April 23, 2012

Leadoff walks

It's well established that leadoff walks are no worse than leadoff singles.

The pre-eminent research is by David W. Smith (of  http://www.retrosheet.org/ fame), whose paper "Does Walking the Leadoff Batter Lead to Big Innings?" (published in SABR's The Baseball Research Journal in 2007 (#35, pp.23-24) answered the question with an emphatic "NO". Smith looked at game records from 1974 to 2002, and found that just under 40% of hitters who reach first base, regardless of method of getting there (single, walk, or hit-by-pitch) scored a run.

More recently, plen's "The Leadoff Walk" looked at a longer time frame (starting in 1952 and ending perhaps in 2009), and John Dewan wrote about "The Dread Leadoff Walk" (also here). Both found roughly the same thing as Smith. plen's assessment was a couple of percentage points lower than Smith's, reflecting the lower run scoring environments in the years on either side of Smith's analysis.

Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera. Taking a pitch doesn't make a dramatic photo.
Which brings us to today. "An in-depth look at the leadoff walk in 2011" was written by Guy Spurrier (at the National Post). Spurrier references Smith's work and then goes on to use baseball-reference.com data to give us a look at the season just passed. In addition to providing some nifty graphics, it also provides details about the best and worst players in this category.

Miguel Cabrera led the Majors in 2011 with 23 leadoff walks -- not a surprising result, given that he was third overall with 108 walks on the season, trailing only Jose Bautista (132) and Joey Votto (110).

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