Age-old adages. Bromides. Things we’ve heard over and over again as history continues to repeat itself.
Walks Will Haunt is a pretty straightforward, simple one. Give an opponent a free pass to 1B, and it’s going to come back to bite you in the form of a run. At least, it sure appears like a simple one on paper, though it’s again occurring to me that many of the same generation of Cincinnati Reds fans that grew up with the ghostly image on the Riverfront jumbotron also disliked Joey Votto for walking too much for some reason. I digress.
Anyway, putting any opponents on the bases is a Molly Hatchet strategy when it comes to actually trying to win games. It turns solo homers into two-run blasts, or makes a wild pitch and a single a run-scoring series of events. Not to mention, it’s the kind of thing that could help run-up pitch counts if it permeates the overall pitching staff, a byproduct that results in not having your best pitchers available at key moments of games more often than anyone would like.
My typical Monday routine involves letting the sweet, sweet goodness of hot bean juice permeate the synapses within my brain, and staring deeply, fondly into the webpages at FanGraphs.com. A fresh weekend of baseball stats updated and collated, giving a picture of the makeup of teams and players this season that becomes clearer and clearer by the week. Upon landing there this morning, I was quickly greeted with a leaderboard that elicited a three-word mumble:
...Walks Will Haunt.
That’s the ‘leader’ board for team pitching so far this year, a leaderboard that shows that the Reds pitching staff is tied for the most walks per 9 IP. This is not a leaderboard you’d like to be leading, really, and you’ll notice that the Top 10 highlighted here includes almost all of the worst teams in the game this year.
As the hot bean juice kept kicking in and the synapses began to fire faster, I took a deep breath. Surely, I thought, this was reflective of the bullpen disaster this club dealt with for the bulk of the season, one that presumably had begun to be rectified with the trade deadline additions and the returns of Michael Lorenzen and Lucas Sims. It’s frontloaded date, I thought, with the worst of the problems baked in and long gone.
However, I was then slapped with the premise for this entire ramble:
That’s the league-wide leaderboard for starting pitching. That’s the Reds starters sitting on the top, the group that walks more than any other starting pitching group in the game.
It’s again worth emphasizing that this is not a good thing. It means the Reds starters are putting baserunners on base at their own volition more often than their peers, and as the Joey Votto rule has long ago taught us, walks lead to scoring runs. Of course, it takes little to no effort to slide your eyes over to the far-edge of the screenshot above and see that the team’s overall starting pitching fWAR is way the heck better than every other group that’s in the Top 10 of walking dudes, meaning this is hopefully just one flaw in an otherwise little-blemished group.
That’s mostly the case. They walk a lot of dudes, but they strike out a lot of dudes, too. Their strand rate is also the best among the 10 teams listed above, while they also allow fewer dingers per 9 IP than the average buncha Joes, too. Walking folks, it would appear, is absolutely a character flaw for the otherwise stalwart group of starters for these Reds, though they’ve found ways to work around it so far.
The question though, of course, is whether or not it’s going to end up biting them in the butt at some point down the road. It certainly didn’t phase Vlad Gutierrez yesterday, who breezed through the Miami lineup with just a lone walk issued in 7 brilliant IP, but it did choke Wade Miley on Saturday in a rough, early exit.
I’m no baseball historian, nor am I an expert analyst. I do know, though, that I long ago bought into the idea that walks, as they are wont to do, will haunt. Consider this my official hope that they either somehow find a way to non-haunt this time around or, god willing, the starting pitchers on the Cincinnati Reds staff in 2021 begin to find ways to throw a strike when they inevitably reach three-ball counts for the next 36 or so regular season games.