Will strikeouts derail Atlanta Braves World Series ambitions?


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.
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.

YearNL East ChampionW-L RecordStrikeout Percentage
1998Atlanta Braves106-5617.1
1999Atlanta Braves103-5915.1
2000Atlanta Braves95-6716.1
2001Atlanta Braves88-7416.8
2002Atlanta Braves101-5916.5
2003Atlanta Braves101-6114.6
2004Atlanta Braves96-6618.3
2005Atlanta Braves90-7217.5
2006New York Mets97-6517.0
2007Philadelphia Phillies89-7318.4
2008Philadelphia Phillies92-7017.8
2009Philadelphia Phillies93-6918.2
2010Philadelphia Phillies97-6516.9
2011Philadelphia Phillies102-6016.3
2012Washington Nationals98-6421.3

 

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.

YearNL ChampionW-L RecordStrikeout Percentage
1998San Diego Padres98-6417.2
1999Atlanta Braves103-5915.1
2000New York Mets94-6816.4
2001Arizona Diamondbacks92-7016.5
2002San Francisco Giants95-6615.3
2003Florida Marlins91-7115.8
2004St. Louis Cardinals105-5717.2
2005Houston Astros89-7316.9
2006St. Louis Cardinals83-7814.8
2007Colorado Rockies90-7317.7
2008Philadelphia Phillies92-7017.8
2009Philadelphia Phillies93-6918.2
2010San Francisco Giants92-7017.9
2011St. Louis Cardinals90-7215.7
2012San Francisco Giants94-6817.7

 

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.

YearWorld Series championW-L RecordStrikeout Percentage
1998New York Yankees114-4815.9
1999New York Yankees98-6415.2
2000New York Yankees87-7416.0
2001Arizona Diamondbacks92-7016.5
2002Anaheim Angels99-6312.7
2003Florida Marlins91-7115.8
2004Boston Red Sox98-6418.3
2005Chicago White Sox99-6316.3
2006St. Louis Cardinals83-7814.8
2007Boston Red Sox96-6616.2
2008Philadelphia Phillies92-7017.8
2009New York Yankees103-5915.7
2010San Francisco Giants92-7017.9
2011St. Louis Cardinals90-7215.7
2012San Francisco Giants94-6817.7

 

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.

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  1. Fact is … the strikeout rate of a team after 3 games is pretty inconsequential. You left out so many other very important variables .. that nobody should really take you as a serious source of information btw.

    The stikeout has become a much more common phenomenon in recent years. Going back to 1998 .. when any supposed “expert” or even well informed person in this area WOULD REALIZE that it’s becoming part of the game in a bigger way. Continue to use old data and old logic to justify outdated ways of thinking but … in the end when you’ve got 20 home run potential from 2-8 and everyone from 1-8 could easily have a .340+ OBP and a couple could approach .400 … a strikeout is just another out. ONE out .. as opposed to ground ball double plays and such.

  2. I’ll tell you what: that rate definitely makes me nervous, I’m not going to lie. But your point that maybe the evolution of the game may allow for more strikeouts is worth pondering. Could the “age of the pitcher” have something to do with higher strikeout rates that don’t necessarily coincide with win totals? Halladay and Hamels combined for 24 strikeouts, but gave up a combined 10 ER. I don’t know the answer here, but I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed!

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