Can A Batter Decline An Intentional Walk In Baseball?

Can A Batter Decline An Intentional Walk In Baseball

The intentional walk is a baseball strategy intended to mitigate the risk of pitching to a hitter known for their high ability. Following 2017, the manager of the pitching team can signal their intent to walk to the umpire. Once this signal has occurred, the batting player cannot decline the intentional walk. Keep reading to learn the rules of intentional walks in baseball.

What is a Walk in Baseball?

The intentional walk was a strategy in baseball in which the pitcher delivers four pitches outside of the strike zone to walk the batter purposely. These four pitches are counted as “balls” rather than “strikes.” After receiving four balls, a batter may freely advance to first base.

A pitcher will intentionally walk a batter if he is expected to produce a home run or an otherwise meaningful hit. This strategy allows the pitching team to forego the possibility of such a devastating blow since the batter can only move to first base after receiving a walk.

Intentional Walk Rule Changes

The rules surrounding the intentional walk changed in 2017. Following the change, a manager can elect not to have his pitcher throw four balls, and can simply signal to the home plate umpire that he wishes to award the batter first base uncontested. The manager will typically signal the intentional walk by holding up four fingers or waving toward first base, although there is no official signal.

Even though the pitcher is not throwing any actual pitches towards the batter, the walk will still factor into “the count,” or the pitcher's record. However, they are denoted differently, as “IBB,” meaning intentional base on balls. This change was enacted to speed up the game’s pace of play since there is no limit to the number of intentional walks that can be completed during a game. 

Declining the Intentional Walk

Players are not allowed to decline an intentional walk. This means that there is no opportunity for the batter to attempt a swing that might be more beneficial than a single following the 2017 rule change.

In the past, when pitchers were required to actually throw the four balls toward home plate but outside of the strike zone, batters were permitted to swing at these pitches. Such attempts were rarely successful. However, with the rule change, no pitches need to be thrown for an intentional walk, so there is no opportunity for the batter to swing.

Technically, declining intentional walk is not addressed directly in the MLB rulebook, but it is understood by tradition that an umpire will likely eject or rule “out” a player who refuses to take first base.