Thursday, February 24, 2011

Down With Strikeouts!

The good folks of this morning posted a list of the forty-five players who have hit at least twenty homers in a season and hit more homes than they struck out. The list is fascinating and impressed the heck out of this writer. Joe DiMaggio did it seven times! That fact alone gave this Fan a new appreciation for the kind of player DiMaggio was. Yogi Berra did it five times. The last two to perform that feat are Barry Bonds and George Brett. Bonds accomplished his in that pug-awful season where chicken managers walked him on purpose over 200 times. Brett did the feat during his run at .400 in 1980. Again, this list simply impressed the heck out the Fan. The Fan hates strikeouts which makes these 45 seasons the heroes of the ages.

Most analysts today aren't concerned with a batter striking out. It's just another out like any other. What has never made sense to this Fan is that the same analysts help value pitchers based on the things pitchers can control, like walks and strikeouts. So when evaluating pitchers, the strikeout is a really big deal. But for a batter, it isn't? It's just another out? Again, the Fan doesn't see it that way. Say in a game, a team strikes out ten times and loses by a run. If the team had put the ball in play those ten times, the statistical odds say that they will be hits 30 percent of the time. Even this Fan's faulty math can figure out that would mean three more hits. Three more hits in a one-run game wouldn't have made a difference? The Fan understands the fundamental point that if player A makes 400 outs in 600 plate appearances that player is going to have a .333 on base percentage just the same way that Player B who makes 400 outs in 600 plate appearances but strikes out a hundred more times than Player A. It makes sense. But those 100 strikeouts drive the Fan bonkers.

Let's take a look at Joey Votto. Votto is the MVP for 2010. And yeah, the guy rocked with the unbelievable slash line of .324/.424/.600. But he struck out 125 times. That's not a lot like a lot of sluggers, but it's still a lot of strikeouts. People will say that Votto's strikeouts are acceptable because you don't want Votto to be less aggressive at the plate. Conventional wisdom says that you want Votto to be able to be able to take a shot with two strikes. But does that really work out? 

In 2010, Votto had his at bats decided 147 times with either a 1-2 or an 0-2 count. He had three homers in those at bats. That's one homer for every 49 such at bats. Votto struck out 66 times in those instances. That's 45 percent! Since the return on Votto swinging with gusto in those counts is very small, what would it hurt to cut back on the aggression and just make contact? Votto's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .361. So say Votto puts half of those strikeouts in play. That's 33 more balls in play. If you apply his BABIP to those 33 balls in play, that's 11 more hits. Imagine how good Votto could be with eleven more hits!?

As the list from shows, it's possible to be a slugger AND not strike out very much. Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano both showed in 2010 that you can have a high slugging percentage without a high strikeout total. Maybe the Fan has a thick neck, but this old head just can't accept that a strikeout is just another out and not worth any less than a fly ball to center. While on some levels, that's true, BABIP tells this writer that those balls put in play could be a lot more valuable than those reaching the catcher's mitt.

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