IS A WALK AS GOOD AS A HIT?
The origination of the baseball adage "A walk is as good as a hit" is fuzzy but former Oriole manager Earl Weaver was certainly an ardent believer. The Baltimore Orioles drew more walks from 1969 through 1982 than any other team in the American League. The Birds drew 1,813 free passes during the period; the Red Sox were second with 7,563 total walks.
Weaver managed great sluggers like Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr. who supplied plenty of those three-run home runs that he loved. But the bombers needed guys on base ahead of them and Weaver stressed patience at the plate, especially from the guys at the top of the line-up. Players who walked a lot were golden in Weaver's eyes.
No one paid a lot of attention when the Orioles promoted an unknown third baseman named Glenn Gulliver from their AAA farm team in July 1982. When Weaver began to use Gulliver periodically as his lead-off batter, the media and the fans were confused. Although Gulliver had been hitting .295 down on the farm before his call-up, his batting averages the previous two seasons had only been .265 and .256. Why was the skipper entrusting the important lead-off spot to a player with what some thought, dubious career stats?
The Earl of Baltimore knew that although Gulliver's career batting averages were less-than-stellar, his lifetime on-base percentages were incredible. Along with hitting almost .300 at Rochester, Gulliver had drawn 90 walks in just 85 games for a stratospheric .468 OBP before his promotion to the majors.
These stats weren't one-year flukes; in 1980 and '81, Flynn walked a ton and logged .410 and .405 on-base percentages respectively as a minor leaguer. Weaver was convinced the 27-year-old Gulliver would be more-than-able to get on base ahead of his sluggers.
The critics continued to question Weaver's strategy when Gulliver failed to deliver a lot of hits as a lead-off hitter. But Earl stuck to his guns and rotated Gulliver with Floyd Rayford and Rich Dauer at third base. At season's end, the Detroit Michigan native had just a .200 average but compiled a good .363 on-base percentage.
The Birds made a furious charge down the stretch and almost won the American League East in '82, finishing one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers. Earl Weaver retired at the end of the the campaign, and was replaced by Oriole coach Joe Altobelli. Altobelli was less-wedded to the importance of the walk and Gulliver spent the 1983 season at AAA Rochester, batting a hefty .309 with an outstanding .463 on-base-percentage.
The Orioles did call Gulliver up in September of ‘83. In 23 games, the third baseman posted a respectable .333 OBP but only a .213 average and his days as a major leaguer were finished. He went back to the minors for three years and continued to walk a lot and get on-base. His figure for the years 1984-84 was a gaudy .462.
Why wasn't Glen Gulliver given more of a chance to stick with the major leagues? Gulliver's low batting averages didn't help but one wonders what Gulliver might have hit had he played in more games (242 plate appearances over two seasons). His walk totals show clearly that he had a good eye and with more playing time, may have made the adjustments to hit for a decent average.
Many think that the batting average is the end-all, most-important offensive statistic in baseball. It is not; Earl Weaver would have rather had a player with .250 average but got on base at a.350 clip than a guy with a .300 average and an on-base percentage just a few points higher. To win games, you need to score runs. To score runs you need get guys on base and then drive them in.
Earl understood this. He used Gulliver's strength to draw the base-on-balls to help his club. Any team wanting to win today should adopt this same strategy.
A walk may not be quite as good as a hit but it's pretty darn close.
A Baseball Almanac exclusive written by Yahoo! contributor Chris Williams.
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