How Blake Snell Earned The Ability To Walk Batters


Blake Snell has had one of the more unique careers of any pitcher in MLB history.

He was at the center of the most ridiculed move in Kevin Cash’s career in the 2020 World Series, he made headlines for his instant reaction to the Tommy Pham trade, and most notably he has as many Cy Young seasons as he does seasons with an ERA over 4.20.

And the Seattle native has done all of this before his age-31 season.

But entering his long-awaited free agency, Snell could not have pitched a better prove-it season, posting a 2.25 ERA in 180 innings pitched. And it was not a pole to pole season from Snell, but he instead ended the year on a tirade after having a 5.04 ERA through his first 10 starts.

From May 31st on, Snell allowed just 17 earned runs in 130 innings, striking out 180 batters and leading a less than competitive Padres team to a 15-7 record.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of Snell’s season was his league-leading walks. The lefty allowed 99 last year, which is not that off from his usual walk percentage (13.3% in 2023 compared to 11.0% for his career).

But these high totals are not like Justin Verlander leading the MLB in home runs in his Cy Young season, as a good portion of Snell’s walks were intentionally pitching around a batter.

The 2023 Cy Young winner has been on record saying that if he falls behind to a batter, if the situation presents itself, he will walk said batter to attack whoever is on deck with a fresh count. And this philosophy clearly worked, as despite giving up 45 earned runs all season, just 30 of them came from a runner on base being driven in.

HIs ability to strand runners and be able to pitch effectively out of the stretch allowed him to have the league’s best pitching run value, breaking run value and offspeed run value, which shows the exact opposite of a control issue for the Seattle native.

But the thing about purposely pitching around batters is the fact that you have to earn the right to be able to do this, and from what it seems, a soon-to-be two Cy Young winner is the unofficial benchmark for this trust.

But on a larger scale, will Snell’s season allow the baseball decision makers to put less of an emphasis on the number of batters walked for a starting pitcher?

At the very least, Snell’s season will allow coaches and scouts to put more of an emphasis on the eye test, as two walks are not always the same, but it may be interesting to see how not only the starting pitcher trends lean more on walking dangerous hitters in hitter counts. But it also will be telling by how much Snell earns in the open market despite leading in a statistical category that would normally end the career of a pitcher, or atleast move them to the bullpen.

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