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When a hitter steps to the plate in a baseball game, his goal is to get on base. This can be done by making contact with a pitch, putting the ball into play, and reaching safely by a single, double, triple, or home run. Recording a hit isn’t the only way to get on base, however. If a plate appearance ends in a walk, the batter is automatically awarded first base and becomes a baserunner.
A walk, often called a base on balls and shortened to BB, is one way that a batter can reach base safely. When a batter “takes” (does not swing at) four pitches that are out of the strike zone, he earns a free pass to first base. By becoming a baserunner, he now has the opportunity to try to score a run.
Even though taking four balls for a walk seems like a minor task, it’s no simple feat. Pitches traveling at over 90 mph are difficult to track, and a centimeter or two can be the difference between strike three and ball four. Besides the free pass itself, batters drawing a walk or pitchers struggling to throw strikes can signify a baseball player’s strengths and weaknesses.
How a Plate Appearance Ends in a Walk
To understand the situations when a batter can reach base on a walk, it helps to know a few basic rules in the game of baseball. The goal is to win, which is done when one team scores more runs than their opponent. A team scores a run when their player touches all the bases safely and comes around to score at home plate. In order to score a run, offensive players first have to get on base. This starts with a plate appearance.
Every time a batter walks to the plate, their plate appearance will result in one of two outcomes: reaching base safely or recording an out. While at the plate, players must hit the ball before collecting three strikes or four balls. Whether a pitch is a strike or ball is determined by the umpire, who signals each pitch based on its location inside or outside of the strike zone. If a pitch is inside of the zone, the umpire calls it a strike. If a pitch is outside of the zone, the umpire calls it a ball.
The strike zone is consistent for each player, starting at their chest and ending at their kneecaps. Any pitch in this zone that passes over home plate is called a strike. Strikes are earned when a batter takes (does not swing at) a pitch in the zone, swings and misses at a pitch, or fouls a ball off. Once he records three strikes, the batter is out via a strikeout. If a player refrains from swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone (balls), he earns a walk after four balls. Of course, a batter can hit the ball into play before getting three strikes or four balls. Then, he would hit safely or be called out.
As you can see, there are a few different outcomes for a batter. In one instance, a player who walks to the plate and watches four pitches outside of the strike zone (balls) go by earns a walk and a free pass to first base.
In Baseball, Patience Is a Virtue
When pitchers wind up and throw a pitch, they are aiming to throw a strike that a batter takes for a strike or swings and misses at. If the batter makes contact, the pitcher wants it to be weak contact that his fielders can turn into an out. Throwing strikes, however, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Along with the strike zone being a relatively small target, pitchers throw extremely hard and apply spin to the ball.
Opposing batters must recognize the type of pitch and predict where it will end up. If the batter believes the pitch will end up just outside of the strike zone, it would benefit him to hold up and not swing at the pitch. Because pitchers stand 60-feet, 6-inches away and regularly throw pitches above 90 mph, a batter has only milliseconds to decide whether or not he should swing. If he doesn’t think he’ll be able to swing at the pitch and make solid contact, he must be patient and wait for a pitch he believes he can do damage with.
Even though batters may want to swing for the fences, they know that swinging at pitches out of the strike zone is not a good game plan. If the batter can be patient and wait for four balls, he knows he will be awarded first base.
Can runs be scored through walks?
A player who gets on base via a walk can even score a run if makes it safely around the bases, perhaps by stealing a base and later scoring on a teammate’s hit. If the bases are loaded and a pitcher walks the batter, the runner on third goes directly to home plate and scores a run for his team.
What We Can Tell About Batters Who Walk a Lot
Some batters are better than others at working a walk. Patience isn’t an easy thing when you must make a split-second decision. Because walks are a statistic that teams keep track of, there are a few things we know about batters who walk frequently.
You may have heard fans cheer “good eye” when a batter watches ball four and runs down to first base on a walk. In baseball, a good eye means that a batter is good at telling whether a pitch will be a ball or a strike. Players who can hold up their swing when they see the pitch will end up out of the strike zone often draw a lot of walks. This is a good skill to have because it puts the batter on base and gives them an opportunity to score a run for their team.
Another thing to consider when noticing that a player earns a lot of free passes is to see what kind of hitter he is. The best hitters often hit for power, driving balls into the outfield for extra bases or even over the wall for a home run. Because pitchers fear giving up extra-base hits and home runs, they may decide to throw a pitch outside of the strike zone and hope that the batter will chase — swing and miss — at the bad pitch.
If the power hitter is patient and has a good eye, a pitcher may even decide that walking him intentionally is better than allowing him a chance to hit. If a pitcher decides to intentionally walk a batter, he gives a signal to the umpire who directs the batter to go directly to first base.
What We Can Tell About Pitchers Who Give Up a Lot of Walks
Along with batters, we can also learn about pitchers who give up a lot of walks. When a pitcher is on the mound, he aims to have control over his pitches. A player who exhibits good control means that he is able to consistently throw the ball into the strike zone. Pitchers who throw more strikes earn more strikeouts. When batters swing at strikes and put the ball in play, the fielders have an opportunity to make plays on defense and record outs. Pitchers with good command perform better than pitchers who struggle to throw strikes consistently.
If a pitcher is struggling with his command, he will throw a lot of pitches that end up out of the strike zone. The more balls a pitcher throws, the more walks he allows. Free passes often wind up costing his team runs, making it harder to win the game. If a pitcher struggles with controlling his pitches for long periods of time, his team will think twice of putting him in the game or even keeping him on the roster.
Other Ways a Batter Can Automatically Advance to First Base
Besides watching four balls go by for a walk, there are other ways a batter is automatically sent to first base. An intentional walk (IBB), when a pitcher decides to put the batter on base without throwing a pitch, was another situation mentioned above.
Another way a batter can automatically advance to first base is if he is hit by a pitch. Even if the pitcher hits the batter accidentally, the batter is awarded first base by a hit by pitch (HBP). Additionally, a batter can earn a free pass to first base if the catcher interferes with his swing. Reaching base on a catcher’s interference isn’t considered a walk, but it’s another way batters can automatically advance to first base.
Does the batter have to see a certain number of pitches before he can earn a walk?
The only criteria for a walk is taking four balls in the same plate appearance. A walk can come on four straight balls, or it can come after a strike or two. For example, if a batter has a full count (3 balls and 2 strikes) and takes a fourth ball, he earns a walk.
Who holds the all-time record for most walks in Major League Baseball?
In his 22 seasons, Barry Bonds recorded more walks than any other player in Major League Baseball history. Of his 2,558 career walks, 688 were intentional walks. Barry Bonds also holds the record for most career home runs (762).
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