February 20, 2013

Strikeouts Be Damned

Much is being made of the likelihood that Braves’ hitters will rack up the strikeouts in 2013.  AJC beat writer David O’Brien wrote, “no World Series champion has ever struck out as many as 1,200 times, and of the last eight teams to reach the World Series, seven have ranked fifth or better in fewest strikeouts in their respective league, including four that were first or second.”

First of all, it’s not all that telling that no recent World Series winner has struck out 1,200 times.  Strikeouts have basically been rising since the advent of Major League Baseball.  There are relatively few teams in the history of the game that struck out 1,200 times in a season, because the 1,200 strikeout season is a relatively new phenomenon.

It is not unheard of for teams to win the World Series and have a lot of strikeouts.  But if we look at total number of strikeouts, that is going to cloud our view, since even the best teams at avoiding strikeouts these days strikeout a lot more than teams of yesteryear.  The reason is because of changes in the game more than merely an acceptance of the strikeout and hitters not caring.

In today’s game we are more likely to see pitchers pitching in short spurts and going all out instead of pacing themselves.  It’s easier for a pitcher to strike batters out if he doesn’t have to pace himself as much as pitchers have in the past.

Another factor is player strength.  The mound distance hasn’t changed since pretty much baseball as we know it was invented.  The mound has been lowered and raised but essentially pitchers have been pitching at the same distance forever.  But human beings obviously get bigger, stronger, faster, quicker over time.  Bigger, stronger, faster, quicker humans mean faster pitches and faster pitches mean more strikeouts.  Another factor in players’ strength is better nutrition and better knowledge of medicine and the human body.

Along with player strength, there is also better pitches and more knowledge of the physics of pitching.  Through trail and error, pitchers have learned to throw pitches that twist, dart, sink and move more.

So strikeouts are more common just because the nature of the game has changed over time, not because of anything hitters are or aren’t doing differently.  In fact, one could argue that hitters are vastly more skilled, more fit, more trained, more athletic now than they were in, say, 1950.  But pitchers have more than kept up, at least in the ability to miss bats.

Another thing about DOB’s statement is that a few of the recent World Series champions weren’t all that impressive offensively.  They won because of pitching or because they played well over the stretch of a few weeks and those few weeks just happened to be in October/November.  What good is building a team that can make contact if the team can’t score enough runs to get them to the postseason?  Some of those teams with low strikeout totals were good offensive clubs and some of them were not.  There isn’t really a strong correlation.  The stronger correlation to scoring runs and overall offensive production is getting on base and slugging, regardless of how many times those teams made a particular type of out.

The point where DOB stops is 2005.  In 2004 the Boston Red Sox won the World Series with a great offense that led the league in strikeouts and strikeout rate.  The were first in runs scored, first in batting average, first in on-base percentage, first in slugging and third in OPS+ (with a 110 OPS+ to Cleveland and New York’s 111).  It’s clear that the Braves are trying to somewhat follow the Red Sox model for building offense.

The Braves probably won’t have a hitter the caliber of Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz but Frank Wren clearly has on-base and slugging in mind, strikeouts be damned.  This is a good thing.  Not necessarily that he doesn’t care at all about strikeouts.  Of course given a choice between two equally productive hitters of equal age and same position, you’ll take the one that strikes out less.  But the key is production.  Production in baseball is getting on base or avoiding outs, slugging and gaining bases.  The Braves aren’t the ’04 Red Sox but they should be solid at getting on base, slugging and also running the bases.

The 1927 Yankees are another great team and great offensive team, maybe the best team ever, and they struck out a lot for their time.  They led the majors in strikeouts and strikeout rate.  They struck out 610 times, which seems like very few in today’s game.  But the Cardinals were next with 511 strikeouts.

The ’27 Yankees struck out in 9.8 percent of their plate appearances.  The Cardinals were next at 8.7 percent, which is a fairly big margin.  In many ways the ’27 Yankees were the first great team that were built upon out-avoidance and power.  Some great teams strike out, some don’t.  But every great team that had a good offense was good at getting on base, slugging and gaining bases, regardless of how often or how many times they struck out or made any particular kind of out, for that matter.  It’s about how often a team makes outs, not how.

The 2013 Braves obviously aren’t the 1927 Yankees.  There probably isn’t another 1927 Yankees.  But contrary to the views of those who think the strikeout potential of this team is a big deal, we should take comfort in history showing that it is not.  It’s not a big deal, that is, as long as the Braves live up to their potential in getting on base, slugging and baserunning, and if the pitching staff does its part.



31 Responses to “Strikeouts Be Damned”

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  1. 1
    Lefty33 Says:

    You can damn strikeouts all you want but that fact is that this year’s Braves team is going to be sunk by them.

    How many teams over the past 25 years have been in the top ten in the league in K’s while winning a WS?


    The ’95 Braves and the ’04 Red Sox.

    The difference between those teams and the Braves of ’13?

    Those two teams had superior pitching to offset their lack of plate discipline.
    No way in hell will the Braves staff this year lead the league in ERA, ERA+ and WHIP like the ’95 team did nor will they be 2nd in ERA+ and in WHIP like the ’04 RS were.

    So while you might say strikeouts be damned, the truth is more like Frank Wrenn has said winning a WS be damned because while the Braves will be entertaining to watch they’ve got zero chance to win a WS this year and because of the caveman like approach that they’ll have it wouldn’t shock me if they missed the playoffs all together.

    It’s funny that for supposedly such a metrically/statistically inclined person as yourself, you rather conveniently ignore the stats when it pertains to your team.

    A+ for imagination in this article. F for context and accuracy.

  2. 2
    Shaun Says:

    Lefty33, the ’95 Braves did not actually lead the league in strikeouts.

    It’s true that the ’04 Red Sox had a great pitching staff. It’s also true they led the league in runs scored.

    The ’13 Braves aren’t likely to lead the league in runs scored. But I think there offense is good enough and their pitching is good enough to at least make them playoff contenders, and that’s true regardless of how often or how many of a particular type of out their players make.

    Frank Wren and his staff are doing the right thing with the Braves’ offense. He’s focusing on what matters most to creating runs: Getting on base and slugging (in addition to baserunning). If he’s paying attention to strikeouts or any other particular type of out, he’s paying attention to them well after those other more important factors, as all smart front offices should, at least when it comes to evaluating major league players.

  3. 3
    Shaun Says:

    Something else to make Braves fans feel good: The Diamondbacks broke the single-season batter strikeout record in 2010. They didn’t finish last in the league in OPS+ or runs scored or any other key measure of offense. They finished 7th in OPS+, 8th in runs scored, 8th in runs per game.

    The Giants won the World Series that year with a team that finished with an OPS+ of 98, tied with the Phillies for 5th, just ahead of the Diamondbacks. The Phillies won the most games in the league that year with an offense that was barely better than the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks had one of the worst run-prevention teams in the league that year. If the Diamondbacks had the Giants’ pitching staff that year, they almost certainly would have been in the playoff hunt.

    Fewest strikeouts in the league in 2010? The Astros. The Astros also finished last that year in OPS+, next to last in runs, next to last in runs per game.

    It’s like this pretty much any season you choose. Strikeouts have no obvious relationship to how good a team is at scoring runs.

  4. 4
    Lefty33 Says:

    “Lefty33, the ’95 Braves did not actually lead the league in strikeouts.”

    Try re-reading my comment again and you’ll see that I never said that either team led the league because unlike you I’m well aware that they were 10th that year just like the Red Sox were 3rd in ’04.

    Here’s the fact about what you are ignoring.

    The game over the last twenty five years, but in particular over the last ten, has changed to the point where if you are a GM that is putting together a team with a high propensity to strike out you are in essence torpedoing any chance at winning a WS.

    The Braves this year are going to be Baseball’s ultimate one dimensional offense.

    If they don’t put up a 4th of July worthy show of fireworks night in and night out they are going to have a ton of trouble scoring runs because they will have no ability to manufacture anything with their caveman-like-swing from the heels approach that the entire core of the team aside from McCann has.

    Any team they face with decent pitching, like their top two divisional opponents, will stop them and make them look inept offensively while the losses/disappointment only increase.

    I’m not saying that Braves won’t be an entertaining team to watch because no doubt they will be but once again Liberty Media has shortchanged the team and Wren by not increasing payroll yet again (It amazes me that they are spending less now then they did in the Turner/AOL years of a decade ago.) and that’s going to lead to a season of disappointing results.

    Sizzle over substance.

  5. 5
    Shaun Says:

    Lefty33, the Red Sox led the league in strikeouts in ’04. They were third in the majors but the led the American League.

    A GM should worry about making essentially a two or three dimensional offense: on-base, slugging with possibly some base-running ability. Those things should be the focus and that’s clearly what Wren is trying to do, along with building a team that can catch the ball. It really doesn’t matter how well or poorly a team is at striking out, as long as it gets on base at a good rate, slugs at a good rate and it’s helpful if it runs the bases well. A GM should focus like a laser on those things, and strikeouts should be way down the list of concerns.

    The reason we haven’t seen a team since the 2004 Red Sox lead its league in strikeouts and win a World Series has little or nothing to do with strikeouts leading to poor offense. The reason is because many of the teams that won the World Series since have won mostly because of pitching and/or October randomness. There is nothing that has happened since 2004 to indicate that a team can’t win even if they strikeout a lot.

  6. 6
    Shaun Says:

    I think the problem is some don’t make the connection between scoring runs and on-base, slugging, baserunning. And some make too big a connection between strikeouts and on-base, slugging.

    We have loads of historical data that show there isn’t a strong relationship between strikeouts and on-base, slugging and, in turn, scoring runs.

    All high-scoring teams get on base and slug well. But not all of them are good at avoiding strikeouts. Some are and some aren’t. The things that lead to scoring runs (getting on base, slugging) are largely separate from how often and how many times a team strikes out.

    It’s easy to make the mistake that more strikeouts mean fewer times on base and fewer runs scored. Intuitively it seems like that would be the case. But it isn’t necessarily true, from an offensive perspective.

  7. 7
    Lefty33 Says:

    Your reasoning as usual is ludicrous. I can see that nothing has changed with you in terms of when someone presents an argument that you can’t handle, instead of attempting to refute actual points or even admitting that you’re wrong you would rather ignore the facts/hard data and live in your own “reality”.

    The argument that you have made so far is that….well there really has been no argument from you other than you’re a homer Braves fan and because of that things will just somehow work out for them this year.

    Only two out of the last twenty-five WS winners have been in the top ten in the sport in K’s the year they won and your reasoning for that is “October randomness”?


    Over the last ten seasons the average WS winner has been 20th in the sport the year they won and the more years you add into the equation the more that number goes down.

    Over the last twenty-five it’s closer to 22nd.

    I’m not trying to say that a team being built in a certain way is an absolute but clearly with very limited exceptions if you want to put your team as a GM in a position to win a WS, building it like Wren has done for this season with a group of low-contact high-K guys has been proven over the last quarter century to be counterproductive.

    The Braves have good pitching but it’s not elite.

    I mean they probably have the 3rd best rotation in their own division let alone in the NL or even in the entire sport. The only two teams to counter high K season to win it all had much, much better pitching then that the years they won.

    Of course the answer to that would be that maybe Wren adds a piece later on if warranted based on the teams performance. But seeing as how Liberty Media has proven in season after season to be cheap in terms of payroll/FA spending, I highly doubt that’s going to happen.

    If I were a Braves fan that would tick me off more than anything knowing that my team’s ownership group sees the team as no more then an asset on their balance sheet instead of as an entity that they will allocate appropriate resources towards to push them over the hump into being a championship caliber club.

    Spend enough to be good, but never enough to be great.

  8. 8
    Shaun Says:

    Lefty33, The question is how well do strikeouts or strikeout rates correlate to scoring runs or offensive production. The answer is not very well. There just isn’t a strong relationship between strikeouts or strikeout avoidance and scoring runs.

    If you look at just World Series winners, you a bringing pitching, defense and baserunning in to the equation, which have nothing to do with a team’s offense, scoring runs, strikeouts or strikeout rate.

    The Giants struck out 41 times and the Tigers struck out 36 times in last year’s World Series.

    The Giants struck out 51 times and the Cardinals struck out 49 times in last year’s NLCS.

    The Giants struck out 39 times and the Reds Struck out 43 times in their Division Series.

    So the Giants struck out 131 time to their opponents’ 128 in last year’s postseason.

  9. 9
    Lefty33 Says:

    “The question is how well do strikeouts or strikeout rates correlate to scoring runs or offensive production.”

    No, the original point brought up by David O’Brien was that when a team K’s beyond a certain point, historically their chances at winning a WS have been zero.

    Your response was “Strikeouts Be Damned”.

    The point you continue to dance around is that the author’s original statement is true and if you are not looking at WS winners what the hell is the point?

    Is that not the goal of every team every year?

    There is a twenty five year correlation of facts, no doubt longer but I’m not going back any farther, that shows that over 90% of the time being a high K team will exclude you from winning or even playing in the WS.

    I’m not arguing this point further because there’s nothing left to argue.

    Enjoy waching the Braves lead the league in K’s this year while they’re playing golf in mid-October instead of baseball.

    “So the Giants struck out 131 time to their opponents’ 128 in last year’s postseason”

    And if the Giants are a high K team they would never have been in the WS or even in the postseason to begin with.

  10. 10
    Shaun Says:

    Lefty33, I wish the Braves had another Ted Turner (at least the late ’80’s and ’90’s Turner that poured money in to the Braves and also relied on baseball people). I do want the Braves to be crazy spenders.

    The point about strikeouts and offensive production is bigger than the Braves. It’s true with any team, but I just happen to write about the Braves.

    No one is claiming the Braves are a dynasty or even the NL East champ. The point I’m making and others have made is that the fact that they’ll likely strikeout a lot shouldn’t be a huge concern. A bigger concern is whether enough of their players will play to their potential, whether their pitchers will stay healthy and things of that sort.

    True, they aren’t NL East or World Series favorites. But that has nothing to do with strikeouts; that has to do with the Nationals, the fact that they aren’t owned by a Ted Turner and things of that sort.

    The Braves chances in the NL East and what can make a team a dynasty and clear World Series favorite, etc. is a different discussion. I actually agree that they aren’t NL East or World Series favorites at this moment, and won’t be unless the Nationals and probably some other teams suffer major injuries or something. My post is about people making too much of the Braves’ likely propensity to strikeout a lot in 2013.

  11. 11
    Lefty33 Says:

    Fair enough in that I agree with your last post except for two points.

    You’re right that people are making a big deal about their propensity to strikeout and that’s only because it’s such a glaring weakspot on an otherwise solid team.

    Obviously if the team suffers a bunch of injuries that’s one thing but to me if the Braves go home early this year it’ll be 100% because of the K issue and the fact that Wren hasn’t done, in my mind, a good enough job of assembling more of a balanced roster.

    Which dovetails into the Turner element of if Liberty weren’t so tight with payroll dollars maybe he could have done different things. It’s just seems like a team that is going to be all sizzle with not enough steak.

    I supposed we’ll see.

    Good debate. Truce.

  12. 12
    Shaun Says:

    Lefty33, if the Braves go home early, it will be because they didn’t score enough runs, didn’t allow few enough or both. That’s separate from whether their hitters strikeout too much because, again, teams have scored plenty of runs even with a lot of strikeouts and a high strikeout rate.

  13. 13
    Walker Says:

    Someone isn’t comprehending.

    Simply making contact by itself doesn’t equal scoring runs THEREFORE strikeouts are irrelevant when determining overall offensive production. Avoiding outs, hitting for extra bases and taking extra bases creates offense. That Astros stat tells you that. The # of strikeout and world series winners are a false correlation.When it comes to winning a world series winners obviously pitching is the key. When is the last time a team won the world series with a bad pitching staff? I’ll wait. Obviously Lefty33 is a Braves hater. I wonder what team he/she roots for.

  14. 14
    Shaun Says:

    Here’s a much more statistically-driven piece on why we shouldn’t be all that concerned about the Braves’ likely propensity to strikeout a lot in 2013: http://capitolavenueclub.com/?p=8268

  15. 15
    Shaun Says:

    More data: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2617

  16. 16
    Lefty33 Says:

    “Someone isn’t comprehending”

    Correct, and it’s you and Payne.

    “Simply making contact by itself doesn’t equal scoring runs THEREFORE strikeouts are irrelevant when determining overall offensive production.”

    Striking out has no positive consequence for your team offensively THEREFORE doing in a lot only subverts chances at either moving runners along and/or getting them home at a higher rate hence less scoring will occur which gives your team less chances at winning unless you have a stellar pitching staff to compensate for the lack of plate discipline.

    That is again why the ’95 Braves and ’04 Red Sox were the only two teams in the last quarter century to be top 10 in the league in K’s while still winning or even getting to a WS.

    Their pitching staffs lead the league in some combination of ERA, ERA+, and WHIP whereas many other teams that scored more runs/struck out more in other years were sent home early because they did not have the pitching needed to compensate for such an inferior plate approach.

    What the Braves are trying to do this year only works with stellar pitching which they do not have. Wren is not stupid yet he has put together a one dimensional offense that will be feast or famine to the extreme and they are going to have a hell of a time winning against teams with good pitching with their lack of ability at manufacturing runs.

    They’ll score a ton against bad teams but against good pitchers like Kershaw, Grienke, Strasburg, Lee and Hamels they won’t stand a chance.

    “hitting for extra bases and taking extra bases creates offense.”

    Which you can’t do when you’re not putting the ball in play (aka striking out), duh.

    “The # of strikeout and world series winners are a false correlation.”

    No, actually it’s a very real correlation which is why it exists and has been accurate over 90% of the time for the last quarter century.

    You and Payne obviously have stereotypical SABR agendas and since an idea like this doesn’t fit that agenda and/or you can’t grasp it you attempt to dismiss it even though you look thoroughly stupid doing it because you can’t formulate a coherent argument against it since IT’S TRUE.

    “When is the last time a team won the world series with a bad pitching staff? I’ll wait.”

    Define “bad”.

    The ’11 Cardinals won with a staff that finished 12th in ERA, 18th in ERA+ and 16th in WHIP. I sure as hell wouldn’t call that good pitching.

    “Obviously Lefty33 is a Braves hater.”

    Actually I’m a realist simply pointing out what is a very glaring deficiency of the Atlanta roster. I can’t help that foaming homers like you are blind to the facts.

    Like I said earlier, when the Braves are at home playing golf in mid-October instead of playing baseball you’ll see that once again striking out equals going home early.

  17. 17
    Lefty33 Says:

    @ 14 & 15-

    Still dancing around the issue.

    If strikeouts don’t matter then why is that high K teams never appear in the WS? I mean you’re talking two out of the last fifty WS participants at least.

    Don’t give me your stupid BS about “October luck” or anything like that because it’s been a common thread for years now and it has transcended the hitting friendly RIOD era just like it is transcending the current era where offense is on a major decline heading back to pre-ROID era levels.

    There have been all different types of teams that have won in this time frame ranging from big offenses to big pitching to small ball to teams with league average and below staffs but yet the common thread is that 48 of the last 50 particpants in the WS all shared one theme.

    Lack of strikeouts.

    Keep on digging and throwing up smokescreens to try and deflect your lack of an argument but strikeouts are the most useless out that can be made and the team the avoids them puts themselves in a better place to win versus teams that swing from the heels like a bunch of hillbilly cavemen.

  18. 18
    Shaun Says:

    Lefty33, offensive strikeouts obviously aren’t positive events. The argument is that in most situations they are no different than other types of outs. And a team would have to strikeout an unrealistic amount before it makes an impact on their overall ability to avoid outs. A team can avoid outs at a good, even a great rate even if that team strikes out more often than all others.

    High strikeout teams do sometimes appear in and win the World Series. If strikeouts were as big a deal as you seem to think, no team that strikes out a lot would ever win the World Series. But they have.

    More importantly high scoring teams often strikeout a lot relative to the rest of their league. Strikeout rate has no relationship to scoring runs. That’s a fact.

    As far as the World Series, you’d be hard-pressed to find any stat that has a strong correlation to World Series wins or playoff success, especially on the offensive side of things. Mostly run prevention is what correlates to playoff success, nothing related to offensive strikeouts or offense in general. But there is also a lot of randomness because the playoffs are a sample of only about 11-20 games for any one team.

    But I’m open to you showing us any sort of data or study that reveals this secret that you are keeping, that team offensive strikeouts have a correlation to playoff success. I’ll be happy to change my views if you produce the data.

  19. 19
    Lefty33 Says:

    “More importantly high scoring teams often strikeout a lot relative to the rest of their league. Strikeout rate has no relationship to scoring runs. That’s a fact.”

    I’m not sure anyone is debating that but then again the discussion also never started with anything related to this. Naturally, you continue to change things in the discussion the more inept your argument has looked.

    Just like political spin: Answer a question with a question or spin the argument to something not related to where you screwed up.

    “you’d be hard-pressed to find any stat that has a strong correlation to World Series wins or playoff success, especially on the offensive side of things.”

    Except that I already have.

    “But there is also a lot of randomness because the playoffs are a sample of only about 11-20 games for any one team.”

    If we were talking about one year only, but of course we’re not.

    We’re talking about twenty-five.

    “But I’m open to you showing us any sort of data or study that reveals this secret that you are keeping, that team offensive strikeouts have a correlation to playoff success”


    You see that would be again you changing the argument to something other than what was originally discussed. Until you attempt to either answer/refute the original points that we started with yesterday in a coherent non-pot stirring way, I’m not going any farther.

  20. 20
    Shaun Says:

    I just need something convincing to go on, some sort of study with comprehensive data, that reveals team batter strikeouts have a negative correlation to playoff success. That’s all I’m asking for. Until I get it, there’s really no point in continuing a discussion. Anything else is baseless speculation and there is really no reason to take it seriously.

  21. 21
    Walker Says:


    That study doesn’t exist because there is no correlation.

  22. 22
    Lefty33 Says:


    Glad to see that nothing has changed with you.

    You’re still the same intellectual wuss you always were following the same retarded pattern:

    1. Make an idiotic statement

    2. Have that statement one hundred percent proven wrong

    3. Continue to change the subject instead of either admitting you were wrong in the first place and/or attempting to seriously refute anything

    As usual, your inability to refute anything that I brought up speaks volumes about your lack of an argument and about your lack of an ability to coherently process data.

    Is this how you live your life? If so, I feel sorry for you.

    If you’re just being your usual pot stirring tool self then I still feel sorry for you.

    When you’re ready to debate like a big boy and not with your tail between your legs you know where to find me. Other than that, piss off.

  23. 23
    Shaun Says:

    There is no relationship between strikeouts and runs scored, at least that’s what the data strongly suggests. If you have data and a compelling argument otherwise, please reveal it. Personal attacks, offensive language and insults are acknowledgements that you can’t refute the facts. I’m just waiting for reasonable refutation of the facts. Please don’t turn this comments section in to offensive language and personal attacks. I love a good debate, filled with logic and evidence. Let’s take emotional vitriol out of this comments page. If you can’t bring that to the table, I would ask you not to make comments.

  24. 24
    Vinnie Says:

    Wow…I was excited about the season, until now. Good for you Shaun! I applaud you trying to take the high road . Baseball is unlike ANY other sport. There are now two TOTALLY different ways of thinking about the game. Traditional v SABR. I think they can work together for a full analysis (SABR peeps would say differently, but that’s how they think). But PLEASE people, no personal attacks or negative blog shtick. If religion and politics are off limits, let’s make sure sports can still be discussed and enjoyed (or at minimum, tolerated).

    PS: If strikeouts really mattered, my Junior year in college would have been a TOTAL disaster!

  25. 25
    Shaun Says:

    Vinnie, it seems to me that front office folks, scouts, folks within the industry are way past any sort of holy war about stats versus scouts, sabermetrics versus traditional, whatever you want to call it, if there ever was such a holy war. If there was, it was probably exaggerated.

    Seems to me information is information. If it’s reliable, who cares if it came from some grizzled, cigar-smoking scout or some young, computer geek?

    The idea of labeling yourself, or others, instead of just relying on good information and being an intellectually curious baseball fan is something I find rather odd.

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