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Will strikeouts derail Atlanta Braves World Series ambitions?

Will strikeouts derail Atlanta Braves World Series ambitions?

by Pete Dymeck | Posted on Friday, April 5th, 2013
| 813 baseball fanatics read this article
Atlanta Braves batter B.J. Upton talks to an umpire after striking out.

Atlanta Braves fans can expect many strikeout debates between B.J. Upton and the umpires this season.

If the Atlanta Braves do anything this season, they will perfect the art of striking out. With a batting order consisting of B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco, the Braves will continue to have a problem swinging and missing.

As Alex Remington of Frangraphs acknowledges, a high strikeout rate will not necessarily deter a team from making the playoffs, but the road to the postseason is more difficult. In February, I pondered as to whether or not the Braves could be better than the Washington Nationals despite a projected high strikeout percentage. I think it’s time to revisit that question, while also considering historical team strikeout percentages among contenders.

In February, I showed that the Atlanta Braves projected lineup is expected to strike out 20.3 percent of the time in 2013. In the first three games of the ’13 season, the Braves have struck out 34 times. In terms of strikeout percentage, that is a rate of 36 percent. As bad as that looks, it’s still not as bad as the Houston Astros (46 percent through three games). Then again, we are talking about the World Series contending Atlanta Braves, not the bottom-feeding Houston Astros.

On a micro level, B.J. Upton’s seven whiffs in 11 at-bat’s is disheartening. He has yet to reach base in 2013.

Anyhow, Fangraph’s writer Remington points out that 50 teams have had a 20 percent or higher strikeout rate since 1998. Prior to ’98, only one team had reached that mark. Therefore, let’s begin with the strikeout rate’s of the National League East division winners since 1998.

Year NL East Champion W-L Record Strikeout Percentage
1998 Atlanta Braves 106-56 17.1
1999 Atlanta Braves 103-59 15.1
2000 Atlanta Braves 95-67 16.1
2001 Atlanta Braves 88-74 16.8
2002 Atlanta Braves 101-59 16.5
2003 Atlanta Braves 101-61 14.6
2004 Atlanta Braves 96-66 18.3
2005 Atlanta Braves 90-72 17.5
2006 New York Mets 97-65 17.0
2007 Philadelphia Phillies 89-73 18.4
2008 Philadelphia Phillies 92-70 17.8
2009 Philadelphia Phillies 93-69 18.2
2010 Philadelphia Phillies 97-65 16.9
2011 Philadelphia Phillies 102-60 16.3
2012 Washington Nationals 98-64 21.3

 

From 1998 through 2011, only three NL East division champions eclipse the 18.0 percent strikeout rate. In 2012, the Nationals bombarded the rate to the tune of 21.3 percent. Is the 2012 Nationals strikeout rate an outlier or is it setting precedent for a possible Atlanta Braves division crown in 2013?

For baseball, this sample size is relatively miniscule as compared to the other statistics we can count on. While we do know the Nationals whiffed 21.3 percent of the time in 2012, two other playoffs teams whiffed at the same rate or higher. The Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles maintained a strikeout percentage rate of 22.4 and 21.3 percent, respectively.

The 2012 Nationals, Athletics and Orioles have something else in common. All three teams failed to win their league’s pennant. Since we are discussing the ’13 Braves, let’s take a look at the NL pennant winners since 2008 and their strikeout percentages.

Year NL Champion W-L Record Strikeout Percentage
1998 San Diego Padres 98-64 17.2
1999 Atlanta Braves 103-59 15.1
2000 New York Mets 94-68 16.4
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks 92-70 16.5
2002 San Francisco Giants 95-66 15.3
2003 Florida Marlins 91-71 15.8
2004 St. Louis Cardinals 105-57 17.2
2005 Houston Astros 89-73 16.9
2006 St. Louis Cardinals 83-78 14.8
2007 Colorado Rockies 90-73 17.7
2008 Philadelphia Phillies 92-70 17.8
2009 Philadelphia Phillies 93-69 18.2
2010 San Francisco Giants 92-70 17.9
2011 St. Louis Cardinals 90-72 15.7
2012 San Francisco Giants 94-68 17.7

 

Since 1998, only one NL champion — the 2009 Phillies — had a strikeout rate greater than 18 percent. While one has to acknowledge the enhanced role the strikeout has played in baseball since 1998, it is important to note that as the cream rises to the top, the strikeout percentages wane.

If the Atlanta Braves were to win the NL pennant and finish 2013 with a strikeout rate greater than 20 percent, they would be the first to do so in NL history. Considering that, let’s take a look at the team strikeout percentages of the World Series winners since 1998.

Year World Series champion W-L Record Strikeout Percentage
1998 New York Yankees 114-48 15.9
1999 New York Yankees 98-64 15.2
2000 New York Yankees 87-74 16.0
2001 Arizona Diamondbacks 92-70 16.5
2002 Anaheim Angels 99-63 12.7
2003 Florida Marlins 91-71 15.8
2004 Boston Red Sox 98-64 18.3
2005 Chicago White Sox 99-63 16.3
2006 St. Louis Cardinals 83-78 14.8
2007 Boston Red Sox 96-66 16.2
2008 Philadelphia Phillies 92-70 17.8
2009 New York Yankees 103-59 15.7
2010 San Francisco Giants 92-70 17.9
2011 St. Louis Cardinals 90-72 15.7
2012 San Francisco Giants 94-68 17.7

 

Among the World Series winners since 1998, the 20 percent strikeout rate is not touched. The highest strikeout rate among this group is 18.3 percent from the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Other than that, it appears that Atlanta would make MLB history if they were to win the ’13 World Series with a team strikeout rate of 20 percent or more.

Accepting the notion the Braves will likely finish with a team strikeout rate of 20.0 percent or higher is far from asinine. However, predicting the Braves miss the playoffs on account of this one measure is asinine. Last season, half of all MLB clubs had a team strikeout rate of 20.0 percent or greater. Five of those clubs made it to the postseason.

Therefore, a high team strikeout rate is not unprecedented. What is unprecedented is a team with a strikeout rate of 20.0 percent or more winning the World Series, let alone winning their league’s pennant.

On the contrary, baseball may be evolving towards teams finding success despite a high team strikeout percentage. With 15 clubs striking out at least 20 percent of the time in 2012, an MLB record was achieved. Never before had such a high number of teams struck out at such a high rate.

The outcome of this suggests that a team which strikes out more than one in five at-bat’s will struggle to win. While winning is possible, no team has swung and missed at such a rate and found themselves in the World Series, let alone winning it. Until it happens, teams like the 2013 Braves will be on my ‘avoid’ list when I proceed in picking league and World Series champions. Until proven otherwise, it is a mark that needs to be avoided.

Post By Pete Dymeck (22 Posts)

Pete Dymeck is a fan of the game, first and foremost. He likes mangoes and peanut butter. Needless to say, he has been catfished a time or two. Other than that, follow him on Twitter @PeteDymeck.

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