Thursday, May 16, 2013

Strikeouts per game highest in history in 2012, on track to go higher in 2013-Kepner

5/15/13, "Climbing Number of Strikeouts Reflects a Quest for Power," NY Times, Tyler Kepner

"Strikeouts are rising again in Major League Baseball. Last season, major league teams struck out 7.46 times per game, the highest for any year in history. This season, through roughly a quarter of the schedule, the rate has nudged even higher, to 7.63 strikeouts per game through Tuesday. 

The Houston Astros became the season’s first team at any level to reach 400 strikeouts when Carlos Pena fanned to end Tuesday’s loss in Detroit. Pena, who struck out 182 times last season, often bats beside Chris Carter, who leads the majors in strikeouts this season, with 60. 

Yet Carter also leads the Astros in home runs and runs batted in. He is part of an offense that was designed with full knowledge — and acceptance — of its tendency to strike out. 

“Our own internal projections had us striking out more than any other team in baseball, so we knew that going in,” General Manager Jeff Luhnow said last month. “Obviously, you don’t want to give away outs, but that’s part of the cost of trying to access power.” 

With some exceptions — Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols — home runs and strikeouts have almost always gone together. Fifteen members of the 500-homer club rank among the top 50 in career strikeouts. The top five players on the strikeout list — Reggie Jackson, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, Adam Dunn and Alex Rodriguez — have averaged 569 homers in their careers.

More and more, front-office officials and managers seem resigned to the link....

Strikeouts are not only a byproduct of swinging for the fences. The Astros, who are leaning heavily on analytics as they undergo a painful overhaul, emphasize working the count to tire out opposing pitchers. The results have not shown up for Houston, but teams with better talent can do more damage with favorable counts. 

“You want guys to get in hitters’ counts so they can drive the ball,” Daniels said. “But the flip side is that from a hitter’s standpoint, just by definition, you’re going to see guys taking more pitches, and sometimes they’re going to get in two-strike counts and strike out more.” 

The Rangers (26-14) have been especially adept at making contact. They had 243 strikeouts, the fewest in the majors, and averaged just 6.23 strikeouts per game. 

This continues a trend for the Rangers, who have managed to cut their strikeouts while other teams’ totals have soared. Texas has been 27th, 30th and tied for 24th among major league teams in strikeouts over the last three seasons, reaching the playoffs each time. 

This season, the Rangers’ offensive approach has not made them especially fearsome. Through Tuesday, they ranked only 12th in the majors in runs per game, just a spot above the Mets. Daniels said pitching and infield defense had been the most important factors in the team’s strong start, and he pointed out that in 2008, striking out a lot did not keep the Rangers from scoring. 

That year the Rangers went 79-83 but led the majors in runs while finishing eighth in strikeouts. All three players who struck out more than 100 times for that team — Josh Hamilton, Milton Bradley and Michael Young — are gone. But for all their empty at-bats that season, those players also produced."...

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