When people talk about the problems of the three true outcomes, walks are almost always the most neglected.
While strikeouts and homers can become stale, they don't begin that way. Who doesn't love an electric strikeout or wild blasts? You can find endless compilations of epic Ks or jaw-dropping moonshots on YouTube. The argument isn't that strikeouts and homers are bad, it's that there are too many of them.
But walks... walks are boring. The "too many walks" talking point only comes up as a small part of the problem.
When you search "epic walks" on YouTube, you'll find crazy intentional walks where a batter hits a single or something (which you can't even do anymore) and walk-off compilations.
No one's making ten-minute compilations of this:
But walks don't always have to be boring. Sure they have a lot more work to do than strikeouts and homers, but they can get there.
How? Well, to start off, here's a list of scenarios where walks aren't exciting:
Anytime before the 8th inning (unless it's a pitcher being walked, because that's hilarious)
Anytime the walking team is winning
Anytime the walking team is down by more than 2 (because what's that walk gonna do, start a rally?)
Anytime it's an intentional walk (those are just confusing now...)
Anytime the bases aren't loaded (we want scoring here)
Now, this completely subjective list is only five items long, but as you can see, it eliminates a lot. So let's see what it doesn't eliminate.
Aroldis Chapman walks Jorge Soler | Yankees @ Braves, August 24, 2021
It's the bottom of the 9th, and the Braves are down by 2 with 2 outs. This walk has a .098 WPA (win probability added), which is pretty good.
On a deceptive breaking pitch in a full-count, had Soler swung and missed, people would commend Chapman for making such a gusty pitch. Instead, Soler takes and Yankee fans were left wondering if the heater would've been a better option.
More importantly, this brings the previous year's MVP to the plate where only a single could win the game, that's pretty exciting, right?
Well, except that 9 pitches later, Freddie Freeman harmlessly flies out to left.
Was the walk exciting? Absolutely, but it's hard to call it the most exciting walk when the walking team ultimately lost. I think we can do better.
Travis Bergen walks Manuel Margot | Rays @ Blue Jays, May 23, 2021
This walk had a crazy .306 WPA! It helped the Rays complete their 9th inning comeback (in which they came into the inning down 2).
This walk gets bonus points for coming with two outs and on a semi-borderline call.
So why isn't this the most exciting walk for me? The mood is all off. The Rays aren't the home team (even though this was in Dunedin, FL) and the crowd was limited, so there's hardly any noise one way or the other.
I know I laid down the guidelines, but I realized that there's something different when it's the home team drawing the walk. From here on out, new rule:
6. The walking team cannot be the away team.
Jake Petricka walks Ramón Urías | Angels @ Orioles, August 25, 2021
Even though this tied the game, the probability of the Orioles running away with the game are fairly high (a rarity), especially with a 3-0 count.
This walk did have a WPA of .155, which is really good, and Urías laid off a good pitch, but something just feels off.
It's the stakes. Because it's the eighth inning, the game isn't on the line. The Orioles aren't going to lose if Urías doesn't walk. The Orioles have, at a bare minimum, five chances at tying the game, even if Urías does nothing.
The Orioles ended up beating the Angels handily, 10-6, after scoring four more runs after this walk. The walk wasn't even the only bases loaded walk of the inning:
James Hoyt walks Kelvin Gutiérrez | Angels @ Orioles, August 25, 2021
This walk had a lower WPA than the Urías walk, mostly because the game was tied (thanks to Urías), the bases were still loaded, and there was only one out.
Sure, the fans are happy, and there's a full-count, but WPA had the Orioles at a 77.5% of winning before Gutiérrez even stepped to the plate.
And, I'll reiterate, it's still the 8th inning in a game the Orioles won by 4 runs. It wasn't even a save situation for the O's.
I need to make an amendment to rule 1.
Anytime before the 9th inning (unless it's a pitcher walking because that's hilarious)
Eighth inning walks just don't hit like I thought they would.
Spencer Patton walks Jake Fraley | Rangers @ Mariners, August 10, 2021
This Jake Fraley walk had a .199 WPA and tied the game (unlike the Soler walk). It also gave the M's three chances at scoring one run, as there were no outs.
Patton makes a great pitch, but it's just enough off the plate that it's not actually a borderline call. With someone like Fraley at the dish, there was a slim chance of a swing here, especially with an extra strike to work with. (He's really, really good at walking, in case you didn't know.)
Unfortunately, the comeback failed. Back-to-back Ks and a flyout ended the 9th and the Rangers ended up scoring 2 runs in the top of the 10th, which was just enough, as they won by 1 run. Ouch.
Once again, the most exciting walk of the year can't be from a losing team.
Liam Hendriks walks Aaron Judge | White Sox @ Yankees, May 23, 2021
We're getting closer. A star walking it off against an elite closer. The WPA must be off the charts for this walk, right?
Well, actually no. The WPA for this walk was only .165, which was lower than Fraley's walk.
This is probably because the Yankees only had one out, and with the bases loaded, WPA assumed the Yanks had a good chance of scoring here, regardless.
And the pitch is pretty high, even with the 6'7" Judge at the dish.
Was this a fun walk? Absolutely, but I think we could get better.
Brad Hand walks Jarred Kelenic | Blue Jays @ Mariners, August 13, 2021
This walk-off walk had an insane WPA of .344. The intensity is off the charts and I love the reaction from Kelnic and the M's.
But this is still not the most exciting walk of the year. The big problem with this walk is that, as bad of a hitter as Jarred Kelenic was in 2021 (I still believe in you, Jarred), Brad Hand's 2021 was kind of a disaster.
The Blue Jays acquired him from the Nationals for an actual prospect in July, gave him 8.2 innings, and then said, "never mind, that was a mistake," a month later.
This was just one part of the disaster.
And if you notice, Kelenic walked on the only 4 pitches Hand threw that night. The pitch was so far off the zone that Kelnic had no reason to even think about swinging.
Not really that fun.
J.P Feyereisen walks Robbie Grossman | Rays @ Tigers, Septmeber 12, 2021
This walk has everything: extra innings, a borderline pitch, a walk-off, and two outs. The only thing that's missing for me is an extra strike.
The Tigers also had to overcome two deficits where the win expectancy for the Rays was over 90%.
After a Yandy Diaz double in the 8th, the Rays took a 5-2 lead, giving them a 93% chance of winning the game.
The Tigers came all the way back to tie it in the bottom half of the inning, but then fell behind by 2 in the 10th, and their win expectancy dropped all the way down to 5% after a Derek Hill flyout (meaning the Rays had a 95% chance of winning).
But the Tigers came back again when Jeimer Candelario homered to tie the game at 7-7.
Kyle Funkhouse then managed to work around a 1-out walk, putting two runners on thanks to the automatic runner rule, for a scoreless top of the 11th.
The bottom of the 11th was anything but easy, too. two walks loaded the bases with one out, and a Jonathan Schoop groundball looked like it could win it, but a great play by Taylor Wells forced out Niko Goodrum at the plate.
This game had all the drama leading up to the most exciting walk of 2021, and there's nothing better than capping off a hard-fought win with a walk-off walk, even if the WPA of this one isn't as high as the Kelenic (.339 compared to .344).
Is this as fun as David Bote walk-off grand slam? Absolutely not, but it doesn't need to be to be exciting.
(I might actually like walks more than I let on...)