Don’t Sweat the Strikeouts

George Springer has a lot of strikeouts this year, but that is as advertised. Springer struck out about 30 percent of the time in Double-A and 25 percent of the time in Triple-A over the last few seasons. He may never hit appreciably better than the .231 he is hitting this season, but with 20 home runs in less than half a season of plate appearances and a history of stolen bases in the minors that his five big-league steals do not live up to, fantasy owners will gladly make the tradeoff.

It turns out that Springer is not the only one. Teammate Jon Singleton got the call midseason in part because he was able to cut his strikeout rate from over 30 percent in 2013 to about 22 percent this season in the minors, but he has struck out in more than a third of his major league plate appearances. More recently, call-ups Javier Baez and Zach Walters have injected lineups with a combined 16 home runs in 240 plate appearances, but they have struck out 41 (!) and 35 percent of the time, respectively.

I usually am pretty terrified of high strikeout rates, even if they are accompanied by walk rates over 10 percent as they are with both Springer and Singleton. It isn’t because of the lower batting averages in roto formats, either. To me, it is an indication of bust potential. Former Baseball America No. 3 overall prospect Brandon Wood exemplifies my fears on that front.

I also recognize that strikeouts are up across baseball, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so stressed by the inflated totals of some of the major power prospects. When you compare the strikeout rate of rookie hitters and all hitters from 2002 to 2014, you can see that the increase in strikeouts for rookies has run parallel to the increase in strikeouts for all batters. Rookies strike out more often than veterans, but that gap has not widened over the last decade or so.

Rookie Strikeout Rates

Strikeout rates over 30 percent are still clearly on the high side, even for rookies, but even though those rates are unprecedented, they are not far removed from several successful rookies since 2002. Mark Reynolds struck out 31 percent of the time as a rookie, and he has 20 or more home runs in seven consecutive seasons. Pedro Alvarez struck out 31 percent of the time as a rookie, and he hit 30-plus homers the previous two seasons. Giancarlo Stanton struck out 31 percent of the time as a rookie, and he may be the best hitter on the planet. And Stanton has even reined in his strikeout rate in the subsequent seasons. His 27 percent this season would be a career low.

Highest Rookie K%, 2002-2014, Min. 300 PA
Name Season PA K%
Jon Singleton 2014 312 34.9%
George Springer 2014 345 33.0%
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 2012 314 31.2%
Mark Reynolds 2007 414 31.2%
Giancarlo Stanton 2010 396 31.1%
Oswaldo Arcia 2013 378 31.0%
Ian Stewart 2008 304 30.9%
Pedro Alvarez 2010 386 30.8%

I’m not sure the strikeouts will ever go away for Springer and Baez, and maybe not even for Singleton, but I think the reasonable course of action is to draft them anyway next season. The former two will provide plenty of counting stats to counterbalance a low batting average, and Singleton walks enough to add a decent runs total to his solid home run and RBI numbers.

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Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt

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On top of strikeouts being up league wide, BA is way down. Five years ago, a .250 hitter was a major drag on your team BA.
Adam Dunn was such a polarizing player because of the low BA. In his prime he was generally ranked as a top 25 OF/top 50-75 hitter. Now we have Nelson Cruz putting up a Dunn-like season and he is currently the 20th rank hitter according to ESPN player rater.