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Intentional walks are typically associated with fearsome sluggers. Sacrifice bunts are typically associated with weak-hitting players. What lies at the intersection of these two seemingly contradictory stats?

Since 1955, when intentional walks were first tracked, there have been just 23 player seasons with 10 or more intentional walks and 10 or more sacrifice bunts. These seasons represent quite a range of players, from some of the worst full-time hitting seasons of all-time to some darn good seasons by Hall-of-Famers and Hall-of-Very-Gooders. Accordingly, I’m dividing the lists up according to the quality of the hitting in the season in question: good hitters (OPS+ of 100 or more), decent hitters (OPS+ of 80 to 99), and poor hitters (OPS+ of 79 or lower).

I’ll start with the poor hitters, since these seasons are generally the easiest to understand.

Rk Player OPS+ SH IBB Year Tm PA BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Johnny Oates
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51 11 10 1974 ATL
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327 .223 .278 .268 .547 *2
2 Tim Foli
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55 10 11 1973 MON
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500 .240 .284 .277 .561 *6/48
3 Rey Ordonez
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64 11 12 1999 NYM
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588 .258 .319 .317 .636 *6
4 Roger Metzger
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68 15 10 1975 HOU
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510 .227 .289 .296 .584 *6
5 Mark Lemke
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69 12 11 1992 ATL
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491 .227 .307 .304 .611 *45
6 Rick Manning
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73 10 11 1980 CLE
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555 .234 .321 .306 .627 *8
7 Dick Groat
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79 11 11 1955 PIT
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572 .267 .317 .351 .669 *6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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: View Play Index Tool Used
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Generated 3/18/2012.

You probably notice some similarities between these players. They’re all notoriously poor hitters, obviously; they all play up-the-middle defensive positions (especially shortstop); and crucially, 6 of the are National Leaguers.

Generally, the NL players had seasons that were more-or-less evenly split between hitting 8th (where they earned most of their intentional walks, thanks to hitting in front of the pitcher) and some other batting order spot (where they laid down most of their sac bunts). Players who hit 8th all season aren’t likely to lay down 10+ sac bunts, since they spend much of their time hitting ahead of an even weaker batter. This pattern is typified by Tim Foli

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‘s 1973, when he 8th in 238 PAs (with 2 SH & 8 IBB) and 2nd, 6th, or 7th in the other 262 PAs (with 8 SH & 3 IBB).

One exception to this rule is Rey Ordonez

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‘s 1999 season, in which he batted 8th almost exclusively. That was a strange year; his manager, Bobby Valentine
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, actually called for Ordonez to sac bunt 3 times to set up an at-bat by a pitcher.

Then we have the even bigger exception, the lone AL player on the list, Rick Manning

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. Manning is also the only outfielder on the list. His year came with the 1980 Indians, who possessed a legendary collection of terrible hitters. In addition to Manning, the Indians got 130+ PAs from Duane Kuiper
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, Tom Veryzer
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, Jerry Dybzinski
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, Jack Brohamer
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, and Dave Rosello
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. So, depending on the situation and the managers involved, Manning could seem like a relative threat (hence an IBB) or just another in a long string of equally crappy hitters (hence a SH).

Next up, the decent (but still below-average) hitters:

Rk Player OPS+ SH IBB Year Tm PA BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
8 Ted Kubiak
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82 13 16 1970 MIL
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626 .252 .340 .313 .653 *46
9 Ivan de Jesus
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84 11 18 1983 PHI
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565 .254 .323 .336 .659 *6
10 Jody Reed
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87 17 10 1993 LAD
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504 .276 .333 .346 .679 *4
11 Bill Mazeroski
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91 10 11 1964 PIT
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644 .268 .300 .381 .681 *4
12 Bill Russell
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96 11 25 1974 LAD
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625 .269 .336 .351 .686 *6/9
13 Bill Bruton
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97 18 11 1956 MLN
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578 .272 .304 .419 .723 *8
14 Alex Cora
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98 12 10 2004 LAD
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484 .264 .364 .380 .745 *4
15 Ozzie Smith
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98 11 13 1986 STL
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609 .280 .376 .333 .709 *6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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: View Play Index Tool Used
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Generated 3/18/2012.

The trends above largely hold true for this list as well. Of the 8 players, all played up-the-middle positions for teams that didn’t have the DH (7 NL teams and one pre-DH team in the AL). The same lineup trends generally hold as well, though there is a bit more flexibility there. A few of the hitters (like Bill Mazeroski

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and Bill Bruton
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) almost never hit 8th but still racked up high IBB totals because they batted in front of worse hitters.

Bill Russell

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led the NL in intentional walks in 1974, the only player to do that while also recording 10 or more sac bunts.

Rk Player OPS+ SH IBB Year Tm PA BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
16 Wes Parker
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111 10 10 1967 LAD
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496 .247 .358 .346 .704 *38
17 Jerry Browne
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114 14 10 1989 CLE
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685 .299 .370 .390 .759 *4/D
18 Ron Fairly
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115 14 11 1965 LAD
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654 .274 .361 .377 .738 *983
19 Willie Davis
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116 10 10 1962 LAD
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666 .285 .334 .453 .787 *8
20 Brady Anderson
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129 10 14 1992 BAL
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749 .271 .373 .449 .823 *7/89
21 Tony Gwynn
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132 11 16 1989 SDP
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679 .336 .389 .424 .813 *89
22 Rusty Staub
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139 11 11 1970 MON
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699 .274 .394 .497 .891 *9
23 Bobby Grich
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145 12 10 1979 CAL
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609 .294 .365 .537 .903 *4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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: View Play Index Tool Used
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Generated 3/18/2012.

Now we move into the group of hitters for whom the intentional walks are easy to explain, but the sac bunts are more mysterious. For the players of the 1960′s, like Wes Parker

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, Ron Fairly
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, and Willie Davis
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, the sacrifices make a bit more sense, since that was a lower run-scoring era. But why did, say, Brady Anderson
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, bunt 10 times in 1992? He was a very good hitter by that point and run-scoring was not particularly low.

The last 3 names on the list are the most puzzling. Tony Gwynn

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, of course, is a Hall of Famer, and by 1989 he was working on his 4th batting title. What on earth was he doing laying down 11 sac bunts that year? He didn’t have more than 7 in any other season, and most years didn’t have more than 4. Which is what you’d expect for such a great hitter. The answer could be that the Padres’ manager that year, Jack McKeon
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, just really liked to bunt. McKeon was the manager for 19 of Gwynn’s 45 career sacrifices (42%) but just 347 of his 2440 games (14%).

Rusty Staub

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is a similarly puzzling case. Staub, like Gwynn, never topped 7 sac bunts in any other season. Unlike Gwynn, though, this isn’t due to his manager. In 1970, Staub was managed by Gene Mauch
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, but Mauch also managed him in 1969 and 1971, when Staub had 7 sac bunts combined (in 2 full seasons). Offensive levels were still lowish in 1970, but they were on the upswing and already far above 1968′s levels. 1970 was also the year that Staub attempted by far the most steals of his career; he attempted 23 steals that year and 14 in 1971 but never more than 7 in any other season. If anyone has any explanations for this, I’d love to hear them.

Bobby Grich

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‘s case is perhaps not that hard to explain, though it was surely not a good idea for him to be bunting that often. Grich actually had 19 sac bunts the year before he made this list (1978). In that season, though, he was subpar offensively, at least by his standards, with a 98 OPS+. That was the only year between 1972 and 1984 when Grich was below a 112 OPS+. The added bunts that year sort of made sense (not really, though) given the lowered offense. But when he bounced back in 1979, the bunts lingered. Of his 12 sac bunts in 1979, 7 came in the first 2 months. After that, his manager (Jim Fregosi
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) adapted, and Grich’s bunting levels went back to normal: about 1 per month. I’d argue that still too many for such an excellent hitter, but at least it’s understandable.

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