Over the last 10 seasons, home-team batters were intentionally walked 5,813 times. We saw 478 of those in 2016. If you watch enough baseball, you’ve seen several of these on television or in person. In many cases, these walks are met with enthusiastic booing by the home crowd, which is always something I’ve found particularly curious given that being offered a free base is almost always a good thing.
Of course, intentional walks aren’t as valuable as doubles or home runs — and, on average, they occur at times when they’re significantly less valuable than singles. In most cases, however, an intentional walk is better than the expected value of a normal plate appearance. This is why we’ve seen a movement away from intentional walks over the last several years; it’s rarely advantageous for the pitcher.
Given that the evidence seems quite clear that most intentional walks benefit the hitting team, why do fans frequently give the pitcher such a hard time? I see three possible lines of reasoning.