There’s really two reasons for this. First, if you’ve managed to hang around in the Majors for any length of time with terrifically high strikeout numbers, you’re probably pretty good at two other important skills: getting on base and hitting for power. But second, strikeouts just aren’t that much worse than any other kind of out. Sure, they’re less likely to move a runner over successfully, but they also don’t ever end in double-plays.
It’s a tradeoff that basically makes them just another out. Slightly more depressing, sure, but not really any worse.
Still don’t believe me? Here are the top eight players in strikeouts since the beginning of 2006, along with their OPS numbers:
The worst player on that list is Mark Reynolds, who has an OPS of .817 over this five year span. The Indians have exactly two players with an OPS higher than that right now: Travis Hafner (.979) and Asdrubal Cabrera (.841).
So, in general, striking out really isn’t all that big a deal to me. Mostly because striking out doesn’t really mean all that much in and of itself.
Which makes for an odd introduction to a piece in which I’m going to lament Grady Sizemore’s strikeout numbers. Well, sorta. Bear with me here.
We’ll start by looking at the two versions of Grady. Let’s ignore his partial rookie season, and say that Grady v1.0 played the four years from 2005-2008, and Grady v2.0 played from 2009 through 2011. Here are the numbers:
Obviously, Grady’s injury plays a role here, and might still be playing a role. But still, look at the shift in those numbers. Grady has struck out more often in his second incarnation and walked less AND hit for less power.
That’s not a good combination. Usually, we’re willing to tolerate high strikeouts because we believe that there will be an OPS bump. Sizemore, on the other hand, is striking out more than he used to (which was a lot) while doing worse in both of the skills that OPS measures. Hmmm.
One more thing I like to look at—when I see trends like these taking shape—is a player’s plate-discipline stats. Here are Grady’s for the last seven years.
That’s a lot of data and acronyms, but just look at the trends. The first column shows how many balls out of the strikezone he swings at. It’s gone up considerably in the last two years. The next column tells you how often he makes contact when he swings at balls out of the strikezone. That’s down 10% from his great 2007 season; he’s missing more often than he used to. The next tells you how often he makes contact with pitches in the strikezone. It’s not good for that to be below 80% for a major league hitter.
All these columns lead inexorably to the last three. Grady is making less contact now than at any time in his career, and he’s trending downward. He also sees fewer good pitches than ever before, which makes a good deal of sense: if you know he’s going to swing, why throw strikes? The last column drives the whole point home: nearly 14% of the pitches Grady sees now, he swings and misses at. That’s just gross.
I still think Grady has a chance to turn all this around, mostly because I think (hope?) he’s still hurt. But we’re approaching a fairly significant off-season decision for the front office. Grady has a $9 million club option for next year, and if his poor approach at the plate continues for too much longer, it could get interesting. What was once a fait accompli now looks to be seriously up for debate. Will they pick up his option if he’s still struggling like this? I would assume that they would, if only because he’s still a pretty good/great defensive center fielder (yes, still better than Brantley, despite the arm).
But what was once one of the most team-friendly options in baseball now looks to be a potential noose. What say you?
Photo: Associated Press