Our next Pinch Hitter is Mike Cribier, and those of us stuck in the snow should be jealous. Mike up in Bergan County, N.J., but he’s now living in sunny San Diego. He’s been writing his blog High and Tight for about six years. “I guess my niche is pointing out hypocrisy and mistakes or general buffoonery in the sports media,” he wrote. Mike also noted that I’ve escaped his wrath, “so far.”
This is Mike’s third guest post here at LoHud. “I’m an avid poker player, am firmly in the camp that Jeter’s defense is overrated, believe strongly in sabermetrics, and am hopeful that one day Mariano Rivera will win a Cy Young award,” he wrote.
Are Strikeouts Really All That Bad for an Offense?
While romanticized for sure, how much effect does the strikeout really have on a lineup or team? What’s the effect on how many runs are scored by lineups with high or low strikeout hitters? Overall, does the strikeout really matter much at all?
A number of years ago on my blog, I pushed for the Yankees to sign Adam Dunn (Or before that, trade for him. Or after that, trade for him. He was essentially the white whale to my Ahab). Dunn put up huge OPS numbers year after year and would hit 40+ home runs consistently. Yet, as a free agent, he got little interest and signed a two-year, $20-million deal with the Nationals. The biggest knocks on him? He strikes out too much, and he’s too slow. Constantly, I’d receive those complaints whenever I mentioned the guy as an incredibly undervalued player. “All or nothing,” the critics write.
Before we look at some numbers, let’s all agree that strikeouts are, of course, not good. Barring the unforeseen and rarely occurring event of the dropped third strike where the batter reaches first safely, nothing good comes from them for a hitter. Are they the *worst* possible outcome? Not necessarily. I’d rather see someone strikeout with a man on first than ground into a double play, for instance. Just to be clear however, the strikeout is not a good thing, nor is this an endorsement of them.
My theory on the strikeout is this — it’s an out. If a guy makes a bunch of outs, regardless of how they come, he’s not helping the team. I don’t believe the *type* of out is nearly as important.
Let’s look at a sample of the MLB hitters who were the top 100 in at bats in 2010. The top 15 in strikeouts averaged 160 each, but slugged to a .481 clip. The bottom 15 in strikeouts (65 on average) had an aggregate SLG of .412. Are those the best possible statistics to show a correlation? Let’s say not, but no matter where you pick those numbers from, which year, which sample size, strikeouts = power. Every era I plugged in showed the same results, and just thinking about it makes sense. Guys with big, powerful swings are more likely to swing harder and longer and miss more often. (By the way, Dunn had 199 Ks and SLG of .536 last year).
Part of the problem with trying to show statistical correlations in what is essentially a brief blog post is a lack of scale. So let’s take a look at team totals for the 2010 season and see how detrimental strikeouts were last year.
The easiest way to display a direct correlation would be through a scatter chart. The Y value (left) is total strikeouts for a team. The X value (bottom) is total runs scored by a team. Where the dots appear is where on the graph a team’s strikeout and run total match up.
The points are scattered all over the place, leading us to the conclusion that there is no correlation between high (or low) strikeout totals and the ability to score runs.
For a comparison, let’s look at SLG:
As you can see, a direct correlation. Higher SLG = more runs. The same applies for OBP:
So if this is the case — if the numbers do really show that high strikeout totals have no real effect on scoring runs — why all the backlash?
There’s still an “old school” of thinking out there. There are the people who vote for MVP based on RBI totals or Cy Young based on total number of wins. Thankfully this old method of thinking is dying, and people are relying more on statistics, but there are still plenty of people who “believe what they see.”
Regardless, next time you’re at a ballgame you’re sure to hear someone boo a slugger who strikes out, and praise a “scrappy little guy” for at least “putting the ball in play.” Perception can be a funny thing, but when it’s all said and done, both plate appearances are likely to net the same result.
Associated Press photo of Jeter, charts by Mike