Walk away with the Red Sox

Aug 3, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 3, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Red Sox continue to have issues with walks and it is system wide. My single most frustrating aspect of watching baseball is walks.

The Red Sox recently acquired two pitchers in trades and both have something in common besides begin left-handed and that is the ability or lack of to consistently throw strikes. Drew Pomeranz has a 3.8 BB/9 for this season and that duplicates his career average. The next import is Fernando Abad and 3.7 BB/9 for the season.

Admittedly, I find walks as irritating as political commercials that make me wish to start cutting myself, calls from Heather at “Card Holders Services” which we need to get medieval on and any type of infomercial that tests the sanity of consumerism. That, folks, is a whole world of irritation.

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The mojo that walks deliver is always a baseball signal for a disaster about to happen and it usually does – especially when the inning is initiated with a free pass that is invariably doled out to a sub .200 hitter. That creates my signal to expect the absolute worse will soon happen and rarely am I disappointed. The Red Sox pitchers have become increasingly proficient at doing just what I despise so much.

Walks and their nasty twin of poor control are almost a guarantee for a pitcher to soon be seeing the locker room since as control fails up goes the metric dynamics for the hitter. Bad control is a scourge and the pitching version of the “Black Death” that decimated Europe so frequently.

Pitching behind is not healthy for an ERA.

The best in the pitching business – at least for me – is Clayton Kershaw. If Kershaw goes – and these are career numbers – to a 2-0 count he gets hit at a .264 clip. At 3-0 it is .266 and at 3-1 .222. When Kershaw has a favorable count such a 0-2 the average is .115. That elevates to .131 at 1-2 and batters can feast at 2-2 with a .162 average. Thank you, FanGraphs.

Against the best of the very best a hitter has a nice chance at survival if they can work the count in their favor and that is a statistic that will match up with hitters and pitchers when you have certain counts. Each time a pitcher falls behind in the count the house odds swing to hitter’s advantage.

The Red Sox staff has a 3.14 BB/9 and that ranks ninth in the American League and for me that is somewhat of a surprise, but I find it still far too high – well over my personal demarcation line of 3.00 BB/9. The relief staff has some depressing BB/9 with now (thankfully) gone, Tommy Layne (4.4), Craig Kimbrel (4.1) and Matt Barnes (3.7) the most generous at inflating their WHIP.

The starters have two standouts in Rick Porcello (1.6) and David Price (1.9). Steven Wright (3.3) can get an absence note, since he does toss a pitch that can cause a flurry of strikes or balls. Our former knuckleballer extraordinaire – Tim Wakefield – finished with a career 3.4 BB/9. The rest of the starters are responsible for far more than their fair share of the team BB/9.

The Fenway fear factor.

I examined the home/road splits for base on balls allowed (2012-2015) and the only season that walks at home exceeded walks on the road was 2014 to 229 on the road and 253 at home. The fear factor does not seem present.

The same applies to the BB/9 for the inspected seasons as far as the Red Sox generosity to issuing walks. The Red Sox have consistently been among the most generous of teams and in 2012 led the American League with 580 walks.

This is an organizational issue.

One sore thumb stands out and that is the Greenville Drive whose staff has issued the fewest walks in the SAL. Walter Miranda – the Drive pitching coach – has been in the Sox organization for several years and retired with a 5.5 BB/9 in his four-year minor league career – yet his staff has been quite stingy this season.

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The Salem Red Sox of the NYPL are in a fight to lead the league in walks so wish them well as August rolls on. The Portland Sea Dogs, Lowell Spinners and Pawtucket Red Sox are all in the bottom third of where they should not be. For Pawtucket it has been consistent to be in that area for the last four seasons.

My examination of the walks issue is admittedly quite cursory, but the trend is apparent and it is frustrating. A political slogan of “Free Stuff” has arisen in recent years and walks are the baseball version.

Why is this happening?

I wish I could provide some type of definitive answer, but I am at a rare loss of words. This has all the appearance of being systematic, so that means some level of responsibility must fall on the pitching shoulders of baseball operations.

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The walks need to be diminished at all levels and especially with the parent club and that is the problem for baseball operations to solve. Based on the recent history of the team in this area I would concentrate on solving something far easier such as Goldbach’s Conjecture.

Sources: FanGraphs/Baseball-Reference