In late February, Major League Baseball officially announced the new intentional walk rule, which allowed managers to intentionally walk an opposing batter with a signal rather than instructing his pitcher to throw four pitches wide of the strike zone. The signal wasn’t invoked much in spring training, so we had to wait until April to see it in action. Understandably, it’s going to take some getting used to.
According to Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times, Angels center fielder Mike Trout was confused by the new rule during the eighth inning of Monday night’s season opener against the Athletics. Trout had doubled to bring Pujols to the plate. With first base open, Athletics manager Bob Melvin opted to intentionally walk Pujols, so he gave the signal.
Trout said, “I called timeout, got back to the bag, and when I looked up, he was on first base. It was different. He was laughing. I was laughing. It took me a little bit to figure out what happened. But that’s the way it’s going, I guess.”
The intentional walk worked in the Athletics’ favor as, after Pujols was given first base, C.J. Cron grounded out to end the inning. The Angels went on to lose 4-2.
You hear a lot about pitchers tipping pitches. It’s often offered up post-facto as an excuse for poor performance by the pitcher himself or his own team. It’s sort of like the “best shape of my life” thing being offered in the offseason to talk about why the player got injured or played badly the previous year. “Smitty’s stuff is still great, he was just tipping his pitches,” said a source close to the player whose stuff is not really great anymore.
Which isn’t to say that pitchers don’t tip pitches. Of course they do. Opposing teams look for it, pick up on it and take advantage of it whenever they can. It’s just that (a) the opposing team has an interest in not talking about it, lest the pitcher STOP tipping its pitches; and (b) the guy actually tipping his pitches doesn’t want to talk specifically about it lest he starts doing it again.
Which is what makes this article at Sports Illustrated so interesting. In it Tom Verducci talks to an anonymous Houston Astros player who explains how Dodgers starter Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches during the World Series, leading to him getting absolutely shellacked in Games 3 and 7. The upshot: the Astros knew when a slider or a cutter was coming, they waited for it and they teed off.
Darvish is a free agent now. I’m guessing, whoever signs him, knows exactly what they’ll gave him work on the first day of spring training.