Statistics Are Stabilizing: Hitter Strikeout Rate

Reversing the strikeout trend
Reversing the strikeout trend

It’s pretty difficult to write the type of posts that I prefer to write this time of year. There’s only so many analysis-heavy posts that one can write while saying “this probably isn’t real because the sample size is too small.”

Statistics stabilize (meaning that what we’re seeing is more “true talent” than “random variance”) at different rates. This week, we crossed one of the first thresholds. Hitter strikeout rate takes about 60 plate appearances to stabilize. As of now, most of the healthy regulars are across that boundary (with the exception of Kemp, Crawford, and Turner). This is the first semblance of something real to look at, even if it’s only mildly predictive of a hitter’s final season total.

One thing that’s important to note before looking at individual players is that strikeout rate is up league-wide. Strikeout rate has been increasing steadily for years, but so far this season the average non-pitcher rate has taken a big jump. Last season, the league-wide strikeout rate was 19.3%. So far this season, it’s 20.3%. As Vin Scully said during last night’s broadcast, “today we have guys who strike out during the National Anthem.” A small uptick in a player’s strikeout rate would go along with this trend and wouldn’t be of much concern, but a large increase is still something to worry about.

Juan Uribe

Year PA K%
Career 5729 18.0%
2013 426 19.0%
2014 74 23.0%

Uribe has always been a free swinger, but this year he’s seen a 4% increase in strikeout rate. If his 1.3% walk rate (which needs another 46 plate appearances to stabilize) doesn’t rebound, he could be in trouble once his .415 BABIP regresses.

Dee Gordon

Year PA K%
Career 731 16.3%
2013 106 19.8%
2014 62 14.5%

Dee has seen the biggest reduction from last year of all of the Dodger regulars. With his skill set, it’s even more important that he puts the ball into play. A significant amount of this reduction is due to the fact that Gordon is being platooned. His career strikeout rates show the effect; he’s struck out 19.2% of the time against lefties and 15.1% of the time against right-handed pitchers. I’m still skeptical of his offense going forward, but the first “real” data that we have to look at is very positive.

Hanley Ramirez

Year PA K%
Career 4835 16.6%
2013 336 15.5%
2014 75 17.3%

Hanley’s strikeout rate is up by 1.8%, but the magnitude of the increase is similar to the increase that’s occurring around baseball. There isn’t much to be concerned about here.

Adrian Gonzalez

Year PA K%
Career 5750 17.5%
2013 641 15.3%
2014 79 24.1%

Gonzalez’ strikeout rate has increased significantly this season, though as long as he keeps a 157 wRC+ to go along with it there’s not a lot to worry about. Mike covered Adrian’s changing swing characteristics here. This is definitely something to keep an eye on, but so far current success outweighs the strikeout rate increase by itself.

Yasiel Puig

Year PA K%
2013 432 22.5%
2014 61 21.3%

So far this season, Puig’s overall offense has been pretty uninspiring. However, the only statistic that has enough plate appearances to be stable, strikeout rate, is showing positive things. A rate moving downwards while the league average has moved in the opposite direction is impressive. More impressive is his spike in walk rate, though he’s only halfway to the stabilization threshold there.

Andre Ethier

Year PA K%
Career 4598 17.1%
2013 426 19.0%
2014 62 22.6%

Ethier’s offense has been a complete mess this season (only a 69 wRC+ even after his home run yesterday). His strikeout rate jumping by that magnitude is concerning, especially since he’s getting more favorable platoon match-ups.

While some players are showing a nice rebound in strikeout rate, as a team the Dodgers’ rate is 4.7% higher than last year, an increase even sharper than the baseball-wide jump. Right now, they have the third highest non-pitcher strikeout rate behind the Astros and the Mets. It’s early enough in the season that there’s a chance it could rebound, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as the season moves forward.

About Daniel Brim

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Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.