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Intentional Walks
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Intentional Walks
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
July 23, 2009

It isn’t often that we think about intentional walks, but the statistic is a fun one for several reasons. Editor's Note: Intentional Walk records have only been kept since 1955.

Barry Bonds, 2004

For starters, intentional walks are the highlight of the infamous Barry Bonds 2004 season, in which he drew 120 intentional walks. That year he beat the former record (set by him in 2002) by 52 intentional walks. The 52 intentional walk gap would have, in and of itself, been good for fourth all time. Only 76 players have drawn 120 career intentional walks, and Bonds did it in one year. His 120 intentional walks were more than any team had that year, and only the Cardinals (64) and Phillies (60) could combine to top Bonds’ total. And Bonds’ 120 intentional walks alone would have fourth in the majors in total walks behind Todd Helton, Lance Berkman, and Bobby Abreu, had those been the only walks he drew.

The 30 Intentional Walks Club

There is an intentional walks club to be noted – it is the 30 Intentional Walks Club. There are only ten members – Barry Bonds (10 times), Willie McCovey (2 times), Ryan Howard (2), Sammy Sosa, Albert Pujols (2), Ted Williams, Vlad Guerrero, Kevin Mitchell, George Brett, and (get this!) John Olerud. In 1993, Olerud’s 33 intentional walks were good for fourth all time! But he has since been pushed down to 16th by Bonds, Howard, Sosa, and Pujols.

Remarkably, Bonds led the NL in intentional walks 12 times, but not in 2001, when he set the major league single season record for homeruns – Sosa bested him by two, 37-35.

The 30 Intentional Walks Club doesn’t do justice to McCovey, the only player other than Bonds to be intentionally passed 40 or more times – and it happened to him twice. Bonds and McCovey are the only players ever to hit 45 or more homeruns and to be intentionally passed 45 or more times. McCovey was exactly 45-45 in 1969, while Bonds went 46-68 in 2002, 45-61 in 2003, and 45-120 in 2004.

Only Bonds and Vlad Guerrero have ever hit 30 homeruns, stolen 30 bases, and been intentionally passed 30 times. Vlad did it in 2002 (39-40-32), when he also led the NL in caught stealing. Bonds did it three times, in 1992 (34-39-32), 1996 (42-40-30), and 1997 (40-37-34).

Only one player has ever failed to hit 30 homeruns while finishing with other 30 intentional passes – Olerud, who hit 24 homeruns but 54 doubles in 1993.

IBB’s and GIDP’s

Vlad is a curious character in this respect, because he is one of the rare talents when it comes to combining intentional walks and double plays. He has led the league in IBB’s five times, including each of the last four years, and the league in double plays twice, including last year. He and Hank Aaron are the only two players ever to hit into 230 double plays and to be intentionally walked 230 times.

Speaking of the relationship between intentional walks and double plays, Wade Boggs led the league in intentional walks six years in a row from 1987 to 1992. Some of the most notorious double play seasons of all time came with Wade Boggs batting leadoff for the Boston Red Sox – which makes sense intuitively, since Boggs was a slow guy who got on base constantly – and the same factors that made the Red Sox team double plays go up with Boggs on the team probably also contributed to teams pitching around Boggs rather than letting him hit.

What can IBB’s tell us that Billy Crystal movies can’t?

I suspect that intentional walks tell us something about a season that our post hoc narrative often overlooks. For example, we all know about the Summer of 1961, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle captivated America in their pursuit of Babe Ruth’s homerun record. But what often gets overlooked is that the dominant player in the American League that season was neither Maris nor (time missed due to injury considered) Mantle, but rather Norm Cash. Several indications point to this conclusion, amongst them, the fact that he led the league in batting runs, runs created, OPS, hits, batting average, and times on base. But consider also this: in a season in which Mantle and Maris had captured the nation’s imagination and were hitting homeruns at an historic pace, it was Norm Cash that opposing pitchers intentionally walked the most that year – and it wasn’t even close. Cash’s 19 topped the second place finisher by eight, and Mantle by ten.

But intentional walks tell us something about Mickey Mantle in 1961 as well. That season, as Roger Maris pursued the Babe, punishing the ball and leading the league homeruns, RBI, and runs scored, he was not intentionally walked a single time! Apparently, no matter what Roger Maris threatened to do, pitchers wanted to pitch to him rather than pitch around him to get to Mantle. That may be one of the most stunning statistics in the history of baseball, and one of the all-time great tributes by a league’s pitchers to a single hitter.

Alex Rodriguez – I may walk him, but it won’t be on purpose!

Maris is almost certainly the only player ever to hit 50 or more homeruns without drawing an intentional walk, but he is not the only one to ever hit 40 homeruns without getting an IBB. In 1998, while Alex Rodriguez was on his way to leading the AL in plate appearances, at-bats, and hits, plus going 40-40 with 120 runs, 120 RBI, and a .919 OPS, he did not draw a single intentional walk. Interestingly, while A-Rod is one of the game’s great power hitters, and has led the league in homeruns five times, pitchers have never felt the need to intentionally pass him – he has never come close to leading the league, his career high is 12, and he has only broken double digits three times.

During his time with Seattle, this is probably explained by his hitting second ahead of Ken Griffey, Jr. In 501 career games hitting second, A-Rod drew two intentional walks.

More about Bonds.

Barry Bonds' 668 intentional walks are obviously first all time. The second place finisher is Hank Aaron with 293. Bonds' 668 intentional walks would be good for 367th on the all time walks list, one ahead of former teammate Andy Van Slyke.

We know that Bonds’ 120 intentional walks were the most ever to lead a league, but what was the fewest? The statistic has only been kept since 1955, so we don’t know anything about the stat before then. However, since 1955, the lowest number of intentional walks to lead the league is eight, in the American League in 1960. Actually, that season two players drew eight intentional walks in the AL – Jim Lemon and Roy Sievers. It is also the only time the league leader finished with single digits in the category. Meanwhile, in the NL, Ernie Banks finished with 28 that year.

Albert Pujols, MVPOTB – Most Valuable Player Other Than Bonds

In 2009, interesting things are again happening in the intentional walks world. Albert Pujols led the majors in intentional walks in 2008 with 34, which was good for 13th on the all-time single season list. In 2009, through 95 games, Pujols has already matched his previous season’s total in intentional passes with 34, which means he is almost certain to join Bonds and McCovey in the 40 IBB Club, and may even be set to join Barry Bonds as the only two players ever to take 50 or more intentional passes in a season.

Pujols has also only struck out 38 times this season, so far. Pujols could become only the second player with over 30 intentional walks ever to strikeout fewer times than he is intentionally walked – Bonds did it three times, from 2002-2004.

Albert Pujols' early career was defined by the fact that, despite his greatness, he was consistently the second best player in baseball behind Barry Bonds. Now, even with Bonds having retired, it appears that Pujols is still being overshadowed, at least in some respects. Pujols will almost certainly finish the 2009 season with more intentional walks in a single season than anyone else has ever had – anyone, that is, other than Barry Bonds.



Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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