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Uh-oh, intentional balks are here to stay

Dodgers lead in intentional walks and balks

Pittsburgh Pirates v Los Angeles Dodgers
Kenley Jansen and Will Smith of the LA Dodgers talk during a game, Aug 17, 2021.
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Dodgers have made some interesting *strategy* choices this year — especially in that wild 16-inning game against the Padres in late August — where they intentionally walked eight batters during the game. That was the most intentional walks in a game, ever.

And while getting a worse batter up, or creating a double-play situation makes sense to us at home, moving runners up always feels like white-knuckle gamble. The Dodgers have proven adept at those gambles, though. Those eight intentional walks on their side contributed to a big win, essentially skipping over the top of the Padres’ lineup more than once. Another one the Dodgers have been using more frequently? The intentional balk. Controversial and confusing, it does seem here to stay.

That same game saw Corey Knebel use an intentional balk to move Padres’ Caratini from second to third base in the bottom of the 15th inning. It was very confusing on the first attempt (the umps missed it, possibly thought he dropped the ball accidentally, and he had to do it again to successfully move the runner):

The strategy behind that is to obviously get the runner on second away from being able to see the catcher’s signs. It didn’t end up mattering all that much in this particular instance as Fernando Tatis Jr. nailed a home run shortly after Caratini moved over. But it is fascinating to watch the Dodgers utilize the rules at their disposal to make strategic plays that they hope pan out.

Kenley Jansen has also utilized the intentional balk multiple times in the last couple of years and may be the most frequent user of it. It was big news when he did it in 2019, setting baseball news aflutter.

Jansen credits bench coach Bob Geren for the idea (though some give Jansen himself credit for “inventing” the move), and we’ve heard plenty about Jansen not needing or wanting to have to worry about the runner on second — for focus, for lack of speed, and for sign integrity. So is there any downside to using it? Well, if you’re okay with the odds with the other team 90 feet closer to scoring, probably not. The runner can’t retreat to second, they can’t “refuse” to take third. And if it gives the pitcher the focus to just get an out in the next play, I say why not.

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