Why is Major League Baseball Removing the Intentional Walk?

The Intentional Walk – such a small piece of the game of baseball; but so important to the strategy of the game. Sometimes a great hitter is intentionally walked to minimize the damage he can do on offense. Sometimes an average hitter is intentionally walked to set up a potential double play. Whatever the reason, for over 100 years an intentional walk has always involved – well – actually walking someone with four pitches out of the strike zone.

On Tuesday, the MLB approved the use of a dugout signal, that would eliminate the need for the pitcher to throw four wide ones, meaning a coach could simply indicate to the umpire that he wanted to walk the batter.

It would appear that the driving force behind this change is to speed up the pace of play, by eliminating what is essentially a foregone conclusion.  But is it really a time saver? And more importantly, is the intentional walk a foregone conclusion?

It has been estimated that the average intentional walk takes 30 seconds to complete. Historically, an intentional walk happens 0.3 times per game, or once every three games. For a single team, it will save an estimated 27 minutes over the course of a 162 game season. League-wide, we are looking at 6:45 between the months of April – September. That’s not much of a time-saver, but if the impact to the outcome of games was minimal, then it’s not a big deal – right?

Ironically, on the same day that the MLB approved a signal to avoid throwing four pitches to intentionally walk someone – Texas A&M won a game in walk-off fashion as one of the intentional balls went to the backstop, giving us a dramatic finish. What you see in the video below will never happen in Major League Baseball, if the rule is upheld. Sure, this is such an edge case, but even in the 100+ year recorded history of the game, there are still first time events taking place – that’s the beauty of baseball.

Looking back through history, there have been 15 players who have actually managed to put a ball in play, despite an intentional walk attempt – another trivia item that will have its member list closed if the MLB gets its way. Here is a list of all the players who avoided the IBB with some creativity and determination. The list is short, especially considering the fact that it reaches back to 1892, but never again will we see this event happen.

With all the talk about what we lost from a baseball trivia perspective, I suppose we could focus on what we gained: We now know that the last intentional walk ever thrown was in game 7 of the 2016 World Series by Bryan Shaw facing Addison Russell.

About Aaron Garcia

Aaron is an avid sports fan who passionately follows the NFL, NBA and MLB, in addition to NCAA Sports. He is an Arizona State University grad who loves the Dodgers and the Patriots.

2 comments

  1. Okay, Aaron, you’ve convinced me. Assuming your numbers are accurate, instead of changing the intentional walk procedure, I’d advocate limiting the far more time-consuming trips to the mound each game by the catcher and the pitching coach. Here in Pittsburgh, I think we have one of the game’s best pitching coaches, but there are games when Uncle Ray spends more time on the mound than the back end of our rotation. So let’s work on that situation first.

    1. One of the things I love about baseball is that there is no clock, no time limit. All of this is just to make sure it fits into a digestible 3 hour block for television, and that’s what frustrates me the most.

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