There is one offensive statistic in baseball that has always been underrated and overlooked. To tally this stat, requires a focused eye, composure, restraint, and most of all, patience. Some players and teams lack those qualities, but others excel in those areas allowing them to succeed.
A walk is as good as a hit the say, and in every sense of the word it’s so true. It’s the one statistic, besides a hit, that directly affects all of those flashy, well-tracked numbers around it, yet few give it the recognition it truly deserve. Walks do plenty to determine the outcome of a game, for those teams earning them, as well as those surrendering them. It wears opposing pitchers down, both mentally and physically. Long at bats allow other batters to prepare by viewing more pitches. Walks also provide sluggers with more men on base and a better opportunity to drive them home.
In recent years, the Yankees are the one club who have so often stood out in this area and seem to have given it some extra attention, as proof of this is reflected by their records. The Yankees showed the first signs of improvement in this critical aspect of the game dating back to 1996. That season, they finished with 632 walks, good for 8th in the MLB and were also in the top ten in runs and RBIs. Behind rookie Derek Jeter, they went on to win their first AL East title in 15 years as well as their first World Series in 18 years.
The following season, despite losing in the ALDS, the Yankees were second in the league in walks, and top three in runs, RBIs, and on-base percentage. During their three-peat championship run in 1998, 1999, and 2000, the team continued this walking success and finished each season in the top ten in all major offensive statistics. What aided the effort of this run as well, was the fact that maintaining a good eye, also kept their number of strikeouts down. All three of those seasons the Yankees were near the bottom of the list when it came to K’s.
Throughout the 2000s, the Yankees continued this trend of regularly drawing walks and consistently found themselves in the top five not only in this category, but all other major statistics as well. In 2007, the club promoted Kevin Long as their batting coach and his philosophy of patience has led the team to triumph. That season the Yankees finished fourth in walks with 637, and ranked first in hits, runs, RBIs, and on-base percentage. However, they lost the division for the first time in nine years and then lost to the Indians in the ALDS.
The 2008 season was the first under new Manager, Joe Girardi, and it marked the last one to be played in the old stadium. The team saw drastic drops in every offensive aspect of the game, which resulted in the team missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. They only drew 535 walks that season, 19th in the MLB, and other statistics suffered as well.
It didn’t take long for them to bounce back from that epic failure though, and in 2009 the Yankees made a complete turnaround. They led the league in all statistics–walks, runs, RBIs and on-base percentage– as they went on to beat the Phillies in the World Series for their first title in eight years. 2010 and 2011 were similar for the club and they finished top two in all offensive categories and even though they didn’t win a championship, they still made playoff berths.
So far this season, the Yankees are currently sitting at seventh place with 214 walks. This correlates to their runs and RBI totals where they’re also ranked at seven and eight in the MLB. They do have a third-best on-base percentage though (.336), but are struggling this year when it comes to driving those base runners in.
Finishing among the top teams in walks on a regular basis doesn’t necessarily mean the club will win a World Series title. It does however guarantee that by earning more walks, most other offensive statistics will increase as well. There is an obvious relationship between success in this area and overall success. The more walks the Yankees draw, the better they position themselves to earn more runs, RBIs, wins and championships.