Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Striking Out with Baseball Stats

Time to go stat-geek for a post on baseball. So last night Mark Reynolds of the Arizona Diamondbacks struck out 3 times to break his own single season record with 206 on the year (with a few games remaining). He had previously set the record last year with 204 Ks. When asked about his back-to-back toilet bowl records, he responded “So what?” He also hit his 43rd HR last night, so he hits a HR for every 5 Ks.

Does it matter? Ryan Howard struck out 199 times in both 2007 & 2008 and finished in the top 5 for MVP both years. Reggie Jackson struck out more than any player in history and maintains the nickname of Mr. October. On the other hand, Tony Gwynn struck out only 434 times in his entire 20 year career, barely more than Mark Reynolds the past two years. Manny Ramirez has never struck out more than 131 times in a season and Babe Ruth never struck out more than 100 times in a season.

While a strike out is the worst and least productive at-bat you can possibly have (a ground out could advance a runner, potential sac fly, etc), it may come down to the slugging percentage (SLG) and on base percentage (OBP) to determine whether it’s acceptable to have a high number of K’s. Taking a random sampling of the following players: Mark Reynolds, Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson (all-time leader in K’s), Ryan Howard, Jose Hernandez, Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Mike Cameron, Adam Dunn and Pete Incaviglia, and looking at their K’s, SLG% and OBP, there appears to be a key number.

Good hitters that happen to strike out the most, tend to have an OBP greater than .350 and a SLG% greater than .500. Set aside the entire cheating with steroids thing for the sake of this argument (heck, half these guys either were busted or should have been), and just focus on the stats. A guy like Ryan Howard strikes out a ton, yet still posts an OBP of .374 with a SLG% of .583. Mike Cameron and Pete Incaviglia are on the other end of the spectrum, with OBP of .340 & .310, respectively and SLG% of .448 each. Significant differences, to show that you can make up for strike outs with walks and significant power.

Another example was Jose Hernandez, during 2001 and 2002 playing SS for the Brewers. For his 15 year career, Hernandez posted an OBP of .312 and SLG% of .418. However, during his one all-star season, in addition to setting the then-NL-record of 185 strike outs in a season, he had an OBP of .356 & SLG% of .478. So he broke one of the barriers and combined with his 24 HR, it was enough to get him an all-star berth.
Of the players I looked at, the one that surprised me by making the cut was Adam Dunn – with career OBP of .384 and SLG% of .523. The player that split the cut was Reggie Jackson, with OBP of .356 and SLG% of .490. However, I guess that makes sense since Reggie’s career average was only .260, and he led the league in strikeouts 6 times in 15 seasons. His career also declined considerably during his time with the Angels (excluding his first season there in ’82), never hitting over .252 or having a SLG% greater than .487. And the homer in me checked both Prince Fielder & Ryan Braun, who both easily cleared the hurdles during their brief careers.

So back to Mark Reynolds. Last season, he was below the marks, posting an OBP of .320, SLG% of .458, with a BA of .239, yet 28 HRs. This season, he tops the marks, with an OBP of .357 and SLG% of .506. So what? So nothing, Mark. Continue to hack away as long as you keep that OBP above .350 and SLG% above .500.

(Trying to figure out how to post the table I made with all the stats for the guys mentioned above)

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