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If you were on baseball Twitter Sunday, you saw the uproar new commissioner Rob Manfred caused by throwing out the possibility of perhaps thinking about maybe banning the shift to increase offense. Yeah, it doesn’t take much to get baseball Twitter angry. But it did lead to strong discussions about other possible causes of baseball’s scoring problem (and boring problem), such as the enlarged strike zone.

This prompted Jeff Passan to tweet the following:

Just in general, this is an interesting topic. I’m not sure I agree that the proliferation of strikeouts is the biggest reason for the downturn in scoring. Sure, as strikeouts have risen, scoring has dropped, but we all know that correlation does not equal causation. And if you look at individual teams just from last year, there is zero correlation between total strikeouts and runs scored. I think strikeouts are definitely an issue, and I believe they’re part of the current scoring drought baseball is in, and it’s definitely a topic that deserves more than a tweet and then a paragraph from me dissecting said tweet.

Either way, the tweet made me think one thing: “I’m guessing that Passan wasn’t talking to Jeff Luhnow.” The Astros are going to be a pretty fascinating case study on whether accumulating high-strikeout, big-power bats is a sound strategy for fixing a terrible offense.

Well, that doesn’t sound like any fun, Mr. Ensberg. I want home runs and strikeouts! So for now, let’s assume that Ensberg is wrong and that PECOTA is right. If so, the Astros have a chance to put together a unique offense. After some recent rough summers, the Astros organization already holds a couple strikeout records, but this year could be different. For the first time under the Luhnow regime, there is some optimism heading into the season, so a team that continues to rack up the Ks, while actually putting up Ws—putting the belief that the strikeout is just another out into action—would certainly garner some interest. Along the way, the club should break some of its own records.

Team Strikeouts
According to PECOTA, the Astros are projected to strike out out 1,443 times as a team. That’s well short of the record 1,535 the Astros posted in 2013, which is slightly upsetting and makes me think that they need to find more playing time for Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana, who are each slated for fewer than 300 plate appearances but strikeout rates north of 30 percent. Of course, my goal is to see crazy records set and the Astros’ is to win games, but who’s to say which one is more admirable? Okay, fine, it’s winning. Probably.

While the Astros wouldn’t set the record for most Ks in a season—and, of course, PECOTA virtually never projects a record; records are usually set by unexpected outliers—they’d be just the seventh team to pass the 1,400 threshold and fall fourth on the all-time list.

Team

Year

Strikeouts

Houston Astros

2013

1535

Arizona Diamondbacks

2010

1529

Chicago Cubs

2014

1477

Houston Astros

2014

1442

Minnesota Twins

2013

1430

Miami Marlins

2014

1419

Those 2010 Diamondbacks, featuring the high-whiffing duo of Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche (more on them later), were not only the first to rack up over 1,500 strikeouts, but also the first to go over 1,400. (The 2001 Milwaukee Brewers did get as close as it gets, finishing the season at 1,399. Thanks, Jose Hernandez!)

Of the teams in the above table, only the 2010 Diamondbacks managed to be above league average in runs per game.

Trio of Thunder
While the Astros collection of swing-and-miss-happy hitters may seem odd at first blush, it’s pretty clear what they’re trying to do. They want to hit a lot of home runs in an era where not many players are hitting home runs—last year was the first since 1989 without at least a pair of 40-homer hitters, and the only player who did reach that mark (Nelson Cruz) hit it right on the nose. Houston appears to want to zig against that trend, and it has gathered the right group of talent to do so. According to PECOTA, the Astros are projected to have two of the 10 30-plus home run hitters in baseball (Chris Carter and Evan Gattis) and a third projected to hit 29 (George Springer). That would give them three players in the top 11 in home runs in an era in which power is getting scarcer by the season.

Since 1969, only three teams have placed three players in the top 11 in home runs:

Team

Year

Players (Home Runs)

Atlanta Braves

1973

Davey Johnson (43), Darrell Evans (41), Hank Aaron (40)

Detroit Tigers

1992

Cecil Fielder (35), Mickey Tettleton (32), Rob Deer (32)

Colorado Rockies

1997

Larry Walker (49), Andres Galarraga (41), Vinny Castilla (40)

Each of those teams led their respective leagues in runs per game, with the 1973 Braves and 1992 Tigers leading all of baseball in scoring. The ’92 Tigers led the AL in strikeouts (the ’73 Braves finished sixth in the NL and the ’97 Rockies 11th) and still managed to be a very strong offensive club due in large part to their power-hitting ways. When it comes to offense, this is a team the 2015 Astros could realistically emulate.

Collecting Ks and the Dynamic (Whiffing) Duo
The 2014 Astros, 2012 Baltimore Orioles, and 2013 Cleveland Indians each had seven players with 100 or more strikeouts. It’ll be tough for Houston to match (or pass) them for sustained swing-and-miss up and down the lineout. PECOTA projects the 2015 team to have six players pass that mark (Carter, Springer, Gattis, Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, and Jake Marisnick). But if Jason Castro and Jon Singleton garner more plate appearances than PECOTA and our depth charts believe (without taking away significantly from the other six), the Astros could place eight on the 100-plus K list, setting another record.

But that seems like a tough sell; there just aren’t enough plate appearances to go around, probably. However, Carter and Springer do appear headed to become a rather rare strikeout duo. The two Astros are projected to combine for 385 strikeouts, which would barely edge out Reynolds and LaRoche, who combined for 383 with the 2010 Diamondbacks, for most combined strikeouts by a pair of teammates.

Individually, Springer is projected for 195 and Carter 190, which would make them the first teammates to reach the 190 mark in the history of the game. In fact, there have only been 16 190-plus strikeout seasons ever, accomplished by eight different players (Carter, Reynolds, Adam Dunn, Chris Davis, Curtis Granderson, Drew Stubbs, Jack Cust, and Ryan Howard). The only organization to ever have two players pass the 190 mark is the Reds (Dunn and Stubbs).

Interestingly enough, in 12 of those 16 seasons the player had at least 30 home runs, and another two of the hitters had at least 28. The only two with sub-.700 OPS seasons were last year’s version of Howard (who is likely deserving of reduced playing time) and 2011 Stubbs. That year, Stubbs’ swing-and-miss really hurt him, but he still provided value by being a great defender in center, stealing 40 bases (at an 80 percent clip), and drawing a decent 9.3 percent walk rate, justifying (to an extent) his playing time. But in general, if you’re going to strike out a lot, you better hit for a ton of power or make way for somebody else in the lineup.

And that’s likely to be the theme of the Astros’ offense in 2015, strikeouts and home runs. What they’re doing isn’t unheard of and has seen some success in the past. In fact, PECOTA sees them becoming one of those success stories (at least in terms of offense); while they’re projected to far and away lead all of baseball in strikeouts, they project to finish fourth in baseball in runs scored. PECOTA sees Luhnow and the Astros’ strategy as a clear success, which may come as a surprise to some. Whether it works out in reality is yet to be determined.

Special thanks to Harry Pavlidis, Rob McQuown, and Baseball-Reference's Play Index for help researching this piece.