By Mark Kolier
The final game of the 2023 Little League World Series ended in dramatic fashion when 6-foot-1 12-year-old Louis Lappe crushed a walk-off, title-winning, tie-breaking home run against Curaçao. I’ve seen it on replay over a dozen times already. What a moment for a team, a player, and his family. Remember his name, as sometimes these Little Leaguers actually grow up to be big leaguers! For the record, Yusmeiro Petit is the only player to win both the Little League World Series and the World Series.
For those of us that played Little League baseball, there are different memories about the experience that might come to mind. Starting in Little League, coaches try to encourage nervous batters with that classic line, “A walk is as good as a hit!” As I remember it, Little League teams always have a few players that are deathly afraid of being hit by the ball. Them being told “A walk is as good as a hit” just confirms the player’s decision to not swing the bat at all while only trying to not be hit by the baseball.
For those Little Leaguers, a walk really is as good as a hit. And when I played, there was this one large kid named Larry Pearsall who pitched with a perpetual scowl, threw very hard, and had a curveball which I had never seen before. He was scary. I can still hear the whizz of the ball as he fired it to the catcher. I would have gladly taken a walk, which to me was better than getting hit! This little story does not end heroically.
But the old “walk is as good as a hit” trope doesn’t stop with Little League. You can attend a Major League Baseball game and hear fans telling the lesser hitter, “A walk is as good as a hit!” So, in the current MLB “three-true-outcome” environment, is a walk as good as a hit? Your instinct is to say no. You’d be correct. Mostly.
The more accurate saying would be a walk is as good as a single with no RISP, except for a possible first to third. That does not sound as memorable. But a walk can’t be as good as a double, a triple, or a home run which puts a runner at worst in scoring position. Of course, OBA (on-base average) is important. When a manager or hitting coach says those words to a hitter, their goal is getting the player to be more patient, take the free base when there’s nothing to hit, and go with what the pitcher gives them.
Let’s look at it another way. There are many ways to get on base. A base-on-balls is a good, easy one that has little to no interference with other ways of getting on. It highly benefits power hitters, and for the high-average hitters, as previously noted, a walk is as good as a single with no RISP. Walks benefit speedier players and the team more when there isn’t a runner on first or second base already. The runners in front take away a chance for the speedy runner to steal a base because he doesn’t need to.
With a runner on second base (or runners on second and third), that fast runner helps his team more by getting a single, or better, driving in the run (or runs) than he does by getting a base on balls. Walks also are useful for driving up the pitch count of a good starting pitcher, hopefully tiring that pitcher and hastening the end of his outing.
Leadoff walks come around to score nearly as often as leadoff singles. In 2011, this occurred 38% of the time, adding .902 runs per inning. So it can be said that in the case of a leadoff walk or single, a walk is as good as a hit. When the bases are loaded and the score is tied in the bottom of the final inning, a walk is as good as a hit. The result is the same, but it’s not as much fun as actually getting a hit that wins the game. I offer, however, that a walk is definitely not as much fun as a hit! Even Little Leaguers know that.
Clearly the Little League team from Curaçao wishes their pitcher (the staff had not given up a home run in the tournament) had walked Louis Lappe, since that would have been much better than the hit that won the LLWS!
About the Author: Mark Kolier along with his son Gordon co-hosts a baseball podcast called ‘Almost Cooperstown’. He also has written baseball-related articles that can be accessed on Medium.com and now Substack.com.