WORCESTER — Your Little League coach was right, it turns out. A walk is indeed as good as a hit.
Take it from WooSox manager Chad Tracy, whose advice is several levels above the Williamsport experience.
“Is Niko Goodrum hitting .218 or is he hitting .438? You tell me,” Tracy said. “At the end of the day, we want him on base. He’s hitting second behind David (Hamilton), and we want to create traffic for the middle part of our order so that when people like (Wilyer) Abreu and Bobby Dalbec come up and pop a homer, it’s a two-run homer.
“So is he hitting .218 or batting .438? For me, it’s .438, and it’s awesome.”
Goodrum has spent the entire season either leading the International League — all 30 teams, not just the East — in bases on balls, or at least near the top. Same with the team. The WooSox are always at or near the top in walks.
That’s because Goodrum isn’t the only Worcester batter with a good eye. Nick Sogard has had a walk-strikeout ratio just about 50-50 all season long. Wilyer Abreu was near that level as well early in the season but is not walking as much these days as he did in April, when he had 10 bases on balls in his first 10 games.
Goodrum and the 2023 WooSox are already flirting with history, at least as it pertains to the various Boston Triple-A affiliates through the years. That’s a lot of years, by the way, going back to the late 1930s. As a team, Worcester is on pace to walk more than 700 times. That would be a Sox Triple-A record.
Goodrum projects to 139 walks. He would be the first Boston Triple-A player to break the 100 mark since Rick Miller had 106 with Louisville in 1971. Joe Lahoud walked 116 times in 1970, and both had long major league careers.
The Sox Triple-A record looks like it is untouchable. Infielder Marlan Coughtry walked 151 times for the Seattle Rainiers in 1961.
Miller spent 15 years in the majors after his 100-walk season, Lahoud 11. Goodrum’s big numbers followed parts of six years in the big leagues with three teams — the Twins, Tigers and Astros. He had a hamstring injury last year and was out for two months. Goodrum played 13 games for Houston’s Triple-A team in Sugar Land in 2022 and walked 17 times, so this season is a continuation of that.
He has walked more the deeper he gets into his career. The way WooSox batting coach Rich Gedman looks at it, that probably makes sense.
“I think it’s a learned art,” he said of knowing the strike zone. “I think you can talk about teaching it, but for any individual, sometimes you learn by trial and error. We all have areas where we want the ball to be when we swing at it. And we all try to cover the other areas.
“Knowledge of the strike zone depends on where you need to improve. So, is it learned? To me, it’s something that’s acquired with time.”
These days, it can be both time and technology.
“It’s paid attention to a lot more now, not that it wasn’t before,” Tracy said, “but we have machines now where you can create mixed pitches, you can program machines to throw five different sequences of pitches.
“We have things that we do, and other organizations do, like pitch recognition training, zone control training. It’s not something you do every single day but guys have the opportunity to do that.”
In 1887, walks were literally as good as hits in the big leagues. They were figured that way in batting averages. St. Louis Browns outfielder Tip O’Neill — a Canadian, of all things — led the majors with a .492 batting average. That statistical experiment was abandoned after one season, but the basic principle has never changed.
A walk’s as good as a hit, both in Little League and the major leagues.
—Contact Bill Ballou at [email protected]. Follow him @BillBallouTG.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: WooSox’ Niko Goodrum shows it’s just as good to walk