NL East: Strikeout Central

Posted on July 09, 2014 by Ben Bruno

Photo Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

The National League East is full of guys who strike out...a lot. According to FanGraphs, currently, seven of the top-10 hitters for most total strikeouts this season are from the NL East (among qualified hitters). B.J. Upton leads the way with 110 K's, but just a few days ago Ian Desmond was atop this list (he's now 4th with 108). Check out the chart below for the rest of the top-10.

So since hitters from the NL East are dominating the strikeout list, does this mean that NL East pitchers are primarily the reason why? A quick glance at the list of pitchers with the most strikeouts would prove otherwise. Currently, Stephen Strasburg is the only NL East pitcher in the top-15 for most strikeouts and is third overall with 140 (again, among qualified pitchers). There are only three other NL East pitchers that are even in the top-30, Julio Teheran at 17th with 110, A.J. Burnett at 24th with 102, and Cole Hamels at 28th with 101. There aren't many NL East pitchers in the next thirty spots either, with only five more rounding out the top-60 (Zach Wheeler-33rd, Jordan Zimmermann-35th, Aaron Harang-43rd, Ervin Santana-49th, Tom Koehler-58th). So again, at a quick glance, it looks the the hitters from the NL East comprising the majority of the top-10 for most strikeouts happens to be a coincidence. Ok, so it's a quirky stat, but does striking out a lot automatically equate to also being a bad hitter?

In the case of strikeout leader B.J. Upton, the answer is yes, but in general striking out a lot has no relevance as to how "good" of a hitter a player is, and more importantly, how many runs said player contributes to his team. Using FanGraphs' Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA), which "measures the number of offensive runs a player contributes to their team compared to the average player," six of the top-10 players with the most strikeouts currently have at least an above-average wRAA. I chose to use wRAA over FanGraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), because wRAA doesn't take defense into its equation, while fWAR does. I wanted a stat that only measures a players' offensive abilities. Below is a list of the strikeouts leaders (in order of most to least K's), with their corresponding wRAA. Note that league average for wRAA is zero and above average is ten. 

  1. B.J. Upton: -10.0
  2. George Springer: 10.4
  3. Ryan Howard: -2.2
  4. Ian Desmond: 0.4
  5. Marlon Byrd: 9.8
  6. Giancarlo Stanton: 28.7
  7. Justin Upton: 16.0
  8. Adam Dunn: 9.9
  9. Chris Davis: -0.1
  10. Marcell Ozuna: 9.1

As you can see, the numbers vary, but again, six of the ten players have an above average wRAA, with only B.J. Upton, Ryan Howard, Ian Desmond, and Chris Davis being league average or below. For reference, Stanton's 28.7 wRAA is 5th best in baseball and B.J. Upton's -10.0 is 7th worst. While it just so happens that the current league leader in strikeouts also happens to be one of baseball's worst offensive players, one of baseball's best offensive players in Stanton is just ten strikeouts behind. Ok, confession time. Strikeouts not correlating to success offensively is nothing new, but I was curious to see if it stood true for the ten players above and it does. 

Bringing this back to Desmond (since this is a Nats' blog), his contributions offensively this season (using wRAA) are basically replacement level, and that's including leading the team in home runs and runs batted in. So while strikeouts can't be blamed for Desmond's low wRAA, they point to a larger overall problem at the plate. Desmond's line of .240/.291/.420 are all below his career averages (.269/.314/.430), and well below his combined average over the past two seasons (.286/.333/.482), where we saw him emerge as an elite hitter at the shortstop position. Sure, as a hitter you don't want to be close to leading the league in strikeouts, but with Desmond, that's not his only issue at the plate and hopefully in the second half he is able to turn things around.

As always, feel free to comment below or reach out on Twitter (@BenBBruno).

If you play fantasy baseball and are interested in some weekly advice, check out my page here. I have a new post every Sunday morning and this page will be updated as soon as the new post is uploaded. 

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