About ten years about I discovered sabermetrics, and I was thrilled to learn that strikeouts had long been vilified. This information absolved me from the shame I felt over my long terminated baseball career. I struck out a lot, I was terrible at making contact, but hit it hard from time to time. So, I went out into the world a wizened man.
There seems to be a lot of consternation in the comments section about the rate at which Brewers have been striking out lately. Oh, it's alarming. Twenty-eight Ks in two days to the Cubs? This is an obscenely high number of strikeouts, I'll never argue against that. Then, you might ask, why do I still feel terrible if a strike out is the same as every other out?
Well, good question. I would argue this is mostly a product of small sample size. There have been zero runs scored in the past 16 innings, so it feels like the Brewers are not scoring runs because they are striking out. Over time, it has been shown that this works itself out, and that there is no direct correlation between striking out more and scoring less. (Even though you might think putting the ball into play would improving your chances, but the improvement is minuscule).
Here's a fun chart from a Baseball Prospectus article written by Ryan Wilkins. If you can't tell, it proves my point:
Ok now you're thinking, "I don't care about your stupid chart with lots of dots! Striking out is terrible and we should DFA all the the players!" Calm down...
I was just as frustrated as the rest of you, so I went searching for some statistical breakdown of when the level of a strikeout rate might indicate a decrease in likelihood of production by a player. I came across this article by Steve Slowinski at FanGraphs. He argues that if a strikeout rate reaches a rate of 20-25% and is not accompanied by power and plate disciple, the worry-o-meter should go off. He also makes a nifty case the Ks are bad, in case you traditionalists out there are looking for some ammunition.
Here are the list of Brewer that have a K% of higher than 20% (as of 2/18/2014)
|1||Mark Reynolds||9.7 %||35.8 %||.227||.262||.210||.284||.437||.721|
|2||Elian Herrera||2.3 %||34.1 %||.048||.370||.238||.256||.286||.542|
|3||Khris Davis||2.0 %||27.6 %||.166||.280||.221||.250||.386||.636|
|4||Carlos Gomez||9.1 %||26.1 %||.265||.356||.290||.369||.555||.924|
|5||Jeff Bianchi||3.8 %||25.0 %||.000||.216||.163||.192||.163||.356|
|6||Caleb Gindl||17.4 %||21.7 %||.000||.214||.158||.304||.158||.462|
|7||Martin Maldonado||18.2 %||21.2 %||.296||.389||.333||.455||.630||1.084|
|8||Lyle Overbay||9.3 %||20.9 %||.065||.271||.221||.291||.286||.576|
|9||Logan Schafer||10.4 %||20.9 %||.103||.250||.190||.277||.293||.570|
(Thanks Fangraphs!) - (it scrolls horizontally)
That's a lot of players, right? Rickie Weeks isn't on this list because he's hovering just below the threshold at a 19% K rate, but has a 23.3% K rate for his career.
So, whose K rate is too high compared to other variables.
(League averages BABIP: .300, OPS:.710)
Carlos Gomez: I think we can all agree he's all good, his high BABIP and tools are resulting in some great production.
Martin Maldonado: He's the only other player who's over both the league average in BABIP and OPS, so he's peachy.
Caleb Gindl: Do we care? In a perfect world, our other OFs are healthy and he doesn't need to be on the roster. Plus, small sample size, and his walk rate is nice and high.
Schafer and Bianchi: Not good, but can we agree they are here for their defensive flexibility? Good. Even so, Bianchi has been particularly pungent. The fact that he remains on the roster is, in my estimation, a lack of depth in the system in regards to utility players.
Khris Davis: Oh Khrush, how we would have loved to see you start strong. The high K% and low BB% are the real issue here. Slowinski says that with a league average BABIP (which Davis is below) and an 10% walk rate (which Davis doesn't sniff at), one can expect a player to manage 15 HRS in a season if his OBP is at least .311. At this rate, it's likely Davis won't reach that total. Let's hope he gets hot.
Lyle Overbay: We didn't expect power did we? But we were hoping form some doubles, OBP, and defense. Let's just say that this K% is slightly higher than his 19.1% career average, but his OBP 60 points lower than his career average of .347. An aging player, but there is room for some improvement.
Elian Herrera: Wow, here's a worse K/BB rate than Davis! He's looked better because of his above average BABIP. Let's hope his K% lowers as his BABIP does, because is OPB isn't all that shiny.
Mark Reynolds: Here's the thing folks, Mark Reynolds always strikes out a ton. This K% is only 3 points higher than his career average, and his OPS is .07 points lower than his .790 career OPS, so he's a little worse than we might have thought. But his BABIP is below league average, so there is a chance things might improve. Plus, his OPS is slightly higher than league average, so he is supplying some power.
I would argue, based on past performance, only Jeff Bianchi's K rate is alarmingly high and is significantly affecting his performance. He's not a very valuable offensive player, and his value is maximized when he is getting the ball in play. The high K% and low BABIP are really killing him. The rest of the players on this list? Meh, not too alarming. If your issue is them being on the team in the first place, than take that up with Doug and Mark, and good luck.
So, strikeouts suck, especially when there are men on base (not that we have to worry about that, RRR, Bunty, bunty, bunty). However, they are going to happen to this team, and I don't think it's happening much more than we should expect. Also, if everyone gets healthy and some players trend toward career averages, we could actually improve.
Thanks for reading.