Intentional Walk Rules Baseball- Can A Batter Decline An Intentional Walk?

John Means

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Intentional Walk Rules Baseball

You miss one step in Baseball, and you are about to lose the game! Baseball is a game full of strategies and team effort. One mistake and it’s all gone. 

Intentional Walk is that strategy in Baseball. It is a deliberate decision to bypass pitching toward a particular batter. This strategy often affects the opposing team’s scoring potential. But does the batter have anything to say about it? Can a batter decline an intentional walk? 

Here you go! We are here with all the answers. Today, we will talk about intentional walk rules in baseball and how it influences the choice of the batters and the overall baseball match. 

Intentional Walk Rules Baseball

So, what are intentional walk rules in baseball? How does it affect the overall progress of the game? We will find out today. 

Also known as, a free pass, an intentional walk in baseball is a strategy to eliminate the risk of pitching to a batter,  typically in a high-pressure situation. Often the defensive team applies this strategic move to intentionally walk a batter by throwing four pitches outside the strike zone (before 2017)

What’s the motive of intentional walking? 

The effect of this move can be lethal to the opposing team whereas blessing for another. An intentional walk deliberately avoids pitching to a particularly skilled or powerful hitter. In events like when the opposing team has runners in scoring position or when facing a power hitter who could potentially hit a home run. 

The decision to issue an intentional walk is usually at the hand of the team’s manager or the catcher in consultation with the pitcher. It is based on careful analysis of the game situation, the strengths and weaknesses of the batter, and the overall strategy employed by the defensive team.

Key Points: 

  • An intentional walk is a permissible act. It only happens when the manager permits a hitter to reach the first base instead of hitting the ball. 
  • It is the managers who call for the walk, not the players. 
  • For many years, in an intentional walk, the manager governs his pitcher to throw four pitches out of the strike zone. 
  • The four pitches are a part of boosting the pace of the play project in baseball, led by Commissioner Rob Manfred. 
  • However, this MLB rule changed in 2017 and the manager can now simply signal the umpire that he wants the batter walked. And the batter simultaneously goes to the first base. 
  • There is no specific sign to call the intentional walk. The manager can hold up four fingers and beckon the batter to the first base. 
  • When the pitchers don’t throw any pitch, they are charged with an intentional walk. 
  • However, if the pitcher makes a few pitches and then the manager decides to allow an intentional walk, he can do it anytime. 
  • The intentional walk strategy saves an estimated 35 seconds per game. (Source: Baseball Rules Academy
  • Take note the ghost pitches won’t be counted in the pitcher’s pitch count. 

Now, ghost pitching might be a new term for you. In baseball, a ghost pitch refers to a pitch that is not registered by the batter, the fielder, or the umpire. The pitcher either throws it incorrectly or the pitch simply fails to reach its intended destination.
A ghost pitch can happen due to a human error or technical glitch, resulting in being undetected or invisible to the personas of the baseball match.

Until 1955, intentional walks were not officially trailed. So, there was no way of knowing who recorded the highest number of intentional walks. But the number was likely to be high.

However, SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) member John Tattersall conducted research manually. And, found out that Babe Ruth, best known for home runs, had 170 walks during the 1923 season and was credited with 80 international walks; followed by Rickey Henderson, with 61 international walks over the 25 years. 

Genuine Guideline for Players

To record an international walk, here are a few guidelines set by MLB: 

  • The catcher should typically stand upright. 
  • Both feet must be inside the catcher’s box – until the pitcher releases the ball. 
  • The catcher should genuinely aim to receive the pitch far outside the strike zone. 
  • Hitters are not restricted from swinging at an intentional ball attempt. 
  • If the pitch is closer to the plate than the pitcher intended, hitters can occasionally swing at it. 

Over the years, only a few managers adopted the four-ball intentional walk. We can recall Tony La Russa who put this method into action only because he didn’t want the deck hitter to get extra motivated. 

Brief History of Intentional Walks in Baseball

Brief History of Intentional Walks in Baseball


The history of the intentional walk is really short in history as we know it already intentional walk rules in baseball weren’t an official statistic before 1955. 

In fact, before 2017, without throwing four pitches, baseball teams didn’t have the allowance to intentionally walk a batter. However, only the fourth ball will be an intentional walk to be officially declared as a score. 

Prior to 2017, the rules were amended to improve the pace of the play. Managers could order an international walk with a signal to the umpire only; ignoring four pitches at once. 

The new rules, however, remove the rare plays in case the intentional walks result in dropped balls, backfire, or are used as a smokescreen for an uncertain play. 

Elimination of Four Pitch from Intentional Walk 

Earlier in 2017, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred cleared that he is thinking of new ways to speed up the baseball game. It was already a headache as fans often claimed the game to be slow and boring.

Rob Manfred didn’t expect any major changes however, he did make it clear to look for new ways to pace up the game. Union head Tony Clark said to the Associated Press, “As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes, There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however.” 

After some time, on a Tuesday, it was announced that the baseball teams would no longer have to throw four meaningless pitches to intentionally walk the batters. The team manager only has to signal the umpire from the dugout to seamlessly send the batter to the first. 

This new edition eliminated the number of walks per season. As disappointing as it could be for many players and fans, then again if you consider one minute per walk; that would be 932 minutes or 15.5 spent hours per season (considering one walk every 2.6 matches).
Perhaps, the elimination of four pitches is really worth it to increase the efficiency of baseball. It reduced the additional time spent on the game and made the match more accurate with precise activity. 

Walk Vs. Intentional Walk in Baseball

You must be wondering what’s the difference between a walk and an intentional walk in baseball. Since both of the terms are closely related to each other, don’t find yourself in confusion. Let us clear up your head. 

Whether it is a walk or an intentional walk it is solely determined by the intent of the pitcher.
For an unintentional walk in baseball, a pitcher has to throw four pitches outside the strike zone while the batter won’t hit any of those four pitches. Read it out in points, to be considered an unintentional walk

  • A pitcher has to throw four pitches. 
  • All four pitches have to be outside the strike zone. 
  • The batter won’t swing at any of the four pitches. 
  • The batter will be rewarded with the first base upon successfully drawing four balls. 
  • The batter will also not be charged with an at-bat. 
  • The number of balls and strikes before the walk is not countable here.

Even after the change in MLB rules in 2017, the pitcher has to throw four pitches out of the strike zone to record an unintentional walk or walk. You can consider, a walk is the result of a pitcher’s inability to throw strikes and the batter’s ability to discern balls from strikes.

On the other hand, an intentional walk follows the MLB rule 2017. A pitcher doesn’t have to throw any pitches to record an intentional walk. The team manager beckons the home plate umpire. Thus, the hitter will go to the first base and an intentional walk will be recorded. 

The recommendation of an intentional walk usually comes from the team’s manager or the catcher. Intentional walks are commenced often in high-pressure situations where facing the current batter is deemed more dangerous than allowing them to reach first base.

Can A Batter Decline An Intentional Walk? 

We are at the most critical part of our discussion today. Can a batter decline an intentional walk? What happens if he does? Here’s the answer. 

No, a batter can’t decline an intentional walk. Major League Baseball strictly prevents batters from rejecting an intentional walk. 

When a defensive team decides to intentionally walk a batter, the batter is automatically awarded first base, regardless of their desire or willingness to accept the walk. The batter is obligated to take the base and cannot reject the intentional walk.

However, while a batter cannot decline an intentional walk, in the past, there have been rare instances where batters have swung at pitches during an intentional walk attempt. 

These incidents are highly unusual and typically occur when the pitcher fails to execute the intentional walk properly, leaving a pitch hittable within the strike zone. 

Even though there is no direct mention of what happens when a batter declines an intentional walk rule in baseball but the results can be unpredictable and potentially a hit or even a home run if a batter violates the MLB intentional walk rule and swings to make contact. 

Can A Pitcher Throw An Intentional Ball? 

In baseball, a pitcher is not obedient to throw an intentional ball always. In some cases, he might deliberately throw an intentional ball as a part of his strategic move to minimize scoring opportunities or potentially deliver a psychological impact on the match. 

Before MLB Rule Change in 2017, pitchers pitched a ball to a catcher who is standing up with one arm to take the ball away from the hitter. 

Critics and Opinions on Intentional Walk

Intentional walk rules in baseball were not official until a few times ago. While many welcome this strategy in the baseball field with a positive approach, others are still taking time to get used to it. In fact, a lot of people blame intentional walk to be the reason for the audience declining over 7% since 2015 (Source: Forbes

Jason Brannan of SB Nation summed up this baseball strategy in the best saying, “Baseball is what happens between the pitcher and the batter, or the batter and the fielders. The intentional walk isn’t baseball, it’s the avoidance of baseball.

American League president Ban Johnson also said to The New York Times, “The intentional base on balls has come to be one of the most, if not the most, unpopular plays in baseball, The great majority of the game’s patrons seem to oppose it. So do I.

Clearly, you will find a lot of professionals and baseball experts against intentional walk rules. Plus, there were a lot of suggestions to improve the rules too. ESPN prepared a document on this. A few of the suggestions seem really concrete, give it a look: 

“ 1. A limit of one intentional walk per player per game.

  1. On an intentional walk, every runner gets to move up a base.
  2. The hitter can decline the intentional walk, as if it were, oh, a holding penalty. ” 

These recommendations make it quite clear that people want hitters to decide whether to approve the intentional walk or not. 

Are You With or Against the Intentional Walk? 

We are at the end of our article; covering up all we know about Intentional Walk Rules Baseball. So, what do you think of this legit strategy? Should pitchers be really getting this opportunity to intentional walking or do you think it should be the hitters’ call to decide the fate of this walk? 

Which strategy do you think will best work for the ultimate development of baseball? Start a discussion below and let us know. Also, share this article with other baseball lovers and have their opinion on the intentional walk in baseball.
And, if you think we missed out something, feel free to add it below. 

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John Means

John Means is a professional baseball player who has played in the major leagues for the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics. He made his major league debut with the Royals in 2009. He was traded to the Athletics in 2012. Baseball is his favorite sport. His passion about the game is evident in his play. Now he write blogs about baseball and other things whenever he has some free time. LinkedIn

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