September 4, 2015

The walk

by Daniel Conmy

As I yell at my friend continually over a text about the importance of a walk, I realize that I have an outlet where I can express this fascination with four pitches outside the strike zone. It is nothing more than a free trip on base that raises your on base percentage by mere points. There are harsh critics to what the walk can do, but what the walk doesn't do is give an out to the other team. Those are precious commodities.

This enthrallment was recently revamped when I read an article about Joey Votto and his patience at the plate. And the next day, Bryce Harper decided to walk four times in one game. Votto is on another planet at the moment, walking 39 times since August 1 and posting a 220 wRC+ in that span. Harper, on the other hand, has walked 26 times in that same period. Both puzzling numbers for great professional hitters, but let's take a look at their season statistics.

Not bad, right? These two players are walking about as often as they strike out and they both hit for power when they aren't walking. So why is it that Joey Votto continually gets blasted by his own play-by-play announcer, Marty Brennaman, when he walks too much? It seems that Brennaman does not understand the beauty of the walk.

These two players understand, probably better than anybody in the game, what opposing pitchers want to do to beat them. Yes, you can beat them, but when either hitter puts a good swing on the ball, it goes a long way more often than not. These players make the pitchers come to them. And if they decide to stay outside the zone? They gladly take the walk, which noted before, does not give the other team an out.

While Votto has a track record with this high walk rate, Bryce Harper is finally turning into that perennial MVP candidate that many thought was possible when he broke into the MLB at 19 years of age. The patience executed by Harper turned him into a player feared by most opposing pitchers. On September 3, Harper walked four times in four plate appearances, resulting in four runs scored and one RBI. Truly a historic day. A walk in this instance, led straight to an RBI, but the most important thing is Bryce Harper was put on the bases and let his teammates execute, which can't be said for the rest of the Nationals season.

Based off of his swing rate outside the strike zone (O-Swing%), Harper has laid off more offerings outside the zone, which has allowed him to reach base at a higher rate. With every other category seemingly stable, Harper bettered himself by understanding that pitchers might not challenge as often and it continues to benefit him.

I will continue to yell in my friends ear about how walks are crucial and those four pitches outside can just win a game for your team.

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