Fewer Strikeouts But At What Cost?

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The Arizona Diamondbacks were baseball's preeminent strikeout team last year, and I'm not talking about their pitchers. D'Backs hitters led the majors with 1,529 strikeouts in 2010, 154 more than the second place Marlins. They became the first team in history to have four players with 140 or more strikeouts, and they tacked on a fifth such player for good measure. Clearly, so many unproductive plate appearances is a problem.

Unsurprisingly, new GM Kevin Towers made cutting down on whiffs a priority when he took over earlier this offseason. "There's some nice hitters on this ballclub, but the strikeouts are somewhat alarming," he said. "That's something we certainly need to cut back. I like to see breaking records for walks more than strikeouts."

The process started when Towers let first baseman Adam LaRoche depart via free agency. LaRoche struck out in 30.7% of his at-bats in 2010 (172 times total), and will be replaced by either Brandon Allen or the recently acquired Juan Miranda. Allen has struck out in 26.1% of his minor league at-bats, Miranda 23.2%. Neither player has much experience in the big leagues, fewer than 300 plate appearances combined. LaRoche was offered arbitration and Arizona did receive a supplemental first round pick when he signed with the Nationals earlier this week.

The second move will have more impact in the strikeout department. Mark Reynolds is the only player in the history of the game to strike out 200 or more times in a season, and he's done it in each of the last three years. In 2010, he ended a stunning 42.3% of his at-bats with strike three, 6.6% more than second place Adam Dunn. Reynolds was traded to the Orioles for a pair of relievers, so Towers addressed two of the team's biggest weaknesses with that one move. Stepping in at third base could be a number of people. Tony Abreu (19.1% strikeouts in his career) appears to be the frontrunner, but Melvin Mora (17.5%), Geoff Blum (16.7%), and perhaps even Sean Burroughs (13.3%) are in the mix. 

Arizona will still feature the strikeout ways of Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Kelly Johnson, but the LaRoche and Reynolds moves will help quite a bit in that department. What's the cost to the offense, though?

LaRoche has hit 25 homers on the nose in each of the last three seasons, and is a safe bet for another 20+ in 2011. Although his OBP was a career-low .320, it had not been lower than .340 in the four seasons prior, so there are reasons to expect a rebound. Reynolds had a down year by his standards but still clubbed 32 homers. He's alternated .349 and .320 OBP's in his four full big league seasons, and is due for the high end of that range in 2011. That's a loss of 57 homers between the two players, 31.7% of the team's total output in 2010.

Allen has hit 20+ homers in his last three minor league seasons while Miranda has hit 18 and 20 homers in the last two years, most of which was spent in Triple-A. Both players have strong minor league OBP's, .370 or better in recent years. Carrying that level of production from the minors into the show is another matter, but at least the D'Backs have options at first base.

Third base is different story. Abreu, Blum, Mora, and Burroughs have hit 28 homers combined over the last two seasons, still four shy of what Reynolds did by himself in 2010. In fairness, that quartet of third base candidates have played primarily part-time during those last two years (or less, in Burroughs' case). Mora is the high man of the group with a .353 career OBP, though Abreu matches that mark in his minor league career. Neither Blum nor Burroughs will make much of a dent in that column.

Towers certainly addressed the team's 2010 strikeout issues by parting ways with the two biggest offenders, but he did so at the cost of power. Allen and Miranda appear capable of approximating if not outright replacing LaRoche's offense, but it's far from a sure thing. The league average third baseman hit 19 home runs last season, and it looks like Arizona will have trouble reaching that modest output in 2011, nevermind replacing what Reynolds was capable of. First and third base are traditional power spots, so the D'Backs will have to hope for repeat performances from Johnson, Young, and Stephen Drew at up-the-middle positions.

The correlation between strikeout rate and overall OPS is not a strong one, and in fact it shows that even the game's most productive hitters whiff quite a bit. That's the power-strikeout trade off, it's very hard to have the former without the latter. Despite all the strikeouts, Arizona had the 12th best OPS in the game last season (.740) and were middle of the pack in runs scored (713), so they weren't that much of a drain on the offense. Towers achieved his goal of cutting down on the K's this offseason, but don't be surprised if the team's overall offense takes a hit in 2011 as a result. 

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.


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36 Comments on "Fewer Strikeouts But At What Cost?"


4 years 7 months ago

Good article

Brad426
4 years 7 months ago

Or at least o long article. Looks like it would be good.

HerbertAnchovy
4 years 7 months ago

It was good. I’m guessing books are out of the question then?

Brad426
4 years 7 months ago

Eh, short books maybe.

JohnPaulP
4 years 7 months ago

“They became the first team in history to have not just five players with 140 or more strikeouts, but four such players as well.”

What does this mean?

4 years 7 months ago

the previous record was 3 with 140 k’s or more, they skipped 4 and went straight to 5.

4 years 7 months ago

Thankyou, I was curious about the same thing

HerbertAnchovy
4 years 7 months ago

It means that that they were the first team to have four players with 140 or more K’s, and broke that record with 5, or that’s how I read it.

0vercast
4 years 7 months ago

You qouted it incorrectly, but it’s still poorly worded. The “as well” at the end makes it sound like they have 5 players IN ADDITION to the 4 they just mentioned.

“They became the first team in history to have not only four players with 140 or more strikeouts, but five such players as well.”

4 years 7 months ago

I changed the wording. Should be clearer now.

Brad426
4 years 7 months ago

Yeah, that’s perfect.

Brad426
4 years 7 months ago

Agreed. If the “as well” wasn’t there I woulda gotten it (when I eventually read down that far… SQUIRREL!”

4 years 7 months ago

The Diamondbacks offense will struggle at times because the lineup just isn’t that good, especially compared to last year. But they do reduce strikeouts which was much needed and add some good situational hitters and more productive at bats could make this team progess more than they would with Reynolds and LaRoche. This team will be in better shape despite the worse record that most assume they will have. Good luck to them.

JohnPaulP
4 years 7 months ago

Makes sense, but it seems like if that’s the case the numbers should be flipped. Like

They became the first team in history to have not just four players with 140 or more strikeouts, but five such players as well.

The wording still sounds a bit odd.

JohnPaulP
4 years 7 months ago

This was supposed to be a reply to an earlier question I asked. Guess I just hit the wrong button.

southpawryno
4 years 7 months ago

i really don’t see how Arizona can produce enough runs to support their young rotation…

4 years 7 months ago

Agreed. I think Arizona has the potential to be a 100 loss team. There just isn’t a lot to love about this young team. This doesn’t feel like a few years ago when a lot of hot prospects were growing together. It feels more like watching a AAAA team.

Brad426
4 years 7 months ago

Done! I think I agree with Mike’s premise here (that the D-Back offense will be worse even if their strike out rate is way lower). And I realize K’s can be a rally killer and all, but I will take Mark Reynolds and his 200 K’s as long as he has that .817 OPS.

dc21892
4 years 7 months ago

To me, Reynolds is who he is. Sure on an 0-2 count he shouldn’t be geared up to try to smack a 400 foot homer, but that’s what he does. He runs into enough balls to make up for his strikeouts.

johnsilver
4 years 7 months ago

Reynolds reminds me of 70’s Red Sox player Butch Hobson.. Swing for the fences, or don’t bother swinging at all and strike out a lot.

Boston tinkered with his swing after the ’78 season and yeah.. They got his k’s to go down and he even hit 28HR’s that year, but the last year he ever hit more than 11HR again. Washed up at 28YO.

Sometimes it is best to leave those swings alone if it is natural for guys, K’s and all.

4 years 7 months ago

Reynolds’ swing is more or less designed to hit home runs. His pronated top hand and slight uppercut obviously make it harder for him to make contact, but it’s what he’s been built for. Rebuilding his swing would probably do more harm than good, as you suggest.

johnsilver
4 years 7 months ago

That is all a part of it, not just muscling the ball over the fence, but the stance, way the hands are held etc.. Boston started working on Hobson during ST that season and remember well by bringing in Sox HOF’er Ted Williams and his #1 project was Hobson and to bring down his K total and to get him to be more patient at the plate, plus “fix” his swing some.

Now no disrespect on Williams, he was one of the greatest hitters that ever lived, but for some guys, it just won’t work and Hobson was one of them. Hobson was a mediocre at best 3B that had HR power and pretty much nothing else going in his favor, once he lost that, there was nothing else keeping him in the big leagues.

4 years 7 months ago

Reynolds’ swing is more or less designed to hit home runs. His pronated top hand and slight uppercut obviously make it harder for him to make contact, but it’s what he’s been built for. Rebuilding his swing would probably do more harm than good, as you suggest.

4 years 7 months ago

Reynolds is an “interesting” player. Had 17 doubles to 32 homers last year. Had 83 walks. 211 strikeouts. Not including reaching by error, he reached base 182 times. I get the feeling if he could get a bit better at pitch recognition, and what to do on certain counts, this guy could be a monster.

jonesbaseball
4 years 7 months ago

What concerns me about trading Reynolds is that he was brought up initially from AA ball, and probably at least a year early. So he never really got to fully develop as a hitter, and who knows, it could start to happen soon and he could become much more productive.

Josh Stuart
4 years 7 months ago

That line on Mark Reynolds is crazy:

” [he’s] the only player in the history of the game to strikeout 200 or more times in a season, and he’s done it in each of the last three years. In 2010, he ended a stunning 42.3% of his at-bats with strike three, 6.6% more than second place Adam Dunn.”

Like wow.

gringo20
4 years 7 months ago

Towers is going to feel like a fool when Reynolds BABIP reverts back to his standard. Last year was a down year, and although he will probably never hit three hundred, a 260 hitter with forty bombs and 100 RBI is better than two middle relievers will ever be.

niched
4 years 7 months ago

You may be right, but the Dbacks got a good pitcher for Reynolds in David Hernandez. Hernandez was really good for the O’s last year out of the pen. But in the NL West he could be good as a starter instead.

4 years 7 months ago

Eh, if you’re coming out of the bullpen, you’re probably not good enough to be a starter in the long term anyway. A purebred power hitter is always going to be worth more than a reliever, and usually by a factor of 3 or 4.

Towers sold low for a volatile product. I can’t blame him for trying to strengthen one of the worst bullpens I’ve ever seen, but Reynolds wasn’t the guy to trade in order to do it.

niched
4 years 7 months ago

Hernandez is good enough to be a 4/5 guy in a lot of rotations. But in the AL East he was definitely better out of the bullpen. Arizona needs bullpen help for sure, but if they get more of it then it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to move Hernandez to the rotation at some point. He gives them flexibility.

GoRav114
4 years 7 months ago

you bring up a great point on Hernandez. As an O’s fan this guy looked like he was going to be a great starter and then faltered quickly and was sent back down. His stuff was so good though that he came back up and was switched to the bullpen where he was lights out. While I am happy with the trade because our desperate need for power numbers, losing Hernandez really stings.

I would expect Arizona will have him starting by mid year now that he has a bit more experience and is out of the AL. I can’t wait to watch Reynolds and hope he can figure it out a bit with 2 strikes.

Is Reynolds mostly a pull hitter?

gringo20
4 years 7 months ago

I think they plan on using Hernandez as the seventh inning guy, or the eighth of Gutierrez sucks (highly possible). Reynolds has huge pop to all fields.

niched
4 years 7 months ago

I’m an O’s fan too, so I don’t like to lose Hernandez, but this is for sure a trade the O’s had to make. It will be interesting to see what Reynolds can do in a different setting. If he can back to his 2009 numbers I’m sure the O’s will be quite happy. Not sure if Reynolds is a more of a pull hitter more than your average hitter. I think he hits to the opposite field too, with power.

gringo20
4 years 7 months ago

It’s just hard for me to justify the logic behind trading a guy who still drove in 87 when he was at his worst, for a guy who may become a #4/5 guy if we’re lucky

niched
4 years 7 months ago

You may be right, but the Dbacks got a good pitcher for Reynolds in David Hernandez. Hernandez was really good for the O’s last year out of the pen. But in the NL West he could be good as a starter instead.

JagBack
4 years 7 months ago

I know we needed to strengthen the bullpen, and cut down on Ks, but at the cost of most of our offense? I think we should have resigned Laroche and gave Reynolds one more year. I wish we had gotten rid of J-Up instead, he is a horrible outfielder and is also a K machine. I’ve never seen a guy look so embarrased trying to hit an outside pitch. So we won’t give up as many runs now, but we won’t score any either.