Supposedly ladies love the long ball. But strikeouts are fascist. So it’s hard to figure out who’s happy and who’s not when it comes to the “strikeout or home run” state of the game today. Look at how crazy it’s gotten, thanks to Doug Niblock’s excellent work at High Heat Stats:
Strikeouts are at an all time high and home runs are just barely down from their peak. It’s a three-true-out-come frenzy. This graph in particular — as you can see from the arrows — might suggest that strikeouts will plateau soon, whether because of a rule change or new strategy within the game.
But it might also mean some things for the fantasy game. For one, strikeouts are slightly devalued on the pitching end. Or: you have to try even harder to dominate in that category.
Think of a good strikeout rate for a starter. You might be used to the strikeouts per nine configuration, so you’re like, eh, seven per nine is fine for a starter.
That was league average.. in 2009. Now the average is up to 7.7 this year. And fantasy leagues don’t deal with average players for the most part. The fantasy replacement level is high: In a league with nine pitcher slots and twelve teams, we figured replacement level was around 100. The top 100 pitchers last year (by fWAR) had a 7.84 K/9. If you want to keep your staff above water, you have to target eight strikeouts per nine.
Here’s an incomplete list of qualified starters that would have cost you strikeouts per nine last season: Anibal Sanchez, Mike Minor, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, Trevor Cahill, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jered Weaver. Maybe you knew that they cost you a bit, maybe you didn’t. The point is that we have to make sure to recalculate.
But Doug’s excellent piece continues, and he focuses a bit more on offense. He has a great leaderboard of home run hitters sorted by strikeout-to-homerun-ratio. It’s sobering. His list of players with a minimum 200 career HRs and a career SO/HR ratio below 2.0 has one (1) active player on it. You have to push that needle to three strikeouts per home run to finally get actives on the list, and still that one player figures prominently.
What we can learn from Albert Pujols is how rare it is today to have a power hitter that can make contact consistently. This is important because strikeouts are negatively correlated with batting average — the batting average on a strikeout is zero. That might have something to do with this graph:
Batting average is almost at it’s lowest since the free agency era began. Only twice was it lower, in the late eighties.
As we did with the opposite power leaderboards, let’s try to find some high-powered high-batting-average players just with a simple search. Here are the top 20 2012 qualified hitters that hit more than ten home runs, sorted by Doug’s SO/HR metric:
You might be surprised to find a low average slugger like Mark Teixeira on this list, but we know from our oppo power list that Teixeira is a pull-power guy that is oft-shifted — that might have a lot to do with his low batting average on balls in play, and therefore his low batting average. For the most part, though, there are some good batting averages along side power on this list.
Other than the obvious stars, this list does provide a feather in the cap of some mid-tier guys. Billy Butler’s skill set looks a little more interesting now. Aaron Hill, though he hits tons of fly balls and risks bad BABIP years, at least puts a lot of balls in play to help even out that luck. Adam Jones doesn’t have great plate discipline, but this is a peak into why his batting average is usually good. Ditto Alex Rios, really. Edwin Encarnacion actually doesn’t strike out that much! Maybe he’ll get that batting average up this year.
Just outside of the top 20 are some other interesting names — Josh Willingham, Allen Craig, Yoenis Cespedes in particular. But they’re already over four strikeout per home run, and in the context of league history, that’s not particularly impressive ratio.
One on hand, this is obviously already a highly-valued skill set. We all love power. But on the other hand, we may have come to expect strikeouts with that power, and this list shows us we don’t always have to one with the other.
Even today, when there are more strikeouts and more home runs than ever.