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justin grimmYou may have noticed that I place a notable emphasis on walks and strikeouts around here. Indeed, as we’re perusing box scores after a game, I (or the collective we, in the comments) often note how each team performed relative to each other with respect to walks and strikeouts. Generally speaking, walks are among the best things a team can get, because they come with a free baserunner, an increased pitch count, and they don’t involve an out. And, generally speaking, strikeouts are among the worst things a team can do at the plate, because they do come with an out and they don’t involve a ball in play (so that plate appearance never even had a chance to become a hit or an error). You don’t really need to appreciate – or even agree with – sabermetrics to get on board with the importance of walks and strikeouts.

This is why, among other reasons, I’m pretty high on good old fashioned K rate, BB rate, and K/BB ratios for evaluating pitcher performance. They are so simple, and yet so important.

As part of a larger piece on macro trends in the game so far this year, Tony Blengino takes a look at a pretty simple team evaluation metric at FanGraphs, which involves netting out the number of strikeouts a team is getting and giving up, and adding that to the net of the number of walks a team is taking and giving up.

Again, this is a very simplistic approach to evaluation, because it doesn’t consider types of hits – or even hits at all – or other game events. But, the thing is, the metric is pretty damn good at pegging the teams that wound up performing well overall last year*, as well as the teams that wound up losing a lot of games (the Cubs were 6th worst at -147). This year, the Cubs are slightly better – 9th worst, at -13 – so that’s … good? The bulk of the negative comes from the fact that the Cubs have given up 10 more walks than they’ve taken, which is no bueno. It’s still super early, but this will be interesting to track throughout the year.

*Interestingly, the one strong outlier? The Pirates were at -115. Obviously they’re faring much better so far this year, given that most of their games have come against the Cubs.

Here’s the relevant chart from Blengino’s piece, which gets into a whole bunch of other interesting topics:

The Astros may be in trouble again this year.

 

  • Funn Dave

    Amazing how well, with a few exceptions, the data corresponds with how good the teams are.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Yeah. That’s really what struck me about this.

      • 5412

        Hi,

        Put Kingman and Dunn in the same lineup and the computer will lock up!

        Regards,
        5412

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Out-walking the opposition is the 2nd biggest correlate with winning, after only out-homering the opposition. (Out-doubling/tripling the opponent is a very, very close 3rd: you could say that walks & doubles/triples are about tied with each other.)

  • CubFan Paul

    “walks are among the best things a team can get, because they come with a free baserunner, an increased pitch count, and they don’t involve an out”

    I play the OBP drinking game every game: a shot for every free base taken.

    When the team gets good i’ll probably find something else to do, because it’s hectic already

  • JasonP

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but K’s have been trending up across the league for years.

    It’s interesting that plate discipline and contact hitting aren’t more emphasized by organizations, it will be interesting to see how the game evolves in this respect. I also think if more batters are defensive with 2 strikes we may see less of the dramatic spray charts which would then impact the phenomenon of the extreme defensive shifts.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Well, the way to get guys who can draw walks is to sign guys who can draw walks: there is no analog of (say) altering swing mechanics or weight-lifting to improve power for pitch recognition. (The fact that batters see real pitching only during games might have a lot to do with that.)

      As for emphasizing contact, that often comes at the cost of losing power. The “selectively aggressive” approach really is about being able to identify pitches in your red-zone when it’s 10′ from the pitcher’s hand and then swinging very hard at the mental batting tee where you “think” (obviously it’s too fast to be cognitive) the ball will cross the red-zone. This should increase walks *IF* your red zone is not huge (think Vlad or Yogi Berra), but it also increases K’s by decreasing contact and, of course, laying off of strikes outside of the red zone.

      However, out-singling the opposition leads to consistent victory only if you are keeping up with the opposition in slugging and walking: if you get extra singles at the expense of those, then you’ll have lots of 37 1 10 1 box score lines…..

      • Hee Seop Chode

        Don’t power hitters genearlly get more walks (weight lifting could lead to greater power)? Like the pitcher is afraid to throw over the inside corner of the plate and or is more likely to issue intential walks? Or is that an immaterial difference?

        • DocPeterWimsey

          The pitcher is targeting the blue zone of any batter. Power hitters who have holes in the strike zone still will get a lot of strikes. So, power hitters who don’t swing at bad pitches and who don’t have big blue regions of the strike zone will see a lot more strikes than power hitters who swing at non-strikes. So, a Miggy Cabrera winds up seeing more strikes than a Jeff Franceour.

          If there is a causal relationship, then I would bet that it’s the other way around: guys who restrict their swings to pitches they can drive will hit more extra-base hits than will equally strong guys who swing at everything. Walks come about as a side-effect of being selective, not being scary.

  • terencemann

    Looking forward, I guess the outfield looks to be where the most improvement could happen? Valbuena walks a reasonable amount as do Rizzo and Castillo. Even if Olt or Bryant become the starting third baseman, I don’t think that ratio will change a whole lot (and with Olt or Bryant the K rate could go up). Castro looks to be the man at short for a long time and, while he could improve a little, he’s not going to put up a 10% BB rate. It looks like, if the Cubs are going to make big strides in this department, It’s going to have to be in the outfield or what they’re doing outside of the K/BB ratio (hitting tons of dingers).

  • MightyBear

    Did anybody notice where Boston was last year? I’m not so sure about this metric. I do know I’d like to see the Cubs pitchers walk less and the Cubs hitters walk more.

  • Steve

    Sick of numbers. “Hawk” maybe be a tumbling dick weed, but I’m in agreeance…this whole numbers craze is taking the fun out of the game…especially the discussion part.

    • Rebuilding

      Why? Because you can’t make unsubstantiated claims based on gut feel? Numbers have added so much to the game because you can actually have a logical discussion about it. All jobs, industries, sales, etc…are based on numbers to judge performance, why would baseball be different?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      To each their own, Steve – I enjoy talking about the numbers. They’re kind of an important part of the game.

      • Rebuilding

        And baseball will always be about numbers because whether you win or lose is based on the “number” of runs you and the opposition score. Whether you want to go deeper than that is up to you

    • Jon

      The Scoreboard is a number. End the end of 9 innings they should award the victory to the team that tried the hardest.

      • Jon

        I just realized tracking innings involves numbers. What about just playing until the other team gave up and said “F’ it!”

        • roz

          Maybe who the crowd cheers for the most. Of course that would require a neutral crowd which would involve measuring the bias of individual fans, so that just wouldn’t work.

    • roz

      Yea, let’s go back to talking about “grit” and “clutch” and maybe even some “heart.”

      • candyland07

        Just because people say grit , clutch and maybe some heart Dont make them wrong when they see a player playing without Grit, Clutch and heart. The vocabulary may be different to explain or show off one astute understanding of the game. One simple formula is all Winning teams have heart , grit and clutch.

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          Ok, sure. Now how do we measure heart, grit and clutch?

          • Jon

            Penis size

            • Picklenose

              Presidential library size (reference to the joke former President Bush made at the LBJ library event today).

              “Former presidents compare their libraries the way other men may compare their, well …,” Bush said to laughs.

          • mjhurdle

            well, Grit is (Unicorns/2)*(Team Chemistry + Clubhouse Presence) / Lineup Protection

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              Where do chicken and beer come in to play?

              • mjhurdle

                Chicken and Beer (fxCB) relates to ‘heart’.

                Heart = (fxBB)^2 * (fiery emotional outbursts) * (game result)

    • ssckelley

      I am not a huge metrics stat guy but I enjoy the conversations on it and have grown to enjoy some of the numbers that never showed up on a baseball card. But what I don’t enjoy is when it gets shoved down our throats like it is exact science and then made to feel bad when some of us mention we still like the old “fun” statistics that we grew up with.

      I do enjoy WIN and OPS, which are now considered basic, but some stats like the whole pitch framing stuff I just cannot buy into.

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