Astros set MLB record with zero intentional walks in 2019
Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch, back, in Denver on July 2, 2019. (David Zalubowski / AP)
HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros share a division with the American League's most intentionally walked player in Angels star Mike Trout.
But despite Trout facing the Astros as much as any team in the league, none of his 14 intentional walks this season came against Houston.
That's because manager A.J. Hinch didn't intentionally walk anyone this season, making the Astros the first team in MLB history to finish a year with zero intentional walks.
Hinch said many factors played into Houston setting this record.
"Some of it is comfort with what I've learned on adding runners on base for free," he said. "Some of it has been pure luck on not having situations that have come up to where I play a National League game and I want to walk the eight-hole hitter to get to the pitcher or call it (Christian) Yelich, Trout and MVP-calibre players being up at the wrong time with a base where I should walk them. But most of it has just been out of the pure education of what that does to run-scoring and run-prevention."
Intentional walks became a statistic in 1955 and Houston entered the season as the record-holder for fewest intentional walks after Hinch handed out just four last season. Before the Astros set the mark, the Royals had the record for fewest intentional walks issued in a season with eight in 2016.
The last time an Astros pitcher intentionally walked anyone came last season, on Aug. 17, 2018, when Hector Rondon walked Jed Lowrie in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Rondon doesn't love that he was the last Astro to intentionally walk anyone, but what he does love is what Hinch's decision not to do it says about the staff.
"I think all that happens because the way we've been pitching this year and the confidence that we get from our manager," Rondon said. "That's why he doesn't make that decision because he trusts us and the way we pitch and that's huge for us."
On the other end of the spectrum, Miami led the league with 52 intentional walks this season. But the Marlins actually cut back on them quite a bit this year after also topping the list in 2018 when they issued a whopping 73.
With the designated hitter, intentional walks in the AL are far less common, and the White Sox led the AL in that category with 30 this season. The Twins had the second-fewest behind the Astros with 10 intentional walks and the Orioles, Rangers and Angels all finished with 11.
Not only did the Astros face Trout multiple times this season, they also played against two of the top four most intentionally walked players in the National League in Yelich and Pittsburgh's Josh Bell, who were intentionally walked a combined 29 times.
Hinch hasn't always shied away from intentional walks. In 2017 the Astros had 17. But even though Houston had a ton that year compared to the last two seasons, they were still tied for second-fewest in the majors with Oakland that year.
And although Hinch got through 162 games without intentionally walking anyone this year, he was quick to note that he isn't ruling it out as the Astros begin the post-season on Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
"I'll do it," he said. "I'm not trying to hold onto some record or be stubborn about it. If it's the right play, it's the right play."
However it didn't sound likely that he was planning to resort to it.
"It's just rarely the right play," he said before a long pause, "in my opinion."