I am a lifelong baseball fan (still glowing warm from my SF Giants’ second Series win in three years) and consider myself knowledgeable about the technical and statistical bases of the sport. However, one thing has always puzzled me and I can’t find a suitable answer.
With baseball’s obsession with recording every twitch of the bat and step of the players, why do bases-on-balls (walks) fall off the chart? They aren’t counted as an at-bat and only show up as collateral stats like time on base, runs scored, etc.
Why? Isn’t a walk like any other at bat that leads to a runner on first?
As others have noted, walks don’t exactly “fall off the chart”. They do fall out of at bats and batting averages, and they were not shown (for batters) in old-fashioned four-column (AB-R-H-RBI) box scores.
The reason is that when box scores and batting averages were invented (in the 1870’s), baseball was a very different game. Walks were much less common and therefore less important. There were only 336 walks versus 20,121 at bats in 1876, the first year of the National League. Whereas there were 8,032 walks versus 88,119 at bats in 2011.
Those 336 walks in 1876 were considered more bad for the pitcher than good for the batter. The pitcher in 1876 was like a slow-pitch softball pitcher, pitching underhand. His job was to get the ball over the plate and field his position. Baseball (like slow-pitch softball) was more a contest between batter and fielders than batter and pitcher. Walks were a one-off from an incompetent pitcher, something like a hit batsman today.
All of this changed in the generation after 1876–pitchers began throwing overhand and throwing curve balls, and batters had to “work the count” and wait for their pitch. Walks became an important element of batting skill. But by that time at bats and batting average were too well established to be dislodged.
Thanks for a comprehensive answer, Freddy. I guess I misstated my question a little bit and most of the prior answers emphasized the wrong point.
Baseball has adjusted scoring etc. a number of times since the 1880s. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics more than anything else, but it’s still odd that walks don’t count as a time at bat.
Given how fouls affect the game in terms of pitch count, and tell the story of a pitcher-batter matchup as much as the recorded count, I am also surprised they aren’t reported more commonly. “He singled on a 3-2 count with eight pitches” is as compact as any other baseball line item, and tells a much bigger story. But fouls, too, largely fall off the chart.
You may be interested to know (or perhaps even already know) that walks are extremely important in current statistical analysis of both hitters and pitchers. For hitters they show up in weighted averages (things like wOBA) where they are given a weighting equal to their value in creating runs. For pitchers, there are stats that only take into account strikeout rate, walk rate, and HR rate - things that are considered to be most under a pitchers control and thus most predictive of his future success.
So while walks have been neglected historically, they are in something of a golden age.
Now if we can just get the ballparks to start posting OBP and SLG instead of AVG (I’m not optimistic enough to ask for wOBA just yet).
It’s even worse in the minor leagues. A guy could come up to bat with a scoreboard line of “3 Runs, 2 HR, 4 RBI, .250 AVG”. Pretty shitty line in the middle of June, not so shitty when you find out that he got called up from AA a couple days ago.