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White Sox Thu Feb 27 2014

Walks and the White Sox: No Free Passes

Sox_200.pngA walk is just as good as a hit. OK, not quite.

Walks don't advance runners an extra base and they don't drive in runs unless the bases are loaded. They don't force the defense to have to make a play. Yet still, walks are extremely valuable in this statistical era of baseball. Team speed, exotic hit-and-runs, small ball are all on the decline while the importance of OBP is up.

Walks serve a number of purposes. They drive up pitch counts, they put runners on base for sluggers and situational hitters, and, by not hacking away at bad pitches, batters in theory will see better pitches to hit because the pitcher has to throw strikes. Walks are extremely important in baseball, and drawing walks is a skill.

It's something the White Sox need to work on.

The Sox have been in the bottom third of the league in walks since 2009, and last year they were second to last. Most of the lineup had a below-average walk rate in 2013. Coincidentally enough, the guy who plays the most games, gets the most at-bats and is slated to be a regular in 2014 - Alexei Ramirez - seldom ever draws a walk.

With a small, hitter-friendly ballpark like U.S. Cellular Field and with big bats like Adam Dunn and Jose Abreu in the lineup, it would make sense for the Sox to put an emphasis on bases on balls. With troubles with team speed in the past and with station-to-station baseball being normal for them, walks are that much more important to this team. How do some of these guys fare with plate discipline?

Adam Dunn is a famous exemplar of the three true outcomes idea. His game is built around jacking homers, striking out and drawing walks. This past year, though, the rates of all three of those statistics were down a little, but Dunn is still going to lead this team in walks if he's a regular player.

Adam Eaton's major league sample size is too small to extrapolate out, but he has had some stellar OBP numbers in the minors over the years. He walks roughly as often as he strikes out, and plate discipline has been said to be one of his best skills. That's a good sign.

Abreu is just in from Cuba, so he's a wild card right now. There's no telling what his success rate will be with drawing walks. All accounts point to him being a potential stud at the plate, though. He might get a decent share of walks from pitchers working around him this year.

As for some of the other guys... ugh. Ramirez, Alejandro De Aza, Gordon Beckham and even Dayan Viciedo are probably locked into their free-swinging ways (any improvements would take them from "terrible" at drawing walks to "below average").

Matt Davidson struck out a lot and didn't draw many walks in the minors. Josh Phegley drew five walks total in 213 plate appearances last year and also didn't get walked much in the minors. Avisail Garcia is a top-notch hacker at the plate.

Now, all of this doesn't mean that the Sox will have a bad offense in 2014. Baltimore, for instance, was in the third-worst team in drawing walks but was also top five in runs scored. But the Orioles have a really good lineup one through nine, and the Sox don't. It's just going to be that much harder for the Sox to score runs in 2014 when they limit their ways of getting on base.

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