I noticed this comment from Brilliant Reader Keith K. about the intentional walk, and it is something I have thought about quite a bit over the years so I wanted to mention it here:
First the comment:
I am with Joe in his anti-IBB stance in that it often is a bad strategy that leads to more runs. I don't agree on the "anti-competition" angle (that, in Joe's words, "you are showing no confidence," "taking away a potentially exciting moment from the fans, "refusing to take the game head on," and "inviting bad karma.")
In that sense, an IBB is not unlike a quarterback opting never to throw in the direction of a shutdown cornerback, or a basketball team double-teaming a star post player so he never gets the ball, or a tennis player consistently hitting the ball away from his opponent's lethal forehand, etc. All are valid strategies that may frustrate the fans but increase the chances of victory. I don't think you can criticize the move on that basis.
As mentioned, I have thought quite a bit about this -- trying to figure out why I dislike the intentional walk so much compared to similar strategies in other sports. I came to two conclusions which you may disagree with, but hey, it's my blog.
1. I don't think there ARE similar strategies in other sports. I think baseball is, at least among the most popular American sports, the only one that offers an opportunity quite like the intentional walk. That's in part because baseball is the only sport that forces a set lineup on a team. You have to go in order in baseball. Every player in the lineup must get the same opportunity. You don't do that in football, in basketball, in hockey, in tennis, etc. In basketball, you can get the ball to Wilt every time and he can score 100 points. In football, you can give the ball to Emmitt Smith every time and he might gain 300 yards. In hockey, you can get the puck on Wayne Gretzky's stick every time. Nothing in the rules prevents these things. In baseball, Albert Pujols comes up when he comes up, and there's nothing you can do about it. I think the intentional walk is a unique strategy that plays upon the uniqueness of baseball.
2. The most similar-sounding of strategies -- like the ones Keith mention -- are actually in my mind not similar at all. I've thought a lot about this, thought a whole lot why triple teaming a receiver is any different from the intentional walk.
Here's why, I think: triple teaming a receiver is an attempt to DEFEND that star player. Same with double-teaming a star-post player. You are not trying to avoid the player. You are actively trying to shut that best player down. That, for me, is at the heart of competition.
Keith's examples -- hitting a ball away from a player's forehand or not throwing to a receiver covered by a shutdown corner -- are I think utterly non-comparable. Not throwing to a covered receiver is simply an obvious part of being a quarterback. And hitting away from a player's best stroke in tennis is an attempt to EXPOSE THE WEAKNESSES of an opponent. You also want to block Joe Frazier's left hook. These are all at the heart of competition.
I think the intentional walk is quantifiably different. You are not attempting to defend the other team's best player. You are not attempting to expose his weaknesses. You are not doing anything at all except simply granting him a base in any and all efforts to avoid facing him.
No other sport has this. There is no strategy in tennis that allows you to give your opponent a free point if he promises not to hit his first serve hard. There is no strategy in football or basketball that allows you to give the other team free points if they promise not to let their star player touch the ball. Even Hack a Shaq -- which is a crappy strategy that makes basketball dreadful to watch -- is an attempt to expose a player's inability to make free throws.
Point is, these are STRATEGIES to beat a team. Baseball has plenty of strategies. You bring in a lefty to get out a lefty hitter. You throw sliders to a hitter who has shown an inability to throw sliders. You study a pitcher's motion to get a good jump on a stolen base attempt. These are active strategies used to BEAT an opponent.
I don't think the Intentional Walk is a strategy. I think it is a bargain. It is, fortunately, not an especially good bargain which is why we don't see more of it. But it's like a backroom deal you cut -- we'll give your guy first base but he's not allowed to hit.*
*Even the sacrifice bunt is not a bargain -- because both teams still have to DO things. You have to get the bunt down. The other team has to field it. A variety of things can happen. They can get the lead runner. You could beat out the bunt. It's not a straight out for base trade. You don't do anything in the intentional walk.**
**I just thought of this, so I'm adding it: Maybe this is what it comes down to ... the intentional walk takes no skill. Maybe that's at the heart of things. Every other-sport example that people bring up ... it takes skill. Double teaming a receiver or defensive end still involves skill -- receivers beat double teams all the time. Punting out of bounds to avoid a punt returner takes skill (though kicking off out of bounds does not -- I think THAT would be a close equivalent, kicking off out of bounds and giving them the ball at the 40 -- I'd hate that too). Putting 8-men in the box and actually stopping the run takes skill. But throwing four pitches off the plate, well, I can do that. No skill involved. No opportunity for the opponent to counter. Maybe that's at the heart of what bugs me so much about it.
Look, I know deep down that there's nothing to be done about the intentional walk. If it was discouraged by the rules -- if, as I have at times wished, an intentional walk awarded TWO bases instead of one -- then teams would just PRETEND to pitch to someone. The walk as avoidance is simply locked in the fabric of the game. But I do think it's a flaw in the game. It's a a cheap way for managers to avoid the other team's best hitter in big situations. That's why I hate it. And that's why I love when it blows up in a million pieces.