One of the more puzzling sentiments that has made its way into mainstream baseball analysis is the idea that home runs kill rallies. You don’t hear it in every game, or even most games, but when the opportunity presents itself, you can count on a broadcaster unleashing this bit of misinformation. For example, if a team loads the bases with no outs, and the batter hits a grand slam, it is likely someone will say “I’d rather have had a single to keep the line moving than a rally-killing homer.”
I hope the fallaciousness of this thinking is fairly self-evident. A home run is, by definition, the single best result a hitter can achieve during his at-bat. At the very least, it guarantees one run for his team. It often guarantees more. But it’s a guarantee, and that’s the most important point to remember and the very point that people forget when they proclaim certain home runs “rally-killers.” As a fan, it’s easy to understand the feelings behind such a statement. The bases are loaded, no one is out, and there’s all the promise in the world of an endless inning with lots and lots of scoring. When a player hits a home run and clears the bases, it just feels like the start of the inning all over again. Sure, multiple runs have scored, but now there’s no one on base. So, I understand the visceral reaction leading to the idea of rally-killing home runs. It’s important to understand, however, that the home run itself is the very rally that people fear has been killed.
I bring this up because Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jason Isringhausen has introduced an apparent descendant of this misguided maxim. After helping blow a 10-0 lead over the Cleveland Indians, the Rays’ reliever offered this bit of thinking:
“The walks are unacceptable,” Isringhausen. “I’d rather give up home runs than walk guys.”
Isringhausen’s preferences are his own choice, but if he’s intent on pitching effectively, then his choice is wrong. It’s wrong for the same reason that home runs as “rally-killers” is wrong. If hitting a home run is the best thing a hitter can do, it’s also the worst thing a pitcher can allow. A walk is bad, yes, but allowing a home run means that the opponent has instantly scored one run. That’s much, much worse than allowing a baserunner.
While wrong, Isringhausen’s statement is understandable. As a fan, it’s agonizing to watch your pitcher walk batter after batter. It’s a slow, painful death that wreaks havoc upon the nerves and grants an amplified feeling of powerlessness. Seeing your pitcher allow a home run, on the other hand, provides certainty. It’s the devil you know. Once the ball leaves the park, you know exactly what the score is going to be, and you can start to get on with your life. Walks don’t afford that luxury. So, once again, I comprehend the feelings behind a statement like Isringhausen’s. That doesn’t make him any less wrong.