I ♥ the IBB

I’m not sure why, but it seems that there has been a lot of talk regarding rule changes this year. In an interview with Chris Young yesterday, Rob Neyer stated he would like to do the following.

I would outlaw the intentional walk. I would shorten the season by two weeks, by shortening the schedule to 154 games and scheduling five or six doubleheaders per team. I would — and this is something Bill James has been recommending for years — standardize and supply the bats. I would shorten the time between half-innings by 30 seconds. I would order the umpires to enforce the rules prohibiting fielders from blocking bases (including home plate) [Ed. note: This was days before Albert Pujols cleaned out Josh Bard]. I would do whatever I could to lower the number of pitching changes. Oh, and I would set a maximum decibel level for ballpark sound systems that would result in a great deal less noise than we hear now. (Yes, I know… Hey, you stupid kids! Get out of my yard!)

There is nothing unique or unreasonably about the items on the list, I just want to use one of his suggestions as a foil. As the title to this post indicates, I love the intentional walk. One of the most beautiful aspects of baseball is that the defense is the first mover before each play. In most other sports, the team/person attempting to score is the first mover. In football, the offense calls the play. In basketball, hockey, and soccer (which are all really variants of the same game) the player possessing the ball/puck makes the decision of how to move the scoring item. In tennis, the server decides how hard and where to hit the ball. In baseball, the hitter must respond to what the pitching team gives him.

The intentional walk is an interesting strategy that allows the opposition to obtain an outcome that the defense typically tries to prevent. When the free pass happens, it is interesting from strategic and competitive perspective. Is walking the opposing hitter a good idea? In most situations it’s a bad idea. But if it turns on a force-out, avoids a good hitter, or changes the platoon advantage it can be a smart move. Whether or not the decision is a good one is fun to discuss.

The effect on the egos of competitive men should not be overlooked. “I’d rather pitch to you than the guy in front of you” thinks the pitcher. “You’re walking him to pitch to me?” thinks the batter. Echoing The Godfather, this may seem like business, but when you get down to it this is personal.

Yeah, the intentional walk often does take the bat out of a good hitter, whom I would like to see hit. But to me, that is part of the game. Does it slow the game down? A little, but so does the third base coach calling time to talk to the batter about the signs, or the pitching coach strolling out to the mound to tell his pitcher to throw strikes. Until moments like these are gone, we shouldn’t include intentional walks in the speed-up-the-game discussion.

In summary, I ♥ the IBB.

17 Responses “I ♥ the IBB”

  1. Jason S. says:

    I have no problem with the intentional walk. I see no way that a rule banning it could possibly be enforced. A clever pitcher could simply try to miss the plate outside every time with a pitch that’s not obviously an attempt to miss the plate and the guy walks anyway. To enforce it would require an umpire to use judgment. I hate rules that depend on human judgment and trying to determine intent to decide something. A pitcher might honestly be trying to throw to a batter and barely miss the plate and end up being ejected (I assume that would be the punishment) for “intentionally walking” a batter when in fact he was not trying to do that. I just don’t like it when umpires have to determine intent. Hockey refs can do this now and give out penalties for “diving” and it’s totally a judgement call that they don’t always get right. Anyway, as JC says, the intentional walk does come at a cost – a runner gets on base – so it’s not like there is no price to pay for doing it. One of the great things about baseball is that you can do things that are on the surface disadvantageous in exchange for some temporary benefit. For example, the sacrifice bunt trades a very precious commodity, an out, for the ability to advance a runner and thus increase his chance of scoring. An intentional walk has the defense trading a potential run (the guy who got walked) in the hope of gaining a more favorable outcome with the next batter. The only other game I can think of that allows you to sacrifice for a temporary advantage that may not work out is chess.

  2. Dan says:

    I too love the IBB, for the reasons you state. Also, we have to consider the practical element of outlawing the IBB. Who is to say that 4 pitches in the dirt to ARod is intentional or not? Outlawing the IBB will only increase the IUBB (Intentinoal Unintentional Base on Balls).

  3. Dan says:

    Seems like Rob’s thing with it is the time aspect. So why not just allow the defense to say “We walk you” rather than forcing them to put 4 pitches way outside?

  4. TC says:

    I, like Neyer, really don’t like the IBB. I understand why the occur, or, at least, I understand the reasoning behind many IBBs. But I’d always rather see the tired pitcher facing the big hitter. But I can tolerate it. A rule I wouldn’t mind, though, is eliminating the 4 intentional balls for the IBB. Just let the catcher put up four fingers, the pitcher throws one ceremonial pitch, and the batter goes to first. Get it over with.

  5. R says:

    “One of the most beautiful aspects of baseball is that the defense is the first mover before each play”

    I love it.

  6. ChuckO says:

    In reality, the proposals that attempt to eliminate the intentional walk end up also penalizing a pitcher who is so wild that he throws four straight unintentional balls. For example, some propose that if a pitcher walks a batter on four straight pitches, the batter should be given two bases. The unintended consequence of this could well be that the already bloated bullpens would get even larger, since managers could well be more inclined to give a quick hook to pitchers who seem to be wild.

  7. Andrew says:

    High schools (at least in Georgia) do exactly what Dan suggests. If a team wants to walk a batter, they just tell the ump to put him on, and they move on to the next batter. It definitely speeds up the game by maybe a minute, which is good.

  8. Ken Houghton says:

    I love the IBB, even after Johnny Bench in the 1972 World Series.

    You still have to pitch four balls out of the strike zone: in fact, far enough out that, unless you’re Benching someone, the batter cannot hit it without stepping out of the batter’s box.

    The catcher still has to catch it.

    The pitch has to be fast enough that a baserunner on second or third doesn’t decide to steal.

    The catcher has to throw it back–or decide that the baserunner at second or third is getting a little lazy, and try to make a play.

    They’re four of the most interesting pitches in the game, especially if the reason is more than runner-on-second-and-the-#8-hitter-up-in-a-Major-League-game.

    Of course, I’ve said before that baseball doesn’t need to be faster; it needs better announcers who actually explain what is happening.

  9. Ken Houghton says:

    Btw, Geoff Young, not Chris Young, no?

  10. Kyle James says:

    Great great stuff! I also love the IBB and the element of strategy that is invoked around it. For HS ball and younger I think it’s ok to just allow the coach to say we are intentionally walking a guy, but for professionals they should be required to throw the four pitches because you never know what could happen. Haven’t we seen a free swinger like Vlad hit a HR on a free pass or a guy throw one to the screen that results in the winning run scoring?

    Otherwise I think all of Neyer’s other suggestions are fair game and I’d throw in one more. Nothing against umpires, but I think we are at a point in time where instant replay is ok in certain situations most notably in calling a HR which we have seen a lot of need for in the last two weeks. I’d leave bang bang plays and balls and strikes in the judgement call of the umpires, because we still love to see Bobby Cox thrown out of a game every now and then. Both a ball down the line that might have been foul or fair or a HR or ground rule double you just hate to see one of those missed.

    Speeding up games and bringing back Double Headers, and no I don’t mean day/night DH’s to makeup for a rain delay are definitely in the best interest of the game.

  11. Doug says:

    I dislike intentional walks for the same reason I dislike intentional fouls at the end of basketball games.

    You’re supposed to pitch the danged ball into the strike zone. If you’re not capable of doing so, the base-on-balls is supposed to be the penalty.

    At no point in any game or sport should a team benefit from intentionally penalizing itself. It’s just wrong.

    Football has it right. If the penalty would be beneficial for the offending team, the other team has the right to refuse it.

    Batters should have the same option. I’m not sure exactly how the mechanics would work, but batters should be allowed to decline any walk, intentional or not.

  12. JC says:

    Doug,

    Haven’t we had this conversation before? ;-)

    What happens when the batter declines his base and the pitcher continues to throw balls?

  13. Doug says:

    One possibility is:

    Four balls = first base

    Eight balls = second base

    Twelve balls = third base

    etc.

    I’ll even be kind to you intentional rule-breakers and not reset the strikes. So if you walk a guy on a full count, and the hitter declines it, the count reverts to 0-2.

  14. Kyle says:

    The only people who dislike intentional fouls are ones who can’t hit free throws. Like the IBB, it’s a part of the strategy of the game. If people don’t want strategy, go watch a game of Tic-tac-toe.

  15. Geoff Young says:

    “Btw, Geoff Young, not Chris Young, no?”

    Yeah, I’m about a foot shorter. ;-)

  16. Marc Schneider says:

    To me, the IBB is no different than a football team double covering a star wide receiver or a basketball team setting up special defenses for a particular player (eg, the Jordan Rules). Why don’t those sports all outlaw special defenses? Unless you want to turn games into exhibitions, the point is to win and you do that by making the best players non-factors. Would the sport be better if Bonds was never intentionally walked (disregarding the points made before about how you enforce that) and hit 85 home runs?

    The rest of Neyer’s points make sense but, by now, he annoys me so much that I tend to oppose anything he says on principle.

  17. Dave says:

    I’m jumping in late but I do like the availibility of the IBB although it is probably overused from a strategic standpoint (so are sac bunts). Sac bunts are similar in nature. A team intentionally trying to make an out to gain an extra 90 feet. I guess I’m just an Earl Weaver type of guy.

    I know JC has written about lineup protection before, but I wonder if if JC’s conclusion about protection being essentially nonexistent applies to IBB or only when pitchers are trying to record outs.

    By the way, Buck Showalter gets my vote for greatest IBB ever! Walking Bonds with the bases loaded drove the purists mad, but when you look at most of those Giant teams (Bonds, 7 clowns and a pitcher) its amazing Bonds ever got a pitch at which to swing.