Longevity and K%
Frustrated with myself for taking a chance on Jedd Gyorko and his high K% and monster SwStr% from last season, I have pondered whether or not this was a bad pick or just bad luck. Of course Gyorko’s .192 BABIP is playing some role in his struggles and that is largely unlucky, but how much is that bad strikeout rate to blame? Quantitatively, I cannot say to what degree the strikeout rate is to blame, but we can look at recent data to determine how players with high strikeout rates produce in the long term.Taking a look at the offensive leaders in offensive runs above replacement since 2008, it is clear that a high K% and longevity as a hitter don’t mix. Since 2008, the average strikeout rate in the majors has been 18.9%. Only 10 of the top 35 players in offensive runs above replacement since 2008 had a strikeout rate over league average and only three players had a K% over 21%, Jayson Werth, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp. The average strikeout rate of these top 35 players was 17.1%. As you might have imagined, nearly all of the players on this list have been fantasy monsters for the past few seasons. That isn’t a revelation. And, the fact that striking out is a bad thing, is probably not a revelation either. The fact that very few of the most consistent, productive players of the past seven years have maintained high strikeout rates should at least be instructive.
Clearly a high strikeout rate is merely a risk and not an indictment, as Chris Davis proved last season, but lets take a look at the 2014 performances of some of 2013’s worst contact hitters. Among the players ranked in the top 20 in this category, I think it is safe to categorize the following players as disappointments: Chris Carter (hitting .192 and not getting everyday at bats), Chris Davis (hitting .238 with 9 HR), Starling Marte (hitting .234 and not playing regularly right now), Jay Bruce (hitting .208 with 4 HR), Dan Uggla (hitting .169 with 2 HR, and not playing regularly), Alfonso Soriano (hitting .229 with 6 HR), Chase Headley (hitting .199 with 5 HR), Jedd Gyorko (hitting .162 with 5 HR) and Evan Longoria (hitting .272 with 7 HR). That is 9 out of 21 players (because two players were tied at 20) that are having very disappointing seasons. We can also eliminate players like Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo and Josh Hamilton from our sample due to injuries.
Among the remaining 9 players, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, Marlon Byrd and Yoenis Cespedes have all been relatively average for what you would expect out of them. Justin Upton, with his .378 BABIP is having a solid, not spectacular season. That leaves two remaining players, Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Moss and Carlos Gomez. Stanton has cut his strikeout rate by nearly 3%, Carlos Gomez has a BABIP of .382, but would still be having a huge year with normal luck on balls in play. Finally, Brandon Moss has shaved over 6% off of his 2013 strikeout rate. Stanton and Gomez are largely the same hitters they were last season and they are having really big years, but Brandon Moss is not the same hitter right now, at least in terms of strikeout rate.
To summarize this list, we have 9 players who have been disappointing, 3 who have been injured, 6 who have been simply average and 3 who are having huge years, one of which is not the same hitter right now as he was last year. We could probably safely remove Moss from our sample, but this is not necessary to illustrate the point about K%.
So what does this all mean? Well, it might not mean a whole lot, but it does illustrate the risk of players with high strikeout rates, both from season-to-season and over the long term. That means it might be time to look to sell players like George Springer (32.7% strikeout rate), Justin Upton (30.4%), Jose Abreu (28.1%), and maybe even Mike Trout (26.1%), Gomez or Stanton. I am not suggesting that you sell low and I am not suggesting that I think these players will underwhelm us the rest of the way or in subsequent seasons, but there is more risk in players that don’t make contact. Perhaps I will be more vigilant about strikeout issues in the future when building teams both in the short term and the long.