Intentional Bases on Balls:The First 25 Seasons

This article was written by John Schwartz

This article was published in the 1980 Baseball Research Journal


The intentional base on balls was a part of professional baseball long before it became a part of baseball’s official statistics. The Sporting News’s Baseball Record Book lists Napoleon Lajoie of the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League as the first player to receive an intentional walk with the bases full, in the ninth inning of a game played on May 23, 1901. The same source also credits Mel Ott of the New York Giants with receiving 5 intentional passes in the game of October 5, 1929, which is a major league record. Unofficial research done by SABR member John Tattersall credits Babe Ruth with 80 IBB in 1923. Unfortunately, official records of IBB were not compiled by the league statisticians until 1955, and this article will discuss research findings from an examination of IBB statistics over the past 25 seasons.

Three tables accompany this article. The first lists the season leaders in IBB in the American and National Leagues, 1955-79, plus the total number of IBB each year. The second lists the top 50 batters based on IBB received. These batters are also ranked by the ratio of IBB to total plate appearances. The third table is a listing of the 50 pitchers who have faced the most batsmen since 1955, ranked according to the frequency with which they yielded IBB.

There have been 27,543 intentional bases on balls in the major leagues, 1955-1979. This works out to an average of one for every 116 plate appearances. There is quite a marked difference between the two leagues, however. In every season, the National League has had more IBB than the American League. This gap had widened markedly since the introduction of the Designated Hitter in the AL in 1973. On the average, one out of every 99 plate appearances in the NL is an IBB, while only 1 out of every 140 AL batsmen is purposely passed. Because of the fact that in four seasons (1961, 1977-79) the AL has operated with two more teams than the NL, the AL has had 50.7%, and the NL 49.3%, of all major league plate appearances over the last 25 seasons. In addition, the AL has had 52.1%, and the NL 47.9%, of major league bases on balls during this period. However, the AL has only had 42.0%, and the NL 58.0%, of all intentional walks. One out of every 12.3 AL BB is intentional, but one out of every 8.2 NL BB is, which shows quite a dramatic contrast between the leagues in the incidence of intentional walks.

Both Frank Robinson, while playing with Cincinnati, and Willie McCovey of San Francisco, have led the major leagues four times in IBB. Robinson’s span was consecutive, from 1961 to 1964, although he was tied with Bill Mazeroski, the only NL second baseman to appear among the league leaders, in 1962.

In the American League, three players, Ted Williams of Boston and Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew of Minnesota each led the league for three seasons. Williams’ seasons were consecutive, 1955-57; it is likely that his string might have been longer if IBB had been recorded before 1955. Killebrew is the only third baseman to lead either league, in 1966, and tied with Reggie Jackson in 1969; he also led while playing first base in 1967. Carew led while playing first in 1977-78, and is the only second baseman to lead the AL, in 1975.

All of the 16 original franchises have had at least one player lead the league in IBB except Cleveland. The Angels, Pilots-Brewers, Mariners, and Blue Jays, all expansion teams, have never had a league leader. In the NL, the expansion Mets, Houston, and Montreal have never had a league leader. Dave Winfield of San Diego became the first player from a National League expansion team to lead the league, with 24 in 1979.

The highest season total of intentional walks is 45, by Willie McCovey in 1969. He had quite a margin over runner-up Hank Aaron, who had 19, and AL co-leaders Killebrew and Jackson, who had 20. McCovey also had 40 IBB in 1970. These are the only instances of any player receiving twoscore or more IBB in a season. Ted Williams’ 33 in 1957 is the highest AL season total. Williams had his 39th birthday during that season, in which he won his second last batting crown. No other player in either league has achieved a season total of 30 or more IBB.

McCovey had 5 seasons, including four in a row (1968-71, and 1973), of 20 or more IBB, a major league record. Three American Leaguers have been able to reach the 20 plateau twice: Harmon Killebrew turned the trick in consecutive seasons, 1969-70, as did Frank Howard, 1970-71; Reggie Jackson did it in 1969 and 1974. Jackson’s 20 in 1974 marks the highest total of IBB received while the DH was in effect.

Hank Aaron had 16 seasons during his long career in which he received 10 or more IBB, the best record of any major leaguer. Tony Oliva accomplished this nine times, for the AL record. Willie Stargell had a string of ten seasons with 10 or more IBB from 1965 to 1974, the major league mark, and Boog Powell had seven such seasons from 1968 to 1974, the best such streak in the AL.

No player has ever received more than one intentional pass in an inning. Aside from Ott’s l929game, no player has received more than three IBB in a nine-inning game in either major league. Roger Maris received four IBB in a night game on May 22, 1962, that went 12 innings. Maris only received 42 IBB in his entire career. Interestingly enough, he received none in 1961, although he did walk 94 times. This probably can be explained by the awesome Yankee lineup that season, particularly by the fact that switch hitter Mickey Mantle followed Mans in the batting order. It is also possible that, as Maris’s assault on the home run record began to attract publicity, no pitcher wanted to be criticized for deliberately depriving him of a chance to hit a homer.

McCovey and Williams hold the league records for left-handed batters for IBB received in a season. Frank Howard, with 29 in 1970, and Adolfo Phillips, with the same total in 1967, hold the AL and NL records for most IBB in a season by right-handed batters. Phillips’ total is rather remarkable. He was not a good hitter for average or power, and he played on a team with Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Ron Santo. He also managed 20 for the Cubs in 1968. Ted Simmons, with 25 in 1977, and Mickey Mantle, with 23 in 1957, have achieved the highest totals in the NL and AL respectively for switch hitters. The best totals achieved by rookies are 14 by Willie Montanez of the 1971 Phillies, and 13 for George Scott of the 1966 Red Sox.

Cesar Tovar had 726 plate appearances in 1967, including 46 walks, without receiving any IBB. His teammates included Killebrew, Carew, Oliva, and Bob Allison. Larry Bowa had 23 walks among his 720 plate appearances in 1974, but none was intentional. These are the league records for most plate appearances with no IBB in a season for the AL and NL respectively.

As might be expected from the distribution of IBB between the leagues, most of the leading batters in IBB are primarily identified with the National League. The first seven players on the list are also the first seven Black ball players to hit 400 home runs. Hank Aaron, the all-time home run leader, is also the IBB leader. It is not surprising that so many of the top players in IBB are also power hitters. The top AL players, Carl Yastrzemski, Harmon Killebrew, and Boog Powell, are also known for their power.

The best lifetime totals for right-handed batters have been achieved by Aaron, whose 293 include the National League record of 289, and Killebrew, who achieved his 160 in the AL. The best left-handed batters are McCovey, who achieved 257 of his 258 in the NL, and Yastrzemski, who holds the AL record of 169. Ted Simmons, who has the most IBB of any player with fewer than 200 homers, has also recorded more IBB than any other switch hitter. Mantle currently holds the AL record for switch hitters with 127. The career totals of Aaron, Banks, Mays, Kaline, Musial, Mantle, Mathews, Snider, Del Crandall, and Ted Williams do not include pre-1955 performances. Leo Cardenas, with 122 IBB and 118 HR, has the most IBB of any player with more IBB than HR. Rod Carew, with 106 IBB and 77 HR through 1979, should eventually exceed this level. Carew, of course, currently has the best lifetime batting percentage since Ted Williams.

On the right of the table is the frequency of plate appearances to intentional walks, and the ranks of the players listed. Only four American Leaguers rank in the top 20: Ted Williams, who has the best batting and slugging averages of the last 40 years, and the best on-base average of all-time; and Tony Oliva, Frank Howard, and Boog Powell among the second ten. Stan Musial was the most feared batter in the NL, based on how frequently he was purposely passed. Ted Simmons has the best rate among switch hitters, and Del Crandall, among right-handed batters. None of the top eight was a base stealing threat. Aaron has the highest frequency of any player with 200 or more SB. The top 25 players include eight catchers: Simmons, Crandall, Edwards, Haller, Roseboro, McCarver, Sanguillen, and Bench. Catchers are usually not frequent base stealing threats, and have less time to relax between innings if they should be left on base.

Since 1955, there have been ten IBB received by players who were primarily pitchers, although some were received when these men pinch hit. Only two of these occurred in the NL; Juan Pizarro (1958), and Don Newcombe (1959). In the AL, Gary Peters received three (1963, 1967, 1968), Mickey McDermott, two, both in 1957, and Tommy Byrne, (1956), Dick Donovan (1956), and Jim Kaat (1970), one each.

When it comes to not receiving IBB, the record is probably held by pitcher Bob Gibson, who had 1489 plate appearances with no IBB. Gibson was a good all-around athlete, and an aggressive baserunner (13 SB in 23 attempts), not a slow-footed hurler who could be counted on to clutter up the basepaths. Phil Niekro, who has 1391 plate appearances, including 134 in 1979, has never received an IBB, and may pass Gibson.

Among regulars, Glenn Beckert, who played with Adolfo Phillips, Billy Williams, Banks, and Santo, received only 3 IBB in his entire career, the same total as pitcher Peters. Beckert received an IBB in 1967, 1972, and 1973. He had 5572 plate appearances, a 1/1857 ratio. Johnny Temple, a second baseman, the same as Beckert, had 5 IBB in 5239 plate appearances since 1955 a 1/1048 ratio. Both men had lifetime batting averages over .280. By contrast, Dal Maxvill, a .217 hitter who kept his job with his glove, had 49 IBB. For players with very long careers we might expect American Leaguers with little power and lots of speed to have the fewest IBB. Bert Campaneris has only 15 IBB in 9149 plate appearances, a 1/610 ratio, and Luis Aparicio had 22 in 11229 p.a., a 1/5 10 ratio. Aparicio hit 83 homers; Campaneris has hit 76.

 

PITCHING LEADERS

A glance at the pitchers who have been most active since 1955 finds American League pitchers, as would be expected, giving up IBB far less frequently than their National counterparts. The first ten positions on the BFP/IBB table are held by pitchers who worked entirely or primarily in the AL. Jim Palmer, Luis Tiant, and Nolan Ryan have the best ratios among the righthanders, and Al Downing, Whitey Ford, and Vida Blue lead the lefties. Larry Dierker, Phil Niekro, and Bob Buhi have the best records of NL righties, and Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, and Ken Holtzman lead the NL lefties.

It is difficult to say how significant these figures are. Let us compare Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver, the best pitchers in their leagues during the 197 Os. Seaver has given up 2½ times as many IBB as Palmer, yet he faces only 4.00 batters each inning; Palmer faces 4.05. The extra IBB do not seem to have been very damaging.

Relievers tend to pile up high totals of IBB yielded, but they often are brought into situations not of their own making, so their totals of IBB allowed are not very meaningful. The table lists pitchers who did most of their work as starters.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Since 1955, there have been 29 all-star games, including two each in the years 1959-62. These games range the best talent of each major league against the other. Of those games, the NL has won 23, the AL, 5, and I ended in a tie. The NL has come out on top 82% of the time. Perhaps one reason that the IBB occurs more frequently in the NL is that the NL has had better hitters, players pitchers would be more inclined to avoid in possible intentional-walk situations. The DH, which takes the pitcher, the “automatic out,” out of the lineup, has resulted in a further reduction of IBB in the AL, but the junior circuit has never employed the IBB at the level of the National League.

 

RATIOS OF INTENTIONAL BASES ON BALLS TO BATSMEN FACING PITCHERS, 1955-79
(For the 50 Pitchers Recording the Most BFP Since 1955)

Rank & Pitcher Throws BFP IBB BFP/IBB
A if active in 1979   (*since 1955)    
1. Jim Palmer AR 13282 34 391
2. Al Downing L 9539 32 298
3. Luis Tiant AR 13400 48 279
4. Nolan Ryan AR 11405 42 272
5. Bert Blyleven AR 10723 43 249
6. Catfish Hunter AR 14032 57 246.2
7. Whitey Ford L 10816* 44 245.8
8. Vida Blue AL 10018 43 233
9. Camilo Pascual R 11876* 51 232.9
10. Mickey Lolich AL 15140 67 226
11. Larry Dierker R 9661 43 225
12. Jim Kaat A L 17636 83 212
13. Phil Niekro AR 15646 74 211
14. Dave McNally L 11229 56 201
15. Sandy Koufax L 9497 48 198
16. Warren Spahn L 11532* 60 192
17. Bob Buhl R 9892* 52 190
18. Stan Bahnsen AR 10012 53 188.9
19. Mike Cuellar L 11505 61 188.6
20. Don Sutton AR 14354 80 179
21. Rick Wise AR 12078 69 175
22. Mudcat Grant R 10293 59 174.5
23. Juan Marichal R 14236 82 173.6
24. Ken Holtzman AL 12069 70 172
25. Tommy John AL 12743 75 170
26. Joe Coleman AR 10948 65 168
27. Lew Burdette R 10422* 63 165
28. Mike Torrez AR 9771 60 163
29. Tom Seaver AR 13812 85 162
30. Robin Roberts R 11082* 69 161
31. Ferguson Jenkins AR 15469 97 159.5
32. Jim Bunning R 15618 98 159.4
33. Wilbur Wood L 11153 71 157
34. Claude Osteen L 14433 93 155
35. Milt Pappas R 13198 89 148.3
36. Jim Lonborg AR 10498 71 147.9
37. Jim Perry R 13732 93 147.7
38. Mel Stottlemyre R 10972 75 146
39. Steve Canton AL 14412 100 144
40. Sam McDowell L 10587 74 143
41. Bob Gibson R 16068 118 136
42. Chris Short L 9801 74 132.4
43. Pedro Ramos R 10048 76 132.2
44. Ray Sadecki L 10694 82 130
45. Larry Jackson R 13593 106 128
46. Gaylord Perry AR 18691 152 123
47. Jerry Koosman AL 11618 96 121
48. Don Drysdale R 14097 123 115
49. Bob Friend R 12223* 115 106
50. Mike McCormick L 10058 101 100

 

BATTERS RECEIVING THE MOST INTENTIONAL BASES ON BALLS, 1955-1979
*A if active in 1979

Rank and Player Bats PA IBB PA/IBB PA/IBB rank
1. Hank Aaron R 13431* 293 45.8 9th
2. Willie McCovey AL 9559 258 37.1 3rd
3. Frank Robinson R 11745 218 53.9 16th
4. Willie Stargell AL 8644 215 40.2 5th
5. Ernie Banks R 9707* 198 49 11th
6. Willie Mays R 11185* 192 58.3 23rd
7. Billy Williams L 10519 182 57.8 22nd
8. Rusty Staub AL 10145 172 59 24th
9. Carl Yastrzemski AL 12230 169 72.4 36th
10. Roberto Clemente R 10212 167 61.1 26th
11. Harmon Killebrew R 9816* 160 61.4 28th
12. Orlando Cepeda R 8697 154 56.5 19th
13. Boog Powell L 7810 140 55.8 18th
14½ Ted Simmons AS 5888 138 42.7 6th
14½ Dick Allen R 7315 138 53 15th
16. Frank Howard R 7353 135 54.5 16th
17. Pete Rose AS 12196 134 91 46th
18½ Tony Oliva L 6879 131 52.5 14th
18½ AlKaline R 11032* 131 84.2 43rd
20. Tony Perez AR 8806 130 67.7 3 1St
21. Ron Fairly L 8437 129 65.4 29th
23. Stan Musial L 4563* 127 35.9 2nd
23. Johnny Bench AR 7298 127 57.5 19th
23. Joe Torre R 8802 127 69.3 32nd
25. Mickey Mantle S 7707* 126 61.2 27th
26. Lou Brock AL 11240 124 90.6 45th
27. Leo Cardenas R 7402 122 60.7 25th
28. Brooks Robinson R 11782 120 98.2 50th
29. Tim McCarver AL 6199 119 52.1 13th
30. Johnny Edwards L 5132 118 43.49 7th
31. NormCash L 7913 112 70.7 34th
32½ Johnny Roseboro L 5528 110 50.3 12th
32½ BillMazeroski R 8379 110 76.2 39th
34. Eddie Mathews L 8226* 107 76.9 40th
35. Rod Carew AL 7473 106 70.5 33rd
36. Duke Snider L 4048* 104 38.9 4th
37. Reggie Smith AS 7246 102 71 35th
38. Reggie Jackson AL 7340 100 73.4 37th
39. Ken Boyer R 8273 97 85.3 44th
40. Tom Haller L 4519 96 47.1 10th
41. Del Crandall R 4134* 95 43.52 8th
42½ Manny Sanguilen AR 5330 94 56.7 20th
42½ Ron Santo R 9396 94 100 51st
44. Willie Horton AR 7667 93 82.4 42nd
45. Bobby Murcer AL 7064 91 77.6 41St
46. Ed Kranepool AL 5997 89 67.4 30th
47. Ted Williams L 2704* 86 31.4 1st
48. George Scott AR 8269 85 97.3 49th
49. Jimmy Wynn R 8011 84 95.4 48th
50½ Rick Monday AL 6264 83 75.5 38th
50½ Lee May AR 7815 83 94.2 47th

 

 

Batters Receiving Most Intentional Walks Each Season, 1955-79, and League Total Each Season

American League

Year

Leader

Team

Bats

Pos.

IBB

LIBB

1955

Ted Williams

Bos

L

LF

17

312

1956

Ted Williams

Bos

L

LF

11

279

1957

Ted Williams

Bos

L

LF

33

353

1958

Mickey Mantle

NY

S

CF

13

260

1959

Al Kaline

Det

R

CF

12

257

1960

Jim Lemon

Was

R

LF

8

283

 

Roy Sievers

Chic

R

lB

8

283

1961

Norm Cash

Det

L

lB

19

290

1962

Jim Gentile

Bal

L

lB

16

366

1963

Al Kaline

Det

R

RF

12

419

1964

Mickey Mantle

NY

S

CF

18

472

1965

Don Mincher

Min

L

lB

15

534

1966

Harmon Killebrew

Min

R

3B

18

490

1967

Harmon Killebrew

Min

R

lB

15

491

 

Bill Freehan

Det

R

C

15

491

1968

Tony Oliva

Min

L

RF

16

529

1969

Reggie Jackson

Oak

L

RF

20

668

 

Harmon Killebrew

Min

R

3B

20

668

1970

Frank Howard

Was

R

LF

29

638

1971

Frank Howard

Was

R

LF

20

660

1972

Ed Herrmann

Chi

L

C

19

649

1973

John Mayberry

KC

L

lB

17

495

1974

Reggie Jackson

Oak

L

RF

20

520

1975

Rod Carew

Min

L

2B

18

543

1976

Jim Spencer

Chi

L

lB

19

471

1977

Rod Carew

Min

L

lB

15

542

1978

Rod Carew

Min

L

lB

19

494

1979

Ken Singleton

Bal

S

RF

16

560

 

Summary: Total IBB, American League, 1955-79, 11,575. AL accounted for 42% of major league total of 27,543. In the AL, 1/140 plate appearances is an IBB compared to 1/1 16 for the majors.

 

National League

Year

Leader

Team

Bats

Pos.

IBB

LIBB

1955

Ted Kluszewski

Cin

L

lB

25

424

1956

Duke Snider

Bkn

L

CF

26

504

1957

Stan Musial

StL

L

lB

19

387

1958

Stan Musial

StL

L

lB

26

420

1959

Ernie Banks

Chi

R

SS

20

450

1960

Ernie Banks

Chi

R

SS

28

447

1961

Frank Robinson

Cin

R

RF

23

442

1962

Frank Robinson

Cin

R

RF

16

452

 

Bill Mazeroski

Pit

R

2B

16

452

1963

Frank Robinson

Cin

R

LF

20

514

1964

Frank Robinson

Cin

R

RF

20

543

1965

Leo Cardenas

Cin

R

SS

25

596

1966

Leo Cardenas

Cin

R

SS

18

598

1967

Adolfo Phillips

Chi

R

CF

29

804

1968

Roberto Clemente

Pit

R

RF

27

694

1969

Willie McCovey

SF

L

lB

45

768

1970

Willie McCovey

SF

L

lB

40

826

1971

Willie McCovey

SF

L

lB

21

736

 

Henry Aaron

Atl

R

lB

21

736

1972

Johnny Bench

Cin

R

C

23

729

1973

Willie McCovey

SF

L

lB

25

862

1974

Bill Russell

LA

R

SS

25

833

1975

Ralph Garr

Atl

L

LF

17

795

 

Greg Luzunski

Phi

R

LF

17

795

1976

Ted Simmons

StL

S

C

19

685

1977

Ted Simmons

StL

S

C

25

755

1978

Dave Parker

Pit

L

RF

23

844

1979

Dave Winfield

SD

R

RF

24

860

Summary: Total IBB, National League, 1955-79, 15,968. NL accounted for 58% of major league total of 27,543. In the NL, 1/99 plate appearances is an IBB compared to 1/1 16 for the majors.

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