Walks and Production
Remember when GM Ruben Amaro said, before the season, “I don’t care about walks; I care about production”?
The Phillies are averaging 2.45 walks per game, which is the franchise’s worst rate since 1921.
— Matt Gelb (@magelb) July 31, 2013
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.