How Many Runs is a Walk Worth?
By Spencer Wright
When the book Moneyball was published in 2003, it shared the ground-breaking insight that batting average was not nearly as important to scoring runs as on-base percentage (OBP). The reason? As much as hits are valuable, the ability to get on base in other ways, and therefore not get out, is extremely useful as well. And the very best players figure out ways to do both. As the lessons of Moneyball continue to seep into popular culture (the movie was nominated for an Oscar) and amateur sports (GameChanger automatically calculates and displays these stats), it is worth reviewing both why walking and plate patience are skills to teach young players.
The benefits of the walk, although seemingly obvious, are always worth thinking about. First, drawing a walk means you did not get out. That is a victory in a sport where even the best players generally make outs over half the time. Second, getting walked puts a runner on base that can later be driven in. Third, getting walked means that you have taken at least four pitches, tiring the pitcher out and bringing him or her closer to their pitch limit. Finally, working your way into a hitter’s count can give you better pitches to hit.
That analysis is great, but advances in baseball statistics allow us to actually quantify how many “runs” a walk (or any play) is worth. This Chart shows us exactly how many “runs” different plays in baseball are worth, using real data from the Major Leagues from 1974-1990. By recording every single play that happened and the resulting runs, they could figure out how much each play was worth on average, independent of context. Real situations, real outcomes. Think data from the Major Leagues is not applicable to your team? Think again. Because the numbers can be adjusted based on how many runs, on average, a team scores in your league, the Runs per Game column allows you to look at the numbers in a way that already adjusts for the scoring in your league.
What this data says is that a walk is always worth about two-thirds as much as a single (the value of a single is significantly enhanced because of the ability to score runners from 2nd and 3rd). Even though a walk is worth less than a single, it is still an extremely valuable play for a hitter: a single walk in a game is worth between .25 and .35 runs per game. A three walk game is just as good as a two hit game. And that does not even include the benefits of increasing pitch counts or the advantage of batter’s counts. Moreover, the value of a walk versus a single actually does not change much, even in leagues that are higher or lower scoring, so you can apply these numbers to your team as well.
These numbers are not perfect, but the general values are applicable across all levels. And even more importantly, they concretely illustrate the value of a patient approach at the plate.