January 23, 2013 at 11:17 pm by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
A reoccurring comment I’ve seen on various Braves sites, comment sections, Twitter and even from Ken Rosenthal tonight, goes something like, “the Braves will have too many strikeouts in their lineup by adding/starting player X.” It started with B.J. Upton and has since moved to players like Juan Francisco and most recently Justin Upton.
Well, that statement is not really true. I thought it may be helpful, since there is a diverse Braves readership, to hopefully help clear this up. When it comes to the offensive side of baseball, an out is an out. Take the chart below as an example. It is the correlation between team runs per game and team strikeout rate over the past 25 years (1988-2012).
Data courtesy of FanGraphs
As you can see, those 720 samples form a fairly large blob in the middle of the chart. The trend line does show a negative correlation of r=-.11, but this is very weak and there is really no relationship to speak of between the two.
The highest dot on the chart is the 2010 Diamondbacks. They struck out just under a quarter of the time they came to the plate, managing to score 4.4 runs per game. The 2007 Twins are another dot, located very low on the chart. They also scored 4.4 runs per game, but only striking out as a team 13.6% of the time. An out is an out.
We can also simply look at Tom Tango’s run values of individual events. In The Book: Playing The Percentages In Baseball, Tango shows (Table 11) that value of a strikeout is worth -.301 runs, while a non-strikeout is worth -.299 runs. They are essentially the same. Just remember, when you put the ball in play, it can sometimes lead to multiple outs.
There are other, more valid arguments, which can be made for wanting to start or acquire a certain player. Team OBP and team runs per game over the past 25 years have a very strong correlation, r=.88. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone; you have to get on base to score runs. Team wOBA has an even higher correlation, r =.94. You would also expect this to be high because the stat is an attempt to measure total offensive contribution.
So, when making a case for or against player X, use reasons that effect the ability to score runs. A high strikeout rate doesn’t, the lack of ability to get on base does. Those two may even seem like they go hand-in-hand, but you can still get on base at a good rate while striking out over 20% of the time. Some players produce better when they strikeout at a higher clip due to the quality of contact being made (see Ben’s piece from 2011 about Dan Uggla). Other players, mainly those who rely on speed, would be better off putting the ball into play more and striking out less. Players must tailor their individual skillset to maximize their total offensive ability.
Lastly, don’t be confused with strikeouts from a pitchers point of view, they are more important for a pitcher on the mound. Many ERA estimators are largely based off strikeout rates (as well as BB and HR). It may be hard for some to separate the importance of a single stat for two opposing sides, but it does exist.
Being concerned over too many strikeouts in the lineup shouldn’t be a major worry when acquiring players. Even if the Braves have five regulars strikeout over 20% of the time and a couple of guys over 25% of the time (not including pitchers), it really shouldn’t be a concern. It is only one result of a plate appearance. Be more concerned of the overall offensive value the player brings to the lineup. At the end of the day, an out is an out.