Why Strikeouts are Good for the Game of Baseball
Photo Courtesy of Associated Press
Last year, the Chicago Cubs averaged 9.37 strikeouts per game. Yes, you read that correctly: on average, the Cubs made 1/3 outs per inning via the dreaded strikeout. Yet, that same team struck out all the way to the NLCS, which obviously was their most painful strikeout all year.
For the average fan, baseball is a boring sport—it always has been and it always will be. As a player, you might see five minutes of action in a three-hour game. That’s just how it goes.
As the LLWS rolls on, I am reminded time after time again how much I value the little league game. Pitchers 10+ K performances, errors and mental mistakes coming at the worst of times and 12 year olds who hit puberty early almost as hard as they hit baseballs.
Obviously, the large differences between the professional game and the amateur game we see at the LLWS level are talent, maturity and experience. But, the one thing LLWS has going for it is that you simply will never experience the same electricity in an MLB game that you see in the LLWS.
Professional pitchers rarely record 10+ K games despite their longer outings and lack of pitch counts for the reason that the talent spread is much smaller in the MLB. Most of the time when you see a player who strikes out over 200 times in a season, it means one of two things: He is a young player who is clearly not fully developed OR he is named Chris Davis, Adam Dunn, Chris Carter, etc. and (hopefully) hits 20-30+ HR in a year.
Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for guys like Jose Altuve, a 5’6 monster who I don’t hesitate to call the second best player behind Mike Trout right now, that strike out less than 10% of their at-bats. Quality at-bats always have been and always will be a huge part of our game.
But, I personally wouldn’t mind if Kris Bryant maintained his 30.6% K rate from last year instead of slapping a few weak outs into the field of play. His 8.1% decrease in K% results from the fact that he now is less prone to whiff on almost every two-strike off-speed pitch he sees. But, the point I’m trying to make is that because of his decreased K%, his BABIP has also decreased from .378 to .342.
Don’t like me talking about Kris Bryant? Fine, I’ll take my focus off the Cubs’ legitimate MVP candidate and look at another outstanding third-baseman. Take a look at Manny Machado: his K% has gone up from 15.6% to 16.8%, but every time he is making contact it’s really counting as he’s increased his BABIP from .297 to .320.
I’m not saying quality outs are overrated, I’m not saying it’s acceptable for guys to consider every K just like any other out. Obviously, if there are men on base with less than 2 outs, you absolutely have to put the ball in play. But, I’m tired of everyone acting like a strikeout is still some horrible embarrassment as a hitter.
Having more strikeouts every game is exactly what baseball needs. Even if it drives me insane to see White Sox fans salivate over the multiple times a year that Chris Sale is able to make Kris Bryant swing out of his shoes at off-speed pitches, that is exactly the reason they are good for the game. The two best active pitchers in the game by WAR right now are Jose Fernandez and Noah Syndergaard. They are both the best by player value and are two of the best strikeout pitchers in the game.
So, next time I hear someone say that a slugger hitting 25+ HR is an embarrassment for swinging out of his shoes on a 0-2 curveball in the first inning with no one on base, I might actually lose my mind. Those at-bats are exactly what baseball needs to stay entertaining. Baseball is an increasingly boring and strategic game in a world that demands quicker results. It’s time to make our national past time great again and tell the sluggers to make the pitchers look good every once in a while.