We Don’t Mind Missing

Dave · September 4, 2009 at 3:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

In my piece for the Wall Street Journal today, I note the exponential increase in strikeouts over the last 50 years. Over the last 10-15 years especially, there has been an extreme shift towards the acceptance of whiffing, as teams have discovered that it’s okay to build an offense around non-contact hitters as long as they do good stuff when they put the bat on the ball.

Perhaps nowhere is the change in management philosophy more obvious than the Mariners. Last year, the Mariners struck out in just 15.8% of their at-bats, fewest in the majors. This was by design, as the Bavasi regime placed significant value on guys who didn’t strike out. The M’s saw contact rate as a big positive, and the team was constructed to maximize balls in play as an offensive strategy.

Jack Zduriencik? Couldn’t care less about strikeouts. Seriously, look at the list of guys he’s brought in.

Branyan – 34.6% K%
Hall – 34.4%
Langerhans – 27.4%
Hannahan – 23.1%
Gutierrez – 22.4%

Practically every position player the team has added since the new administration took over has had contact ability listed as a weakness. They do other things well, and that’s what they were acquired for. Defense, extra base hits, walks… these are the things that are valued now. Making feeble contact just for the sake of making contact? No thanks.

You might not like to watch the offense as currently constructed, but you should still be encouraged – the GM has shown that when it comes to bringing in hitters, he’s not going to be looking for the same kind of slap-hitting, anti-walk, contact specialists that formed the basis for the lousy teams that we saw the last five years. This offense isn’t good, but our GM realizes that strikeouts by his hitters aren’t a problem, and that’s just another reason to be optimistic about the future.


69 Responses to “We Don’t Mind Missing”

  1. Jeff Nye on September 4th, 2009 6:12 pm

    Spending the valuable currency that is an out in order to score a run is bad baseball.

    If it happens when you’re going to make an out anyway, great; but building your roster to maximize the amount of times you trade outs for runs gets you the 2008 Mariners.

  2. gwangung on September 4th, 2009 6:16 pm

    Dirk, the point people are trying to make is that focussing on strikeouts are looking at the exact wrong thing.

    The difference between strikeouts and other kinds of outs is MUCH MUCH MUCH smaller than getting on base and making an out.

    Ergo, focus on people who can get on base. Don’t worry about the strikeouts. IT’S THE WRONG THING TO WORRY ABOUT.

    Mike Cameron. Rinse and repeat. Add Jay Buhner to accent.

  3. gwangung on September 4th, 2009 6:17 pm

    Put it another way…if there’s a batter that bats .300, gets on base at .500, but ALL his outs are strikeouts…are you really gonna focus on the strikeouts and not on his OBP?

  4. Dirk on September 4th, 2009 6:20 pm

    So are outs.

    Agreed, and if you are making 100+ that have zero chance of becoming a hit then the other 400-500 ABs better have a much better chance of doing something (ie Branyan making the ball very flat on one side).

    Let me restate my case:

    SO = Bad
    SO + low power = Very Bad
    SO + low power + shitty defense = slit my wrists terrible
    So + lots of Power = okay
    SO + lots of Power + HOF defense = good player with minor flaw (ie Mike Cameron)

  5. Mike Snow on September 4th, 2009 6:23 pm

    Edgar may not have struck out quite as much as Branyan and Buhner, but he wasn’t exactly Betancourt or Johjima in terms of making contact either.

  6. DMZ on September 4th, 2009 6:24 pm

    Uh huh. Here’s the thing. You’re thinking of Ks as black holes of offense and other outs as some kind of… potential hit.

    But they’re not. 100 strikeouts are just as out-y as 100 outs. They are, in terms of game outcomes, a little bit more harmful. But they’re still 100 outs to 100 outs. And they’re just as close to being potential hits or walks as the 100 ground outs are. Outs are outs. They’re bad.

  7. Dirk on September 4th, 2009 6:26 pm

    Put it another way…if there’s a batter that bats .300, gets on base at .500, but ALL his outs are strikeouts…are you really gonna focus on the strikeouts and not on his OBP?

    No, I agree with what you’re saying. All I’m saying is a SO should not be considered a good thing. Just like hitting a week pop-up is not a good thing, or is hitting into a double play or fouling out. But if a guy crushes the ball and it’s caught at the warning track or hits a sharp liner and it gets snared by a leaping fielder, at least he did something positive that resulted in an out.

  8. Dirk on September 4th, 2009 6:31 pm

    DMZ, maybe I’m missing the point but were talking fractions of percentage points right? So if a SO has 0% chance of resulting in anything good then how is that equal to something that is has 1% chance of resulting in something good. Over the course of a 162 game season maybe it makes a difference, maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know.

    I do know that as a fan watching a SO irritates me much more than a hard hit liner that gets caught.

  9. Mike Snow on September 4th, 2009 6:33 pm

    Has anybody, anywhere, suggested that a strikeout is a good thing?

  10. Dirk on September 4th, 2009 6:37 pm

    Has anybody, anywhere, suggested that a strikeout is a good thing?

    No, but it seems like there are people that say the SO isn’t a bad thing. Or maybe I’m putting words in their mouth (post) . But that is the impression I’m getting from this thread.

  11. Mike Snow on September 4th, 2009 6:46 pm

    What they’re trying to say is that a strikeout is not a worse thing than other kinds of outs. It may sound like a defense of striking out sometimes, mostly because people feel like they have to overcompensate for the general sentiment that strikeouts are an absolutely horrible thing.

  12. Dirk on September 4th, 2009 7:00 pm

    Mike I would agree that under the following circumstances an is an out:

    Two outs
    any number of outs and no runners on.

    But with runners on and less than two outs, a SO is the third worst outcome (w/ DP and TP as the two even worse outcomes).

    I’ll spot the fielders choice that takes out the lead runner as worse too if the lead runner is faster, but if the batter is slower then that should be DP normally and is worse anyway.

    While outs that end up not moving runners are equally bad as SO, isn’t the percentage chance that a good outcome will occur still higher?

    I know I’m being circular, I just can’t understand if we agree that a SO’s negative run value is higher than other outs how we don’t call it a worse outcome.

    Bottom-line, I’m not arguing that High strikeout players are bad and we shouldn’t have them on our team. All I’m saying is that the individual event that is the SO can be a worse outcome than another out under certain circumstances.

  13. Mike Snow on September 4th, 2009 7:37 pm

    Then I should clarify that the focus was on outs in general, not in specific situations. Sure, anybody can construct scenarios in which some kinds of outs are more tolerable than others, but in order for that to matter in the context we were discussing originally, you have to believe that situational hitting is a skill.

  14. NorthofWrigleyField on September 6th, 2009 2:40 am

    these arguments are pointless, because even the guys making sense aren’t swerving the discussion to the salient points. It’s not about what a player does bad (strikeouts, weak grounders and popups, etc). It’s all about what a player does well and how much you have to pay for it. Thank god the Mariners GM gets that… because the bulk of the Mariners fan base has never been able to get it, much less the front office.

    Player A does x things well. Player B does y things well. If x > y, then I’d much rather the team do what it takes to get Player A depending on the money.

    I don’t mean to single out the Mariners or their fans since most of baseball doesn’t get this either.

    Remember, we’re not the only team who gave up on Mike Cameron and Jay Buhner. Cameron will probably still be looking for a job this winter after being one of the more productive players in baseball with his bat as well as his glove… no matter how many times he strikes out.

    There are bad hitters out there that don’t strike out at all. There are productive hitters out there that don’t walk much. There are simply more important things to look at than how many times a player specifically makes an out by striking out.

    Sure, I would like my players to do less striking out through improving the skills which diminish strike outs and increase the productivity of player’s plate appearances… but not if it will come at the expense of said productivity.

    I would love for anybody to make the argument that they hate strikeouts so much they would like to see their team implement skill M to reduce strikeouts even if it reduces the chances to score runs.

    If every out the Mariners recorded on offense was a strikeout, but they improved their scoring by even .5 runs per game… you’d all learn to love strikeouts.

  15. DMZ on September 6th, 2009 10:59 am

    You would think, but you mention Cameron — he was a stellar defensive center fielder here and also hit pretty well — but people would not stop complaining about the strikeouts.

    So I’m a little skeptical of the claim that people would come around. I think there’s a kind of emotional hook for some people where strikeouts can’t be regarded entirely rationally.

    Beyond that, yes, absolutely.

  16. NorthofWrigleyField on September 6th, 2009 12:30 pm

    yes, i know… we booed his ass out of here… but there are stories like that all over baseball. Every strikeout by Russell the Muscle is going to look worse to fans because this team doesn’t score any runs. After the 2001 season, this team has had problems scoring runs.

    Mike Cameron is the perfect illustration of this point. In 2001, when this team was scoring runs and winning record number of games, nobody complained about how many times anybody struck out. When they started to score less runs and win less games, the complaints started.

    Mariners fans “get it” a little bit… score more runs good, win less games bad… but they express their blame for the problems in the wrong areas… consistently and, in Cameron’s case, criminally.

  17. Pine Tar on September 6th, 2009 10:23 pm

    Ks indicate the inability to put the ball in play. We need hitters who have less of this inability. Or do we? Looking at team stats, there is a real nice correspondence between runs and OPS, but no apparent correlation between runs and Ks.

  18. Pine Tar on September 6th, 2009 10:33 pm

    Another way to look at this is from the pitching side. Do we care if our pitchers are strike out pitchers or pitch-to-contact types? No, we just want outs. The thinking on the offense should be no different. We need to minimize outs.

  19. NorthofWrigleyField on September 7th, 2009 1:17 am

    “Ks indicate the inability to put the ball in play.”

    No… actually they don’t. They indicate that a player didn’t put the ball in play on that particular plate appearance… and unless you’ve looked at every single plate appearance for a batter, you really can’t say it indicates anything else. More information is necessary to evaluate a player. A strikeout is just one possible result of a plate appearance. We need to stop being so results-oriented, especially if we’re not going to objectively look at every result.

    “We need hitters who have less of this inability. Or do we? Looking at team stats, there is a real nice correspondence between runs and OPS, but no apparent correlation between runs and Ks.”

    If you slave away at more than half of your games at “pitcher’s parks”, it would be better to put a team together independent of a direct correlation between the productivity of their balls in play and how many runs they’ll score.

    Just because the ball is in play in SafeCo Field, doesn’t mean something productive is going to happen. If you’re swinging for the sake of swinging (yes, I’m talking about you, Yuniesky Betancourt), you have a much greater chance of creating an out and/or killing a possibly productive situation than if you are practicing good strike-zone judgment.

    This might lead to a few strikeouts as you get deeper in to counts. Sure, you could swing at a few of the pitches which are borderline, if you could correctly identify them, but the chances of making something productive out of those pitches is reduced in a pitcher’s park, whereas there is benefit to every extra pitch a pitcher has to throw.

    I hope by now you’re seeing what I’m getting at here. If you can practice good strike-zone judgment in a pitcher’s park, you have a better chance of converting plate appearances into something productive, rather than take your chances with just getting a ball in play.

    Batters such as Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Prince Fielder, Jason Bay, Jack Cust and, yes, Russell Branyan are proving you can use this approach effectively. It gets lots of walks, lots of strike outs and the most out of the times they do put the ball in play.

    They’re striking out INSTEAD of, not as well as, making other kinds of outs. I’m very much ok with that… and am starting to see very clearly it’s the correct strategy if you play in an environment where it’s tough to pile up runs, or if most of the value of your team is held up in run prevention.

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