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A Few Thoughts On The Automatic Intentional Walk

I still don’t like this new rule.

Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

ST. LOUIS — 28 of the 30 teams have played one 2017 game through Monday (the White Sox and Tigers, rained out in Chicago, still haven’t begun their season).

In the 14 games played, teams have invoked the new automatic intentional walk rule seven times. The Padres did it twice in their opener against the Dodgers (more on that in a moment) and the Cubs, Reds, Royals, Angels and Athletics once each.

Here’s the play-by-play via MLB Gameday for the bottom of the ninth from Sunday’s Cubs/Cardinals game:

Note that the intentional walk issued by Mike Montgomery to Yadier Molina, the first “automatic” intentional walk, does not have any pitches indicated, while the rest of the hitters shown there do. You’ll have to trust me on this one, but when I looked at this same page late Monday, it did indicate four balls as if the pitches had actually been thrown. Unfortunately, I didn’t screenshot it at the time. No pitches were charged to Montgomery. He’s shown in the boxscore link above as having thrown 24 pitches (12 strikes).

So this really isn’t a “walk” at all based on the rules as we’ve always understood them. No pitches are thrown; the hitter simply takes his base after the opposing manager indicates so.

Should we call these something else? An “automatic walk”? An “automatic runner”?

By my understanding of this rule, the automatic walk isn’t mandatory, it’s simply permitted. If a manager really wants to have a catcher stand up and indicate four pitches outside the zone, I’m reasonably certain he can still do that. Managers might want to do this if, for example, they want a bit more time for a relief pitcher to warm up. I can definitely see this happening over the course of a 162-game season.

In the end, though, I agree with this take:

This is the truth. Doing this does almost nothing to improve the pace of play.

Last year, Joe Maddon ordered fewer intentional walks than any other National League manager, just 24. (Seven A.L. teams had fewer, obviously because there’s no pitcher in the lineup who you’d want to walk someone to face.) Much of that is because the Cubs had so many big leads in 2016 that it wasn’t really necessary to do so. Maddon ordered 38 in 2015, which ranked seventh in the N.L. It remains to be seen whether the new rule will change anything about the frequency of intentional walks, or automatic walks, or whatever you want to call them. The number of intentional passes has been declining over the last few years anyway.

In the situation the Cubs faced Sunday, putting Molina on base was obviously the right thing to do — the run he represented meant nothing and a double-play possibility was set up, though it didn’t happen.

Manager Andy Green of the Padres, as noted above, did it twice Monday. And based on Joe Posnanski’s Intentional Walk Rage System, the first one scored 17 points out of a possible 25. Green ordered Yasiel Puig put on base to face Clayton Kershaw — in the second inning of a game that was tied 1-1. OK, so that’s the opposing pitcher. Kershaw can hit, a little (career BA .154), but in the second inning? It worked that time; Kershaw grounded out to end the inning.

The second one ordered by Green Monday was in the third inning, with the game still tied 1-1. There was a runner on second with two out, and Adrian Gonzalez was put on first base. Logan Forsythe was the next hitter. That one scored 19 points.

It blew up in his face. Jhoulys Chacin hit Forsythe, loading the bases, and Joc Pederson then hit a grand slam. The Dodgers won 14-3.

Fun if you’re a Dodgers fan, not so much for the Padres. I think Green overmanaged that game; read Posnanski’s article for a better explanation as to why this is all not such a great idea.

The bottom line for me is that I think this rule change is pointless. It doesn’t save much time and it’s part of the game that appears to be slowly vanishing anyway.


What should we call the new type of intentional walk?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Intentional walk
    (110 votes)
  • 40%
    Automatic walk
    (127 votes)
  • 11%
    Automatic runner
    (37 votes)
  • 13%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (42 votes)
316 votes total Vote Now