Mechanics of Pitching

In his two most recent starts, Colorado Rockies pitcher Shawn Chacon has walked sixteen guys in ten innings, but he's given up only four runs. That's two runs each game! But the fact is, Shawn Chacon hasn't been struggling with his control lately, regardless of what it may look like when you read the box score.

Let me break it down for you. One of the first things you learn in the big leagues is that hitters like to see pitches they can hit. But if you threw the ball down the middle of the plate every pitch, you wouldn't last long in baseball! Ha! Pitchers need to be creative and realize that sometimes, throwing balls is better than throwing strikes.

When I pitched for the '87 Cubs, I walked 106 guys in 237 innings. That may seem like a lot, but I was an All-Star that year, so clearly, I was doing something right! What I realized is that it's okay to walk a ton of guys, as long as you have enough confidence in your team to get the outs. For one thing, walking a guy means that you don't have to deal with balls in play. When you walk a guy, you know where he's going - first base. When a guy hits a ball in the air, you don't know if Andre Dawson's going to get stung by a bee or see a pretty girl in the stands or what! (Nothing personal, Hawk. It's strategy.)

The other thing to consider is how it affects hitters. It's in nobody's best interest to walk every time at the plate; hitters don't get the big money for leaving the bat on their shoulder, and you don't even want to know how the guys in the clubhouse would treat Ryne Sandberg when he'd take a bunch of pitches instead of trying to bring the runners home. So if you're throwing garbage and hoping to walk guys, you might actually get them to swing at some bad pitches. If they know they aren't going to see anything they can hit, they're gonna swing at something!

Look, the Rockies didn't actually win either of those games, but they could have. It's hard to succeed in Colorado, and Shawn Chacon's never going to be an All-Star like me. But in baseball, a lot of things don't matter as much as you think they do - and nobody cares about walks except the Oakland A's, and we all know how good the A's are. If Chacon keeps doing his job, walking guys and keeping them on base at the end of the inning, he might be on to something - and the Colorado Rockies might be taking their first steps toward a pennant.

Rick Sutcliffe is a color commentator for ESPN Baseball. He won the Cy Young award in 1984.


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