Walks and Production

Remember when GM Ruben Amaro said, before the season, “I don’t care about walks; I care about production”?

It turns out that walks are an important ingredient in the run-scoring recipe. To illustrate that, take a look at this scatter plot showing each team’s walk rate along with their runs scored totals this season.

Click to enlarge

Michael Young is the team leader with a walk rate at 8.8 percent. Among 152 qualified hitters in the Majors, Young ranks 61st in walk rate. Young is also the team leader in on-base percentage at .346, 53rd among 152 qualified hitters. The truth is, though, that 2013 is a bit of an aberrant season for Young as his previous career-high walk rate was 7.9 percent in 2009. His career average is 6.7 percent. The Phillies didn’t sign Young for his ability to draw walks; that he has, sadly, has simply been an unexpected blessing.

Amaro made the distinction between walks and “production” defending the signing of right fielder Delmon Young. This Young, too, has been better than expected in the walks department. He entered the season with a four percent walk rate, but has walked in 5.2 percent of plate appearances this season. Among 233 hitters with at least 250 plate appearances, Young’s walk rate ranks 200th. His .310 on-base percentage ranks 162nd.

In the Youngs, you have one player who has never been renowned for his ability to draw walks and get on base leading the team in both departments, and another who has been among the bottom-feeders with those skills having a career year, and still failing to reach the average. This is why the Phillies have the third-lowest runs per game average in the National League at 3.80. The league average is 4.04, meaning that over 162 games, the Phillies will score about 39 fewer runs than the average team. That amounts to about four wins lost on offense alone.

On-base percentage is often mocked as a Sabermetric panacea, but in the Phillies’ case, they would be a markedly better team with even one Pat Burrell-esque character (career 14% walk rate, .361 OBP) in the lineup. Neither Young will be on the roster in 2014, but as long as the general manager continues to undervalue out-avoidance, the team will continue to suffer the consequences of making the same mistake over and over again.

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20 comments

  1. hk

    August 01, 2013 02:19 PM

    Bill,

    How do players’ minor league walk rates typically translate once they are promoted to the big leagues?

  2. Kevin

    August 01, 2013 02:34 PM

    So you’re telling me if you get on base you score more runs?

  3. Scott G

    August 01, 2013 02:40 PM

    I’m probably one of the biggest advocate of walking, and I know our players don’t have the greatest plate approach, but why would pitchers pitch around our hitters?

    Aren’t better hitters more likely to have the opportunity to walk?

  4. Bill Baer

    August 01, 2013 02:46 PM

    @ hk

    I’m not aware of any studies that have followed players from the Minors to the Majors, so I can’t give you an educated answer on that. My best guess is that hitters face a lot of bad pitching in the Minors so their walk rates are in some part inflated by that, and it deflates against better competition.

  5. hk

    August 01, 2013 02:48 PM

    That makes sense. Thanks. I couldn’t find any studies either and I was wondering what to expect from Cody Asche – minor league walk rate of 7.36% – in this regard.

  6. wooddt

    August 01, 2013 02:48 PM

    I like to think that O’s outlier there is solely because of Davis

  7. Phillie697

    August 01, 2013 02:57 PM

    @Scott G,

    Even MLB pitchers aren’t robots tho, so they are not going to throw strikes 100% of the time; you want hitters who knows how to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone. Pitchers are less likely to pitch to the corners and miss if you’re a bad hitter sure, but they’ll still miss sometimes.

    Plus, if your correlation is correct, that bad hitter = less walks, then you can look at the chart as us just having bad hitters whose walk rate reflect their crappiness. Either way it means the FO, well, suck.

  8. Larry

    August 01, 2013 03:32 PM

    Another huge point why walks are so important is that it raises the pitch count. You want to get the starter out as quick as possible and get to the early bullpen guys who are typically your worst pitchers. This will create a better chance at scoring runs. This is another reason you miss Jaysen Werth in this lineup.

    Utley’s OBP is down. Is he not walking as much or getting HBP as much or both? Chooch went way way down. His plate discipline has changed from I don’t know “Focus”? Dom Brown and Revere don’t walk much. JRoll walk?? Now Ruf is a guy who works the count and gets walked a lot, this also has something to do with his high k rate.

  9. hk

    August 01, 2013 03:53 PM

    Larry,

    I agree with the point on pitch counts. As far as Utley is concerned, his walk rate is down to 8.1% this year (from a career average of 9.7%). He is also getting hit by pitches at a much lower rate. Prior to this year, he got hit by a pitch in 2.9% of his PA’s. This year, he’s been hit by pitches in 0.9% of his PA’s.

  10. Pablo

    August 01, 2013 04:56 PM

    On the brightside one first round pick is walking and striking out at a 14% clip in his short professional career.

  11. Pablo

    August 01, 2013 04:57 PM

    *our first round pick

  12. GWB

    August 01, 2013 04:59 PM

    Brown is an interesting case…especially in regards to the minors to majors question. As far as I remember, Brown had good plate discipline/OBP in the minors and even in his first couple of call-ups at this level, but this year he has definitely been more aggressive at the plate with some good and some bad results…when he works the count and drives a ball obviously its good, but when he gets into a hack mode he can get himself out more than I usually see him do…I tend to believe the Phils do not stress OBP/plate discipline in the minors and definitely not at the ML level by the guys they’ve let go and the ones they’ve brought in to replace them…add to that the older core guys who used to be excellent (Howard, Utley, Ruiz) have dropped off with age/injuries

  13. Cutter

    August 02, 2013 08:22 AM

    But do the walks lead to production, or are they more of a reflection of production?

    The Phillies rank mediocre to low in several offensive categories, not just walks.

    As Scott G mentioned, maybe the reason the Phillies hitters don’t walk as much is because pitchers don’t fear them.

  14. Juums

    August 02, 2013 09:02 AM

    On the subject of how MiLB walk rates translate to MLB, the other side of the coin is that, since many MiLB pitchers have command and/or control issues, there’s a greater likelihood of pitchers making mistakes and serving up meatballs. Thus producing hits for a patient MiLB hitter in place of what would have been walks at the MLB level.

    Or so you’d think. Whether it’s a genuine counterveiling force is a question that could probably have a study done about it.

  15. Matt

    August 02, 2013 09:27 AM

    I am curious what that chart would look like if you used Batting Average. Would it also link Batting Average to Production? Maybe we also need to hit more singles. The Phillies stink not because Delmon Young doesn’t walk like Pat Burrell and Amaro doesn’t care about walks. It’s because besides Brown, no one can mash like Howard, Utley, Rollins, (and Werth) used to. We were a pretty good team when there were four guys hitting over 30 homeruns. If Delmon, Dom, Utley, and Howard for example were all hitting 30 homeruns, are we really discussing the walk rates?

  16. Jeff

    August 03, 2013 12:53 AM

    Ruben, is that you posting as Matt?

    Amazed that people still think plate discipline is only about walks. It’s also about hitters not swinging at pitchers’ strikes and getting themselves out.

    BTW, nobody ever GIDP when drawing a walk.

    Also amazed that people still think walks, BA, and power are mutually exclusive — or are correlated only negatively (i.e., Howard walks less because his power is down). False. When you lay off balls and pitchers’ strikes, you walk more and make better contact when you do swing. It’s a win-win-win for the hitter.

    Yes, some guys’ power numbers are down due to injuries, age, etc. But a lot is self-inflicted. The lineup is now dominated by hackers. When you swing at pitchers’ pitches, you hit worm-killers and popups instead of doubles and HRs.

  17. Mcneildon

    August 03, 2013 02:28 PM

    There’s an easy way to determine if Phillies hitters don’t walk because pitchers don’t fear them. Go onto Fangraphs and look at the plate discipline stats. The one labeled zone% tells you what percentage of pitches the hitter has been thrown that were in the strike zone. I prefer the PitchF/X rates because I think it’s more trustworthy, but I could be wrong. You can also click the “averages” tab under the heading to see what the league average is. For instance, 48% of pitches thrown to Delmon Young have been in the strike zone. The league average is 49.2%. That would seem to suggest that pitchers are not throwing him meatballs because they don’t fear him. Only 43% of the pitches Ryan Howard saw were in the strike zone. That’s lower than Miguel Cabrera’s rate, which is at 45%.

    You can also check the percentage of pitches that were out of the strike zone that the hitter swung at and compare that to league average. I’m sure most of you on this site already know this, but for those who don’t, I would suggest that you check out those percentages .

  18. Mcneildon

    August 03, 2013 02:36 PM

    Ugh, I worded that part about Delmon Young so poorly. What I meant was those percentages don’t suggest that pitchers are grooving pitches to Delmon Young because they are unafraid of him. That is also worded poorly, but it’s a slight improvement.

  19. pedro3131

    August 04, 2013 09:23 AM

    Mcneildon, it’s not a 1:1 correlation though. Pitchers aren’t throwing Ryan Howard less strikes because they fear him, they throw him less strikes because they know he’s going to swing at virtually whatever they throw, so why bother throwing him something he can hit?

  20. Mcneildon

    August 04, 2013 08:28 PM

    Pedro3131, I agree entirely. My comment wasn’t making the case that pitchers fear Ryan Howard more than Miguel Cabrera. In fact, it wasn’t making the case for anything. It was just alerting people that they can check and see if pitchers are throwing the Phillies hitters a lot of pitches in the strike zone.

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