The Diamondbacks and the Intentional Walk

July 30, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; The worst possible pitching outcome for an IBB. Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Chris Johnson in the dugout after a grand slam home run in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday, the Giants opted to intentionally walk Gerardo Parra to load the bases in the fourth inning, and instead face pitcher Patrick Corbin instead. As we all know, Corbin made them pay, ripping the ball down the right-field line for a bases-clearing triple, driving in his first three major-league runs. It seems to have happened quite a lot this season: the intentional walk being followed by thoroughly unintentional runs. Is that the case, or is is just the case that we remember games like yesterday, or Chris Johnson's post-IBB grand-slam, far more than the pitcher grounding out to the infield?

After the jump we look at all the times someone has intentionally walked a Diamondback this year.

Here's all 44 occasions on which the opposing catcher has held up four fingers this year. It shows the batter, opponent, pitcher, score (note: from the pitching team's point of view), who they faced as a result, and what happened. The percentage figure in the last column is the WPA, for the intentional walk and the outcome of the following plate-appearance combined.

Date Batter Opp Pitcher Score Inn To Face Result (WPA)
04-07 Paul Goldschmidt SFG Madison Bumgarner 0-2 b1 Jason Kubel GIDP (-9%)
04-07 Jason Kubel SFG Dan Otero 2-5 b5 John McDonald Out (-2%)
04-10 Aaron Hill @SDP Edinson Volquez 1-2 t4 Trevor Cahill Out (-3%)
04-18 Miguel Montero PIT Brad Lincoln 0-1 b6 Ryan Roberts GIDP (-10%)
04-22 John McDonald ATL Randall Delgado 1-0 b2 Ian Kennedy BB (13%)
04-27 Jason Kubel @MIA Ryan Webb 0-3 t9 Miguel Montero 2-RBI 2B (2%)
04-27 Lyle Overbay @MIA Chad Gaudin 0-5 t9 Ryan Roberts Out (0%)
04-29 Aaron Hill @MIA Josh Johnson 0-1 t4 Wade Miley Out (1%)
04-29 Justin Upton @MIA Mike Dunn 0-4 t6 Jason Kubel 2-RBI 2B (5%)
05-01 Gerardo Parra @WSN Jordan Zimmermann 0-2 t7 Aaron Hill RBI HBP (5%)
05-01 John McDonald @WSN Ryan Mattheus 0-4 t8 Trevor Cahill GIDP (-2%)
05-02 John McDonald @WSN Edwin Jackson 3-4 t6 Joe Saunders Out (-4%)
05-04 Miguel Montero @NYM Ramon Ramirez 4-5 t9 Paul Goldschmidt Out (-3%)
05-11 A.J. Pollock SFG Madison Bumgarner 1-1 b4 Patrick Corbin Out (-4%)
05-15 Aaron Hill @LAD Chad Billingsley 0-0 t2 Wade Miley K, WP (4%)
05-15 Lyle Overbay @LAD Javy Guerra 0-4 t5 Aaron Hill Out (-2%)
05-17 Justin Upton @COL Rex Brothers 4-4 t8 Miguel Montero Out (-6%)
05-18 Jason Kubel @KCR Luis Mendoza 3-4 t6 Paul Goldschmidt Out (-3%)
05-29 John McDonald @SFG Ryan Vogelsong 0-1 t6 Joe Saunders Out (-6%)
05-30 Aaron Hill @SFG Tim Lincecum 0-1 t2 Ian Kennedy Out (-3%)
06-09 Jason Kubel OAK Jarrod Parker 1-2 b5 Paul Goldschmidt Out (-6%)
06-09 Josh Bell OAK Jarrod Parker 1-6 b5 Trevor Cahill Out (-1%)
06-09 Justin Upton OAK Jerry Blevins 2-6 b8 Jason Kubel RBI 1B (1%)
06-15 Miguel Montero @LAA Dan Haren 0-1 t6 Aaron Hill 3-RBI HR (26%)
06-19 Gerardo Parra SEA Erasmo Ramirez 1-0 b2 Daniel Hudson Out (-4%)
06-19 Aaron Hill SEA Hisashi Iwakuma 8-8 b5 Justin Upton Out (-7%)
07-08 Jason Kubel LAD Ronald Belisario 0-5 b7 Paul Goldschmidt Out (0%)
07-18 Jason Kubel @CIN Mat Latos 1-4 t5 Miguel Montero RBI BB (7%)
07-23 Ryan Roberts COL Jonathan Sanchez 0-1 b4 Ian Kennedy 3-RBI 3B (21%)
07-24 Justin Upton COL Edwar Cabrera 0-0 b3 Miguel Montero Out (-5%)
07-24 Justin Upton COL Rex Brothers 2-4 b7 Miguel Montero RBI 1B (5%)
07-30 Miguel Montero @LAD Aaron Harang 0-3 t5 Chris Johnson 4-RBI HR (13%)
07-31 Stephen Drew @LAD Chris Capuano 1-5 t6 Wade Miley Out (-1%)
07-31 Jason Kubel @LAD Jamey Wright 1-5 t9 Paul Goldschmidt Walk (0%)
08-11 Miguel Montero WSN Edwin Jackson 1-3 b3 Chris Johnson RBI SF (-1%)
08-22 John McDonald MIA Wade LeBlanc 0-2 b4 Wade Miley RBI PB, Out (4%)
08-29 Wil Nieves CIN Mat Latos 0-2 b4 Patrick Corbin Out (-2%)
08-30 Aaron Hill @LAD Clayton Kershaw 0-2 t4 Jacob Elmore GIDP (-11%)
09-04 Miguel Montero @SFG Ryan Vogelsong 1-2 t3 Ryan Wheeler Out (-6%)
09-04 Aaron Hill @SFG Jeremy Affeldt 6-6 t8 Justin Upton Out (-16%)
09-04 Paul Goldschmidt @SFG Javier Lopez 6-7 t11 Miguel Montero RBI 1B (5%)
09-05 Paul Goldschmidt @SFG Madison Bumgarner 0-2 t5 Miguel Montero Out (-2%)
09-05 Chris Johnson @SFG Dan Runzler 2-6 t9 Gerardo Parra Out (0%)
09-16 Gerardo Parra SFG Ryan Vogelsong 2-2 b4 Patrick Corbin 3 RBI 3B (22%)

There's no doubt that the tactic has a serious potential to backfire, and the chart may not show it, because the damage may not necessarily be done by the next hitter. A case in point, and probably the worst result of the year, was the April 22nd game at Chase, where the Braves opted to walk McDonald and face Kennedy with two outs. It was bad enough that Kennedy walked, driving in a run. But Gerardo Parra then followed up with a grand-slam, giving us five two-out runs after the IBB and a net WPA of +42%.

Overall, across these 44 scenarios, the net WPA for the Diamondbacks was +23% - so not exactly the hoped-for result on the pitching team's side. However, there was a startling difference in the results when broken down by the position of the batter faced. The 16 times a hitter was walked to face our pitcher, resulted in a net +43%. But the 28 times a Diamondback hitter was walked to face another hitter, those occasions did work our for the pitching team, to the tune of -20%. The most successful time was on September 4th in San Francisco, when Hill was walked to face Upton with one out, the bases loaded and the game tied at 6. Upton popped up and Arizona failed to score.

Looking at the overall trends, a couple of things stood out. Surprisingly to me, it's a tactic far more used in an attempt to limit damage, rather than protect a lead. Only two of the 44 occasions happened when the pitching team was ahead - both were in the second inning, with a one-run lead, first-base open and our pitcher on-deck. That's extreme, but seems to reflect a general trend. In the majors this year, less than 9% of IBB were given out when the pitching team was ahead, 34% in tied games, and the balance (58%) when the team was behind, and just trying to avoid falling further back.

Outside of our pitchers, the most frequent target i.e. the batter whom teams want to face, is Miguel Montero, who has ended up in the batter's box seven times. The opposition might want to rethink that strategy, since Miggy does seem to take it personally (albeit in a small sample), going 4-for-7 there. On the other hand, Goldzilla is 0-for-4 with a walk in his five efforts, and Upton has come up empty in the two big situations that he has faced, with a -23% WPA, the lowest number of any individual player. Ian Kennedy leads the Diamondbacks this year, with a total of +31%, two points ahead of Aaron Hill's +29%.

It was also unexpected to see it's not a tactic used exclusively late. Indeed, for us, the fourth and fifth innings, with eight apiece, were the ones where it was most commonly seen. It's a little later across all of the majors - the eighth is where it's most frequent - but even there, almost one-third of all cases too place in the front five frames. But as you'd imagine, for both Arizona and nationwide about 60% of intentional walks took place with two outs, and the vast majority of the balance with one down. The only Diamondback IBB with no outs was when LA walked Kubel to load the bases with no outs on July 8; we were already 5-0 up, and scored two more later in the inning.

Let's turn things around and look at the times when the D-backs have issued an IBB. It's a considerably shorter list: indeed, because Kirk Gibson hates the tactic, with a vengeance. Right now, he has done it only 14 times all year, less than half league-average. If he can restrain himself from holding up four fingers more than once over the remaining games, he'll have the lowest total in the National League for almost forty years, since Walter Alston issued nine with the 1974 Dodgers.

Date Pitcher Opp Batter Score Inn To Face Result (WPA)
04-28 Brad Ziegler @MIA Jose Reyes 2-2 b9 Hanley Ramirez RBI 1B (-39%)
05-05 Josh Collmenter @NYM Andres Torres 3-4 b6 Ruben Tejada Out (3%)
05-12 Brad Ziegler SFG Angel Pagan 2-5 t9 Joaquin Arias Out (0%)
05-13 Joe Saunders SFG Brandon Crawford 1-2 t4 Barry Zito Out (6%)
05-25 Ian Kennedy MIL Ryan Braun 1-4 t5 Aramis Ramirez Out (1%)
05-29 Bryan Shaw @SFG Brandon Belt 1-2 b8 Joaquin Arias RBI GO (-2%)
06-05 Ian Kennedy COL DJ LeMahieu 0-0 t2 Jeremy Guthrie Out (7%)
06-28 David Hernandez @ATL Freddie Freeman 2-2 b8 Andrelton Simmons Out (6%)
08-05 Josh Collmenter @PHI Chase Utley 4-4 b9 Ryan Howard RBI 1B (-17%)
08-07 Patrick Corbin @PIT Andrew McCutchen 3-2 b5 Gaby Sanchez Out (9%)
08-07 Takashi Saito @PIT Garrett Jones 3-3 b7 Neil Walker RBI SF (-2%)
08-14 Ian Kennedy @STL Jon Jay 2-4 b7 Allen Craig RBI GO (1%)
08-21 Sam Demel MIA Jose Reyes 5-5 t10 Carlos Lee SF (6%)
09-03 J.J. Putz @SFG Hunter Pence 8-8 b9 Xavier Nady Out (8%)

This did include the most-important situation in which the Diamondbacks were involved. On August 5th, with the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, he walked Chase Utley so Josh Collmenter could face Ryan Howard. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, as Howard got a walk-off single. You can see why Gibson is reluctant to use it, since overall, they have led to a -13% WPA for the Diamondbacks, though that and more come from each of the two occasions where the IBB immediately preceded a walk-off hit.

A couple of other things to note. Gibson will almost never walk the #8 hitter to get to the opposing pitcher. There have only been two such cases all year for him, while across baseball, those represent about 20% of all IBBs. I'd have actually expected the number to be higher, but it's the #3 hitter, at 23%, who is more likely to be shouldering the bat for four wide ones. He also seems to be particularly averse to the free pass early on, with only a pair coming before the fifth inning. Generally, his philosophy for the pitcher seems to be: "Hey, you made this mass - you can clean it up yourself."

I should note that these numbers reflect only clearly intentional balls. We've all seen cases where the pitcher doesn't want to give a batter anything to hit, and sends up four straight balls - the "unintentional intentional walk". However, there's nothing to suggest Gibson uses these as an alternative: including IBBs, the D-backs have 63 four-pitch walks all year, which is only three more than the lowest in the league, the Phillies with 60.

If you're interested in deeper analysis i.e. number-crunching of the tactics behind when to issue a free pass - and, more importantly, when not to - the Hardball Times had a two-part article on the topic. Here are Part 1 and Part 2, which concluded, "Never worry about walking anyone intentionally, at least in the early and middle innings. Pitch to everyone. One, except perhaps in rare, ideal situations, you are probably reducing your team’s chances of winning. Two, it is not worth the time and effort, and perhaps a little stomach acid and a few extra gray hairs worrying about it." Seems like Gibson's philosophy is almost exactly in line with sabermetric analysis there.

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