The media narrative surrounding the Braves' offense has mostly focused on two things: home runs and strikeouts. And not without reason, as the team leads the NL rather handily in both categories. While the homers are far more important to the team's fortunes than the Ks, I can hardly fault people for noticing that the Braves are striking out at a near-historic pace.
This team should be known for more than just strikeouts and homers, though. The Braves are also quite adept at the third of the "three true outcomes": walks. Braves hitters have drawn 196 walks, 2nd only to the Reds in the NL. Much more so than strikeouts, the team's ability to draw walks has correlated with its success.
Last night, for instance, Braves hitters drew 6 walks. Not coincidentally, the team scored 7 runs and won handily. In fact, of the 12 times that the team has drawn at least 6 walks, they've scored fewer than 5 runs just once.
On the other hand, when the team has drawn 0 or 1 walks in a game, they've scored more than 3 runs just once in 12 games.
Those numbers may seem extreme--and they are somewhat more extreme than most other teams'--but the basic idea shouldn't be a surprise. Walks are good. Draw more of them, and you should expect to score more runs (and thus, win more games).
Here's how the Braves have fared in terms of runs scored vs. walks drawn in each game this year:
There is still a lot of variation, but the trend is clear. Compare this graph to the most recent strikeouts-vs.-runs graph from the Strikeout Tracker and you can see how the walks-vs.-runs correlation is relatively strong.
I should emphasize: this is just correlation. There are many, many other factors that go into a team's run-scoring, some of which--like home runs and other hits--are clearly more important than walks (and also correlated with walks). While drawing more walks should lead to more runs, that's not the only causation involved. For example, a pitcher who is already getting hit hard will throw fewer pitches over the plate and thus issue more walks. Not to mention that a pitcher with poor command will both give up more walks and throw more hittable pitches over the heart of the plate.
Below, I've broken down all of the Braves' games into three categories: 5 or more walks drawn, 3-4 walks drawn, and 2 or fewer walks drawn. The results are fascinating:
|# of BBs||Games||Record||R/Gm||HR/Gm||K/Gm||K/BB|
|5 or more||20||16-4||6.4||1.6||8.9||1.51|
|3 or 4||17||10-7||4.3||1.4||9.6||2.86|
|2 or fewer||20||9-11||2.9||1.1||8.9||8.43|
The Braves don't strike out any more (or less) when they draw more walks, but they do score (a lot) more runs. They even hit more home runs when they are drawing more walks. Seen this way, it's not so much the Braves' high strikeout totals that doom them to being shut out relatively often--it's their inability to draw walks to counteract the extra strikeouts.
The Braves have had 6 games in which they've struck out 14 or more times. In 2 of those games, they drew 1 and 0 walks; they lost both, scoring 2 runs total. In the other 4 games, however, the Braves drew at least 4 walks; they scored at least 5 runs in each of those games and won all 4.
The more a team strikes out, the fewer hits it is likely to have. So if a team is going to strike out as much as the Braves do, they need to compensate. The two easiest ways to do this are to hit for more power and to draw more walks--both of which the Braves do quite well. So far, the team's prodigious power and solid patience have paid off; it'd be difficult to argue that the disadvantage from the strikeouts outweighs either, much less both.
Of course, it's not as simple as just telling the Braves' hitters to try to get as many walks as they can. Walks are just one of many interrelated components of offensive performance. However, if the Braves are drawing a lot of walks, we know that at least something is going right--and that something is closely tied to a lot of other somethings, most of which bode well.
Whether the walks are a cause of success or a byproduct of it, they are certainly a solid (and simple) indicator. If the Braves continue to draw walks at this rate, they'll continue to score plenty of runs.