly thought out decisions. It’s what the commissioner has planned beyond this is what should have you concerned.

A couple of other Royals items:

— The Royals announced their starting pitchers for this weekend when real fake baseball finally starts. Josh Staumont and Jake Junis will be the first two out of the gate on Saturday. Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte will open the game on Sunday.

Jason Vargas will throw on Monday with Danny Duffy going on Tuesday. Nate Karns and Chris Young will each start the next two games.

It will be interesting to see how Yost manages his starters so early in the spring. Camps opened early this year with the World Baseball Classic coming in March so there’s more than enough time for pitchers to get ready for the regular season.

— If it seems quiet in camp, that’s probably a good thing. The only news that comes from the lull between reporting dates and exhibition games always seems to be injury-related. It doesn’t seem like anyone is carrying any kind of issue that would keep them off the field. Of course, we are all waiting to see how Mike Moustakas has recovered from his knee injury, the general health of Lorenzo Cain, and the continued path of Zimmer. Yet so far, so good on the injury front.

— Baseball this weekend? Yes. The games don’t count, but it will be great to have it back.

Related Articles