The Texas Rangers tied a postseason record when they issued 12 intentional walks last October. Some worked out, but overall, the Rangers likely would have upped their chances of winning the World Series had they just avoided the strategy entirely.
Which seems to be what Ron Washington is doing this year. The Rangers have played 29 games this season without issuing a single intentional walk. And, for what it’s worth, they’re currently 19-10 on the season with the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors at 2.02.
Of course, Washington last year didn’t start going crazy with the intentional walks until the postseason. His team issued 21 during the regular season. Only the Red Sox, Diamondbacks and Brewers issued fewer. Still, the complete absence of intentional walks this year seems like a philosophy change. At last year’s pace, his team would have issued 4 IBBs so far this season.
The Rangers are the only team without an intentional walk handed out this season. The White Sox have issued just one, with the Diamondbacks, Mets and Twins right behind at two apiece. Manager Ozzie Guillen’s Marlins lead the way in intentional walks at 20, with the Padres (13) and Yankees (12) next on the list.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.