You’ll hear a lot about strikeout rates stabilizing sometime in April, anywhere from about 60 plate appearances to 110 depending on who you trust and who you reference. It makes sense we talk about this, of course, what with the small sample size police on patrol across Fangraphs. From a fantasy perspective, we try to be patient, but there’s nothing worse than holding a turd any longer than you really have to. Because, well, gross.
Nobody wants to be patient to a fault, waiting through June for a player to finally pull their 7 3/4 out of their backside. And if there’s a cry in fantasy circles right now, it’s the strikeout rate. Strikeouts typically lend themselves to poor overall contact rates and then begets poor run production and that begets crappy fantasy production. There are of course exceptions to this, and those are some of the “special players” whom you can find in this list.
In 2013, there were 28 qualified players who posted a strikeout rate at or above 25% in March and April. Only eight of them surpassed a .500 slugging percentage, and it includes Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, J.P. Arencibia, Nick Hundley, and Josh Willingham who got off to very swift starts. But most of these players had disappointing early returns, regardless of the expectations. Below compares their strikeout rate the rest of the season, along with their concomitant change in wOBA.
|Name||K% April||K% finish||K% change||wOBA||wOBA fin||wOBA change|
|Alejandro De Aza||29.80%||21.80%||-8.00%||0.296||0.32||0.024|
26 of the 28 players saw their strikeout rate improve throughout the year, and really only B.J. Upton got markedly worse. Poor B.J. Upton. In a couple of cases, their strikeout rate dropped significantly after a brutal start. 19 of the 26 players who saw their strikeout rate drop also saw gains in their wOBA. Of those who saw theirs drop, it’s mostly the players who got off to uncharacteristic hot starts such as the aforementioned Upton, Hundley, Arencibia, Braun.
So what am I driving at with this non-scientific, no causal smoking gun list of hackers? Well, I’d use this as a caution to see what passes the smell test when looking at your 2014 roster. Right now, Starling Marte is striking out at a 34% rate. He’s hitting .250 despite a .400 BABIP. But raise your hand if you think he’ll finish at 34%. We have over 800 plate appearances from Marte in which he’s demonstrated he’s closer to 26%. Could he finish at 35%? Sure. Is it likely? I’d say probably not.
Currently, there are 40 qualified players with a strikeout rate over 25%. Some of them are fantasy relevant, some of them are not. Some of them are likely to continue at their current clip, while others not so much. For your perusal, a selection of that group with their April 2014 K% and their career K%:
|Name||Team||April K%||Career K%|
|Colby Rasmus||Blue Jays||33%||24%|
|Adam Dunn||White Sox||30%||28%|
|Mike Napoli||Red Sox||29%||27%|
|Jackie Bradley Jr||Red Sox||29%||29%|
So are Chris Carter, Adam Dunn, Giancarlo Stanton, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Mike Napoli likely to stay at their current rates? I’d guess so. But guys like Marte, Desmond, Venable, Young, Byrd, Cabrera, others — they ought to mellow out. The question marks are the youngsters who don’t have as much of a track record — that’s where I might get nervous about a Gyorko or Miller or Almonte.
Keeping a level head in baseball over the first month of the season is a hard thing to do. Regardless if the aggregate data suggests that certain statistics stabilize over X number of plate appearances, it doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing that it applies to your guy, just be sure that you’re using logic instead of false hope.
Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.