The Importance of the Walk
How do you win a baseball game? Now before you exit out of my article because you’re not here to read Baseball 101, its important to discuss baseball at a microscopic level before we get in-depth. In order to win a game, you need to score more runs than your opponent. This leads us to two questions: how do teams score a lot of runs, and how do teams prevent runs from being scored on them? Today, we will be looking at the first question: how do teams score a lot of runs?
Is this sounding a lot like Moneyball to you? Well, if so, good! Billy Beane had it right. Getting on base scores you runs. If you get on base, you give yourself the chance to score, while also not using one of the 3 critical outs you’re allotted per inning.
So how can the Cardinals get on base more? The answer is simple: Walks. If you take walks, you get on base while not recording an out. If you get on base while not recording an out, you score more. And if you score more, you win more games. Walks, this grand solution, aren’t sexy. They don’t fill highlight reels, and they don’t sell tickets. But walks win games.
Cardinals Team Stats in 2016
As a collective team, the Cardinals averaged a walk in 8.5% of at bats. Compared to the rest of the National League teams on the year, the Cardinals were smack in the middle of the pack. Unsurprisingly, all 5 playoff teams from the NL in 2016 walked more frequently than the Cardinals. Walks win games, and winning games gets you into the playoffs.
Walks are the equivalent to a free hit. In order to get a walk, you need one important attribute: plate discipline. Don’t swing at balls. It’s that easy.
The Cardinals were the 4th most likely team in the NL to swing at a ball. Outside of the Cardinals, the other 7 most frequent NL teams to swing at balls finished with a sub .500 record. Take a look at this graph of the NL’s teams in 2016 comparing O-Swing%, a metric that measures the percent of the time that a team swings as a pitch outside of the strike zone, and the amount of wins on the year.
There is a pretty clear correlation that the less a player swings at balls, the more games his team will win. Why? Because swinging less at balls results in more walks. More walks results in more runs. More runs results in more wins.
Individual Cardinals Stats
So which players for the Cardinals in 2016 utilized their plate discipline to rake in walks?
Unsurprisingly, the 3 Cardinals who swung the least frequently on balls (and who had over 150 at bats on the season), were also the 3 Cardinals who drew the highest percentage of walks: Matt Carpenter, Greg Garcia, and Tommy Pham. On the other hand, 4 out of the 5 Cardinals who swung the highest O-Swing% were also one of the top 5 Cardinals who were walked the least frequently(Adams, Grichuk, Molina, Piscotty).
9 of the top 14 Cardinals batters has a O-Swing% above the league average (30%). Whether through better player development in the minor leagues, or targeting free agents who have historically drawn a lot of walks, developing better plate discipling is vital to the Cardinals success in the future.
Wins come from runs. Runs come from getting on base. Getting on base comes from walks. Walks come from not swinging at balls. Not swinging at balls comes from plate discipline. The Cardinals want to win games, so they must have better plate discipline in 2017.
Photo Courtesy: Joe Nicholson- USA TODAY