Rating the Managers by Intentional Walks

Steven BielCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2010

ST. LOUIS - JUNE 26:  Humberto Cota #11 of the Pittsburgh Pirates calls for an intentional walk of Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on June 26, 2005 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Pirates beat the Cards 5-4.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The intentional walk is one of the more more overused moves in MLB. The goal of this post is to identify which managers most frequently overuse the free pass. (I did a similar post last season that you can view by clicking here .)

The reason why IBBs are usually a bad idea is because putting a runner on increases the opposing team's chances of scoring in every base-out combination possible . Of course, despite that, intentional walks can still help a team's chances of winning in specific, strategic situations, like late in close games, two outs, a star hitter at the plate, and a much less dangerous hitter on deck. But you have to be judicious, and most managers are not.

In Chapter 10 of The Book , Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin analyze when issuing a free pass does and doesn't increase a team's odds of victory and provide a very helpful table listing all the different base-out-score situations when an IBB might be beneficial, depending on the relative strength of the hitters due up.

Determining the relative strength of the hitter at the plate and those due up is more than a bit subjective, including the hitter-pitcher match-up, the health and recent performance of the hitter, and a host of other factors. So I'm (very generously) giving managers the benefit of the doubt there. Instead, I'm just pulling together all the instances in which a free pass was issued in which there's no statistical chance that the walk improved the pitching team's odds of winning.

Here's the list of managers in 2009, ranked in order from most to least frequent "bad" intentional walks (noted as "BIBBs" in the chart):

C. ManuelPHINL3160.037
J. ManuelNYMNL6090.056

Since my teachers taught me to show my work, you can look at all 1179 walks here .

A few observations here:

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  • As he did throughout his tenure, Manny Acta did a better job than most avoiding bad IBBs. Like him or hate him, this is a part of the game that Manny understood well.
  • Riggleman, on the other hand, was quite generous when it came to giving away bases. Three times he ordered an intentional walk with no outs and a tie score or down by one. Probably his worst free pass of the season came on September 22, when he ordered Livan Hernandez to walk the season-long-slumping Russell Martin (.256 / .354 / .333) with no outs, runners on second and third, and the score tied 2-2 in the top of the fourth with Hiroki Kuroda, Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, and Manny Ramirez due up. The Dodgers would eventually score seven runs in the inning and win the game 14-2.
  • Jim Leyland was second in all of baseball last year with 17 "bad IBBs." This year, he cut that number in half, but the difference between his eight bad walks and Gardy's three could very well have been the difference in the division.
  • It's hard not to notice that three of the "best" managers on this measurement eventually got canned. Melvin I think pretty clearly got a raw deal, and Acta never had a chance, even if you do believe, as I do, that in the end it was time for new blood in the clubhouse. Clint Hurdle in fact was tied for fifth in the league in bad IBBs last year, so maybe he figured out that you have no business handing out free base-runners in Denver, regardless of the situation. Then again, maybe the other managers know something that these former-managers don't, that you never get credit for the move not made, and that we still live in an era when managers are better off seeming "active," even if it comes at the expense of their team's chances to win.
  • The Brewers' Ken Macha ran away from the field issuing by far the most "bad" IBBs in baseball. Some of his gaffes were real head-slappers. On June 16, Macha walked Travis Hafner in the bottom of the seventh with one out and a runner on second and his team ahead by a run--the team survived that one, but they were less lucky on August 11. On that day, facing the Padres and down 2-4 in the top of the sixth with runners on second and third and no one out, Macha walked light-hitting but fast Everth Cabrera with David Eckstein, Adrian Gonzalez (!), and Chase Headley due up; eventually six runs would score in the inning, blowing the game wide open. Two days later, with one out and runners on second and third in the top of the second inning of a tie game, Macha intentionally walked the apparently terrifying Cabrera again, this time to face the pitcher and then the top of the order. Other terrible hitters Macha chose to put on base included Ramon Vazquez, Joe Thurston, and Matt Tolbert.
  • Worst intentional walk of the year goes to Bud Black. On June 7th , in the top of the 17th inning, score tied 6-6 and no one on, Black had Chad Gaudin intentionally walk Josh Whitesell, who at the time was hitting .150 / .292 / .250. Arizona Pitcher Leo Rosales was due up next and grounded out to short, but in the next inning, Black, out of pitchers, brought in former Nationals shortstop Josh Wilson to pitch. Wilson got two outs, which, if he had been able to pitch to Rosales, probably would have gotten him out of the inning. But the fifth batter Wilson faced, Mark Reynolds, took him deep to win the game. Black basically chose to have Gaudin walk Whitesell in order to have a position player pitch to one of the most dangerous home run hitters in the game. He should have been fired on the spot.