In on post on the AJC.com on Thursday the Braves beat writer David O’Brien once again addressed the Braves and all the whiffs to come. He seems to think that while the Braves should do just fine, the high strikeout total might cause the Braves some problems. I’m not so sure. I’ll address some point O’Brien made in his article:
-“This, then, is an exaggerated sort of microcosm of the offense most of us envisioned coming from this new-look, potent Braves lineup, which has a lot of free-swinging guys with good to outstanding power and very little in the way of on-base machines.”
This statement is mostly true, with one caveat: The Braves, as a team, should get on base at a good rate. The National League average OBP last season was .318. According to Steamer Projections (that can be found on FanGraphs) the Braves are projected to have 8 hitters post an OBP above .320. Steamer projects Justin Upton, Heyward and Freeman all at above .350; and it projects McCann and Uggla to post OBP’s above .335. I suppose that one could say the Braves technically don’t have “on-base machines,” as they don’t have too many guys that are expected to on-base around .400. But even if some of these players fall short of their projected rates, the Braves should have a solid on-base team from top-to-bottom. And we should all know by now that on-base and slugging equals run creation. Strikeouts don’t necessarily have a huge influence on how well a team gets on-base and slugs.
-“But man, this team is going to strike out a lot.
“Which is fine, as long as the Braves get solid pitching and defense, and most of the key hitters in their lineup stay reasonably healthy. If all that happens, I predict the Braves will push the Nats to the end, with each team winning about 100 games, give or take a couple.”
Well, the Braves should get decent pitching. I don’t know how well their infield defense, aside from Simmons, will be. But I think it’s safe to assume that they’ll score some runs. I think they can withstand some injuries here and there. As long as there aren’t lot of major injuries, I think they’ll be fine. I wouldn’t bet on any team winning 100 games but it wouldn’t shock me either if the Braves and Nationals are close. I think it’s possible that the Braves could on-base and slug their way to a playoff berth, even if the pitching and defense is subpar. If everything goes right with the offense, even if the strikeout a lot, they could post a very good team on-base percentage and an outstanding team slugging percentage.
– “Strikeouts totals have climbed throughout baseball lately, and Gonzalez noted this spring that sabermetric statistical analysts say strikeouts aren’t as bad as traditionalists think, and that striking out isn’t significantly more harmful than making an out any other way.”
I think this is a mischaracterization of what most statistical analysts say about strikeouts. All outs are bad. Strikeouts may generally be a little worse than other outs. But on-base (or out-avoidance) and slugging are king, in terms of creating runs. So even if a team strikeouts out a lot, a team could still get on base at a high rate and slug at a high rate. It seems counterintuitive but how often a team makes outs isn’t necessarily determined by how often or how many times they make a specific type of out. A team that strikes out a lot isn’t necessarily going to make outs at a high rate. That point can’t be overstated when discussing teams like this year’s Braves and their offensive potential.
– “Still, it must also be noted that teams that strike out the most haven’t tended to advance deep in the postseason. No World Series champion has struck out as many as 1,200 times, and of the last eight teams in the World Series, seven ranked fifth or better in fewest strikeouts in their respective league, including four that were first or second.”
“No other team has had even five players with 120 strikeouts, but these Braves team could easily join that list.”
Plenty of the recent World Series champions have got there on the strength of pitching and, frankly, randomness that occurs in the small sample of short playoff series. Also there are so many factors that go into a team winning the World Series so it’s hard to conclude that the propensity for batters to strike out is definitely a cause in a team not making a deep playoff run, especially when we are only looking at only eight teams.
Also, strikeouts have been rising basically since the beginning of organized professional baseball, so it’s not surprising that no World Series champion has struck out 1,200 times. It’s kind of like saying no World Series champion has had a $300 million payroll. It’s not really saying all that much because it wasn’t until relatively recently that teams started striking out that many times.
A better way to look at this is whether strikeout totals are a hindrance to scoring runs, based on where teams rank in strikeouts and where teams rank in runs scored. There is all kinds of research that we can find very easily by searching Google for “strikeouts correlation to runs scored” or something to that effect to see that there is virtually no relationship between strikeouts and scoring runs. (One article that comes up is one that directly addresses the 2013 Braves and the strikeout concerns: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/justin-upton-the-braves-and-their-strikeouts/.) We can also look at the top scoring teams in the history of the game on a case-by-case basis. Of the top 10 scoring teams in history, all of them finished in the top 4 in their leagues in strikeouts.
If the Braves reach their offensive potential they could be somewhat similar to the 2004 Red Sox. The 2013 Braves, even if they do maximize their potential, probably won’t be quite as potent an offensive team (because they don’t quite have a Manny Ramirez or a David Ortiz in their primes), but the Braves could post a high on-base percentage, a high slugging percentage, lots of runs scored, and finish near the top of the their league in strikeouts.