A Plea: Go For the Walkoff Walk

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cap.2011.01.27.16.png I don't remember much about the game. It was 1995. The Phillies were going through another sub-.500 season, despite being "defending National League Champions" thanks to the 1994 strike. They were almost 20 games out of first.

But I do remember how they won this random game in September against the Reds. In the bottom of the 13th, with the bases loaded, Xavier Hernandez walked in Mark Whiten1. I don't so much remember the play as I do Phillies announcer Chris Wheeler: "Way to keep that bat on the shoulders, Whit'!"

My dad and I laughed. Yeah, good play Mark, way to work the walkoff walk2. How naïve we were. Chris Wheeler was right, though he didn't know why. I don't think any players (besides OLE CHIP) read this site, but if anyone stumbles across this site in the future, I beg of you: Go for the walkoff walk. It might not be as pretty as a walkoff homer, but it's probably a better strategy.

Let me explain: I just finished Scorecasting, by economist Tobias Moskowitz and Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim. As you can probably guess from the authors, it's essentially Freakonomics for sports3.

One of the strongest parts of the book explores what drives home field advantage. Essentially, and in surprisingly convincing fashion, the authors conclude that referee bias drives home field advantage. In baseball, for example, umpires call more strikes for home team pitchers and more balls for away team pitchers4.

A whole chapter opens with a long discussion of the Cubs' walkoff walk against the Brewers on July 3, 2009. As PITCH f/x shows, the pitch that Jake Fox worked his winning walkoff walk on was a strike5.

Moskowitz and Wertheim also say that umpires are more likely to give this home field call advantage when there are big crowds6, ones that are ostensibly louder. And what time is a crowd louder than in a tie game with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th?

I think you know where I'm going with this. Any baseball players coming across this post next week or in 2025 or when the Athletics move to the moon, I offer this piece of advice: In that situation, don't be Paul Bako. Don't go for the bloop single. You're going to get the calls on close pitches. Keep that bat on the shoulders when they come. Chances are you'll work a walkoff walk and be a hero. And you won't even have to do anything7! It will be the best paycheck you'll ever earn.

There. Now can't nobody say this site never offered professional baseball players any advice.

1 According to Baseball-Reference, the first pitch of that at-bat was a foul bunt by Hard Hittin' Whitten. With two outs!

2 I don't even think "walkoff home run" was in vogue at this time, so I probably just called it a "game-ending base on balls" or maybe said "That muckle showed a little ginger!"

3 Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics, is actually quoted on the cover: "The closest thing to Freakonomics I've seen since the original." This is quite high praise, I guess, as Scorecasting is apparently is more like the original than SuperFreakonomics.

4 "Homeboys" and "Awayboys," in Rock 'n' Jock parlance.

5 Yes, I'm aware of the calibration errors that possibly (probably?) make PITCH f/x unreliable, especially since that pitch was particularly close. Eh. I still buy Moskowitz's and Wertheim's conclusions -- I guess I believe all the PITCH f/x data errors average out, though I don't necessarily know that's true or even possible -- about umpires. The book's out next week, I'm sure some blogger will write with over-the-top anger about it if they used any data incorrectly.

6 Ha, the Cubs always have big crowds! This makes their futility even more hilarious.

7 Okay, except foul off clear strikes that you can't do anything with, as Jake Fox did.


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5 Comments

Conversely if you play for the Marlins, go ahead and swing away at all times. Nobody is giving you any calls in front of the 2,500 sweaty fans you draw each night.

I know, I know, as opposed to the sweaty fans that show up at Citizen's Bank Park. Let me save you the trouble.

I'd rather hang out with 2500 sweaty Cubans than 40,000 sweaty Itals.

Sorry, I made a mistake and forgot to use this photo with this post.

Updated pic is how all pics should be modified. That and/or catshirt.