A.J. Burnett, Leadoff Walks and Baseball's Temple of Doom

Joseph JonesContributor IIIJuly 17, 2011

A.J. Burnett has already walked 52 batters in 2011.
A.J. Burnett has already walked 52 batters in 2011.

Here is a fun tidbit that should give fans of A.J. Burnett (A's fans can insert Trevor Cahill, Giants fans Jonathan Sanchez if they feel like torturing themselves), and his frustratingly-high 52 walks, something to agonize over.

(Courtesy of  John Dewan’s Stat of the Week):

How often does the dreaded leadoff walk score?

How dreaded is the leadoff walk? Is it more dreaded than the leadoff single, for example? When a pitcher walks the first batter, is it a bigger omen of problems than giving up a single? Let’s take a dip into the Baseball Info Solutions database to see what it has to say.

How often does the leadoff walk score? Going back 10 years, it’s 38 percent of the time. Not good (for the pitcher). How many runs score in the inning, on average, after the leadoff walk? .905 runs. That’s an 8.15 ERA, assuming all the runs would be earned.

So, when a pitcher gives up a leadoff walk in an inning, his ERA is, in essence, 8.15. Very bad. Very bad, indeed. (Note: this assumes the pitcher stays in for the whole inning and all the runs are earned.)

Now the piece went on to point out that the data shows that a leadoff single is similarly disastrous to a pitcher.

Leadoff singles score 38 percent of the time, same as leadoff walks. The average number of runs are the same too, .902 runs per inning after a leadoff single.

This led some to argue that, in some instances, a walk may be the better choice compared to grooving a relatively easy-to-hit fastball, but I’m not quite buying that argument.

Yes, the ball put in play has a chance of finding a gap—or the cheap seats in right field—BUT it stands a much better statistical chance of leading to an out, seeing how a .300 hitter still does so 70 percent of the time.


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