Though casual fans find it to be a boring part of baseball, the walk remains an extremely valuable offensive tool. A more specific statistic involving the walk, and one the Milwaukee Brewers must improve upon in 2014, is walk percentage (BB percent). This statistic measures what percent of the time a player or team walks per plate appearance. This has been an accurate indicator of which teams will reach the postseason in recent years.
In the past two seasons, 12 of the 20 playoff teams were in the top 10 of MLB in walk percentage. Meanwhile, 16 of the 20 clubs were ranked 15th or better, with no playoff teams worse than 18th. Milwaukee ranked 22nd in 2012 and dead last just a year ago. Last season, the Brewers had a 6.7 walk percentage, with most playoff teams sitting at 7.8 and higher.
So, while pitching is the most important aspect of the game, walks have multiple effects, as they positively contribute to the offense and negatively impact the opposing pitchers. Drawing walks means taking more pitches to drive up the starter’s pitch count and wear down his arm, leading to decreased velocity, inconsistent location, and an early move to the bullpen. A fatigued starter becomes easy pickings for the hitters, and should the opposition go to their middle relievers, the offense gets to face the weakest pitchers on the staff.
Meanwhile, the obvious benefit to a higher walk percentage is putting more runners on base, which still is the best way to score more runs. Base runners also force the pitcher into the stretch where he is normally less effective. It can also put pressure on the defense through attempted stolen bases by creating holes on the infield and putting guys out of position via the bunt or hit-and-run. In the end, if the Brewers can increase their walk percentage by just a point or two, innings are extended and solo home runs become crooked numbers instead.
The return of Ryan Braun and a healthy Aramis Ramirez will go a long way to improving the team’s walk percentage, but they need more discipline from Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez if the club is to reach a respectable number. Being more selective at the plate will help hitters like Gomez and Segura to lay off pitches out of the zone that result in weak outs; consequently, they’ll be more apt to see pitches they can drive, as they will be ahead in the count.
The Brewers have a roster full of aggressive, free swinging hitters like Segura, Gomez, Juan Francisco and Scooter Gennett, so reining them even slightly will result in a more consistent offense. Jumping on the first pitch and hacking away may be more entertaining, but patience and intelligent hitting will win more games.