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When is a strikeout just like any other out?

Sep 14, 2009, 1:27 PM EDT

Mark Reynolds is hitting .274/.367/.575 with 41 homers, 28 doubles, 72 walks, and 94 RBIs in 137 games.
Adam Dunn is hitting .282/.410/.563 with 37 homers, 27 doubles, 104 walks, and 99 RBIs in 142 games.
They rank fourth and eighth among NL hitters in OPS, respectively. And yet people continue to make a big deal about their strikeouts.
Yesterday alone MLB.com had an article entitled “Reynolds not worried about strikeout totals” and the New York Times had an article entitled “Dunn keeps swinging despite detractors.”
Conventional wisdom is that strikeouts are a terrible thing and when viewed in isolation that’s certainly true. However, in the grand scheme of things strikeouts are no worse than pop outs or fly outs or ground outs. And unlike those other methods of making an out, strikeouts tend to come along with extra-base hits and walks because guys who whiff a lot usually do so while swinging hard and working long counts.
Among all hitters with at least 400 plate appearances this season, the 10 guys who strike out most often have an average OPS of .938 and the 10 guys who strike out least often have an average OPS of .753. Yet for all the criticism high-strikeout guys take for being productive in a manner that rubs some people the wrong way and all the articles questioning whether guys like Dunn or Reynolds need to cut down on their strikeouts, have you ever seen the opposite?
Where are all the people taking David Eckstein to task for making too much contact while posting a measly .265/.322/.337 line? Where are all the articles wondering if Yuniesky Betancourt should try to strike out more often to improve upon his putrid .241/.275/.347 mark? Despite all the advancements in baseball analysis, apparently there are still an awful lot of people who would prefer if guys like Reynolds and Dunn weren’t nearly as good, but grounded out to second base much more often.

  1. Joey B - Sep 14, 2009 at 2:20 PM

    Viewed in isolation, Ks are meaningless. It’s a more meaningful stats when combined with walks, and more meaningful when combined with a trend analysis. 4/1 K/W ratio is generally bad whether it’s at the 80K level or the 200K level. Someone with a deteriorating K/W ratio is a signal for trouble.
    But FWIW, the idea that K’s are not necessarily a bad thing has been around for a good 10-20 years.

  2. Steve - Sep 14, 2009 at 2:51 PM

    “However, in the grand scheme of things strikeouts are no worse than pop outs or fly outs or ground outs”
    Aren’t you ignoring the possibilities of an error, or even a “productive out” like a runner advancing a base? I understand that stat heads are reviled by the term “productive out”, but to completely dismiss that there are opportunities that exist by putting the ball in play seems disingenuous.

  3. Aaron Gleeman - Sep 14, 2009 at 2:56 PM

    I understand that stat heads are reviled by the term “productive out”, but to completely dismiss that there are opportunities that exist by putting the ball in play seems disingenuous.

    I’m not “completely dismissing” anything. Yes, there are some situations where making an out by putting the ball in play has value. However, there are also situations where making an out by putting the ball in play is a negative thing. For example, you can’t ground into a double play when you strike out.
    For the most part it all evens out, which is why “in the grand scheme of things strikeouts are no worse than pop outs or fly outs or ground outs.”

  4. rusty - Sep 14, 2009 at 3:33 PM

    Thanks for making the effort to dispel the myth of the strikeout as being a bad thing. Any stat taken out of context is meaningless and they must be all be considered in context. I thnk the reason most people attempt to make strikeouts a target is becasue it is easier than getting all stats in context. And yes, a strike out is better than a GIDP…..

  5. Jeff Parker - Sep 14, 2009 at 4:26 PM

    Well I disagree with “strikeouts are like any other outs” theory because it assumes that a hitter will still make an out if they don’t K, babip tells us this is unlikely. If Dunn struck out just 50 times less a year then based on his OBP he would reach base 20 of those PA’s making him even more productive, as I’m sure a few of those 1would go out of the park.
    But really if a guy strikes out a ton while posting a .900+ OPS then I think the good outweighs the bad. Its guys like Mark Teahen and Miguel Olivo that get to me, striking out a ton while putting up below league average stats.

  6. Matthew S. - Sep 14, 2009 at 9:51 PM

    “If Dunn struck out just 50 times less a year…”
    If he swung and made meaningful contact more, he would also walk less. Walking less would hurt his OBP. I guess we could look at how many times he strikes out on a called third strike with a less than full count, but at this point I’m tempted to say Dunn knows what he’s doing more than we do.

  7. Jeff Parker - Sep 14, 2009 at 10:20 PM

    I agree, Dunn is a very productive hitter and probably shouldn’t change his aprroach. Guys with lesser numbers (i.e. the aformentioned Olivo and Teahen) should try to make more contact because anything can happen when the ball is in play and it won’t always be an out.

  8. LAG - Sep 19, 2009 at 3:26 PM

    My bigger question is why strikeouts are given so much credence as a statistic for pitchers. I’d much rather have a pitcher inducing ground balls, than than sandwiching strikeouts around home runs. Obviously it’s nice to strike a guy out when you have a man on third and 1 out, but that shows up in the ERA if that guy scores or not. The only time it’s really important is for relievers who come on with men on base. Other i don’t see how a strikeout is any better for a pitcher than a ground ball.

  9. Hi - Sep 24, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    Who said a pitcher needs to sandwich strikeouts between home runs? So you’re either a ground ball machine or you give up lots of home runs? Seriously? How does that logic make any sense?
    It’s pretty obvious why strikeouts are better than ground balls. Fluke hits can get people on base, strikeouts can’t (unless the pitcher throws some massive breaking ball that gets passed the catcher). And if the ball is in play, there’s a chance that the defense will make a mistake. And the idea is if you strike out guys, you can play with a weaker defense behind you.

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