clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The intentional walk that made all others worth the pitches

White Sox fans will always have Kevin Jepsen

Chicago White Sox v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Alexei Ramirez slides under Kevin Jepsen on May 11, 2011.
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Had Kevin Jepsen issued routine four pitches out of the zone to Paul Konerko like he was supposed to on May 11, 2011, I probably wouldn’t miss the proper intentional walk, which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reportedly agreed to shorten to a dugout signal late Tuesday night.

After all, it was an intentional walk call like any other. With one out in the 10th inning of a game tied at 4 in Anaheim, Adam Dunn had just doubled Alexei Ramirez to third, leaving first base open for Paul Konerko with one out and Brent Lillibridge behind him. The call was four wide was automatic.

But because players are not automatic, this one went haywire on the very first pitch.

If Konerko never struck an iconic grand slam pose, this would have been my suggestion for his statue, which would have rested on a rotating platform, twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.

Between Konerko’s triumphant freeze-frame and the Sciosciaface that followed, the long night in Anaheim brought 2005 feelings to a season that pissed away whatever goodwill was left from the World Series.

And when Konerko closed out the game with a leaping stab, then a behind-the-back flip ...

... well, that didn’t remind anybody of any play he’d made before, which is cool, too.

The problem, I suppose, is that I’m citing a play that’s going to turn 6 years old next season, with no reminders of Jepsen’s mistake in between. The White Sox have issued plenty of intentional walks during my time blogging — especially to the weakest Kansas City Royals hitters — but the resulting disasters only happened after, never during, despite Octavio Dotel’s flirtations. I remember Chris Sale yelling at Robin Ventura via Don Cooper under his glove. I remember Tommy Kahnle having to issue back-to-back intentional walks in the six-run meltdown against the Royals last year. I remember the Rays issuing back-to-back intentional walks in August 2015, then walking Avisail Garcia to end it.

All of those were memorable, but not for the intentional walks themselves. Hell, even if Robin Ventura pointed Miguel Cabrera to first, I’d place a small bet on Sale overthrowing his next four pitches to necessitate that fateful mound visit.

Jepsen’s pitch made me never quite take one for granted in do-or-die situations, and there were enough such disasters that other fans were aware of it, too:

But when you look at the situations in which these “walks” were issued — one starring Ronald Belisario, not with the Sox -- it more points to incorrect use of the strategy than anything else. That part might not change. Hell, it could even go the wrong way if dugout signals are to run expectancy what free home delivery was for healthy eating.

In the case of Kahnle and Brad Boxberger, those unlucky relievers who had to throw consecutive intentional walks, then resume pitching normally in high-leverage situations, I wonder if this makes it easier for pitchers to stay locked in, rather than spending four pitches and 40 seconds throwing in a fashion they never use otherwise. In the case of managers who have fallen victim to sphincter time (see: Ventura v. Royals), it seems fair to transfer to burden from the mound to the dugout, even if it leads to more overuse.

For a pace-of-play initiative, I think it’s more effective than the average time saved (14 seconds per game; 35 seconds per event) would lead you to believe. In most cases, the IBB is part of an already slow inning, with pitching changes and deliberate relievers laboring with baserunners. It might only be 30 to 60 seconds saved, but it’s targeted at at the points of game that most need the kick.

I think I’m more bothered by an anti-competitive strategic element being drained of the one thing that made it competitive — actually having to throw the pitches. The intentional walk is almost always annoying for the team on the receiving end, and it’s often bothersome to the fans of the team issuing one. Moments like Jepsen/Konerko made it possible to dream about a glorious, humiliating and immediate backfire to expose the cowards. Now, we’ll have to wait for Terry Bevington, Jr. to accidentally call for one with the bases loaded to get the same kind of payoff.