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June 16, 2010
Between The Numbers
The Diamondbacks may be buried in the NL West basement, but they can’t hold their middle-of-the-pack offense responsible. Arizona’s .262 team TAv ranks eighth in the NL; its .178 ISO leads the circuit, and its 9.9% walk rate trails only Atlanta’s. All that’s holding the D-backs back in the offense department is a 22.2% hit rate, which ranks thirteenth in the league. This isn’t a BABIP issue: the Diamondbacks rank fourth in the league in that category. Rather, the Snakes have simply been swinging and missing at a historic pace. Querying our database (which extends to 1954) for its team strikeout rate leaders gives me the following results:
The Diamondbacks have been punched out in nearly a quarter of their plate appearances, which would easily qualify as the highest rate in our records if sustained over a full season. I chose to include the top eleven teams on the list not as an homage to Kevin Goldstein, but because the eleventh-ranked team was last year’s model of the Diamondbacks, which also led the majors in strikeouts. The 2008 squad, ranked tenth on the list above, was spared that indignity only by the strikeout-happy Marlins of the same season, who rank third. Clearly, prodigious strikeout totals are nothing new for the Snakes. However, even after adjusting for the slight league-wide increases in strikeout rate since the last two times the Diamondbacks cracked this list, it’s evident that this year’s model has taken its whiffing to a higher plane.
You won’t have to cast your memory far to call up the names and faces associated with any of the teams on that list, as I discovered after suffering a series of vivid Jose Hernandez flashbacks. As Jay Jaffe noted yesterday, we’re living in a strikeout-saturated era, so it’s not surprising that these teams would all hail from the last decade. One would have to scan all the way down to the twenty-fifth entry on the list to be taken beyond the late 1990s, and even then, only to be whisked directly to the Year of the Pitcher (the 1968 Mets).
If we want to assess how the Diamondback’s strikeout rate truly stacks up historically, we need to account for the significant league-wide changes over time. Repeating the query above, but this time calling for the ratio of team strikeout rate to league strikeout rate, returns the following leaders:
By this method, the Diamondbacks no longer top the list, but they aren’t far from it, made all the more notable by the fact that they play in a home park that inflates run-scoring and depresses strikeouts.
So who are the main culprits? Mark Reynolds, the man who set the single-season strikeout record last season with 223, is up to his old tricks, failing to make contact at an even more elevated rate. His 33.8% strikeout rate leads the majors, but this isn’t a one-man show; it’s more of a dynamic duo, with the subordinate role played by Justin Upton, who ranks second among all qualifiers. Upton appeared to have conquered his strikeout tendencies last season, but they’ve returned with a vengeance in 2010. Did I say dynamic duo? I think I may have meant “Legion of Doom,” since this is truly a team effort. The bronze medal goes to Adam LaRoche, whose strikeout rate places twelfth overall; both Chris Young and Kelly Johnson earn honorable mentions. Among D-backs with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, only Conor Jackson has struck out at a significantly below-league-average rate.
Of course, we should expect all extreme observations to regress to the mean, and the Diamondbacks’ strikeout pace is no exception. It’s likely that their K rate won't finish the season where it is now, but if they want to avoid a record-breaking performance, they have a lot of contact to make.