When Jason Motte walked his second batter of the inning Monday night, it didn’t require a soothsayer to figure out how the game would end. When a reliever walks two batters in one inning, it seems like certain trouble. But what do the numbers say? Does walking two batters in an inning really entail imminent tragedy?
In 2011, 90 pitchers who were in save situations in the eighth inning or later yielded two or more walks. Here’s how the outcomes break down:
- Saves: 36
- Blown saves: 54
That’s a save rate of only 40%. In other words, not good. All right, you say, including eighth-inning save opportunities isn’t really fair, since few pitchers earn saves starting in the eighth inning (though they get debited with blown saves). True enough. So all 64 ninth-inning save opps in which a pitcher threw two or more walks:
- Saves: 32
- Blown saves: 32
An even 50% — still really bad. And keep in mind that these are save opportunities, which means that it’s not even the most crucial relief situations (e.g., a reliever can get one out with a three-run lead and the bases empty). And it makes sense that bad outcomes follow multiple walks: Not only does the pitcher give additional baserunners to the opponent, he undoubtedly doesn’t have his best stuff. And as we saw with Motte the other night, that means he’s more likely to get beaten on his secondary pitches or simply groove a hittable pitch.
Given then the reality of what happens when relievers allow two walks in an inning, why wouldn’t managers pull their pitchers? After all, if all you have is a 50% chance of winning (at best) and quite possibly a better chance of losing the game, why risk it? It would seem that the worst thing would be to have to use another pitcher. But isn’t that better than a likely loss? This looks like an easy call for us: Any time a reliever allows two walks in an inning, it should entail another pair of walks — a walk to the mound by the manager, and a walk in from the bullpen from another reliever.