ANAHEIM -- The Astros set so many individual and team records this season that they might have to add a few extra pages to their media guide next year. Perhaps their most curious mark, however, is one that should merit a mention in manager AJ Hinch’s bio page.
Not once did Hinch put up four fingers and point to first base. Not once did he fear the other team’s slugger enough to give him a free pass. Sure, Hinch came close to walking Brewers slugger Christian Yelich earlier this year, and the skipper said he enters every game against the Angels expecting to walk Mike Trout, yet he never did.
“If the game doesn’t make it a smart play, I don’t believe in putting baserunners on for free,” Hinch said. “If you do study the intentional walk, we always remember the ones that work out that seem like a great managerial move, but more times than not, I just feel it’s putting undue pressure on your pitching staff in a game that’s built around failure if you can’t get that guy out. … I’m not against it. I’m going to use it again.”
Houston’s last intentional walk was on Aug. 17 of last year against the A’s. With the game tied at 3 in the bottom of the ninth and a runner at second base and two outs, Hinch walked Jed Lowrie to face Khris Davis, who flied out to end the inning.
The Marlins (52) issued the most intentional walks this year. The Twins (10) issued the second-fewest. The Astros had zero.
Hinch said if you’re playing the odds, you should never put a runner on base for free. He said even a .300 hitter is much more likely to make an out than not, so why give him the base?
“Simple math,” he said.
Intentional walks have been declining in recent years as teams value not giving up a free base, and last year the Astros issued only four of them. Until 2013, the only team with fewer than 10 intentional walks in a season was the 1974 Dodgers (9). Prior to 2018, no team had issued fewer than eight intentional walks before the Astros had four.
“While an open base is a consideration for a lot, I want our pitchers to find ways to get outs,” Hinch said. “There are extremes and there are situations where it makes total sense to do it and I will do it again. But sometimes the belief in your pitchers is a powerful thing and the ability to execute a game plan.”
Hinch joked that the season isn’t over yet.
“Can’t wait to walk my first guy in the postseason and everybody write about it,” he said.