The Three Buckets of Striking Out

Striking out is tough. The term is commonly used in everyday life, “striking out”, and it doesn’t refer to something going your way. Some hitters fear the strikeout, some accept it, and others can’t tell you because they’ve never done it. In the past three full seasons (2021-2023) there have only been 16 hitters who accumulated at least 30 plate appearances in each season and struck out less than 10% of the time. David Fletcher accomplished this feat in all three seasons while Willians Astudillo, Luis Arraez, and Nick Madrigal each did it twice.

On the other side of the spectrum, 19 hitters struck out more than 44% in the same time period and under the same qualifier of 30 plate appearances. So which player does it better? Well, it depends on what it is. In this article, I’ll create buckets of players based on their strikeout rates and compare their fantasy statistics.

Let’s start with the buckets. To make the groups larger I backed off the extremes somewhat and created deciles based on K% for all hitters with at least 30 plate appearances in any season including 2021-2023 (excluding pitchers). I chose to compare players in the bottom two and top two deciles with everyone else:

  • Low: K% < 17% (278 players)
  • High: K% > 31% (309 players)
  • Everyone else: 31% <= K% <= 17% (1156 players)

The goal of this analysis is to determine just how different these two strikeout bucketed groups are from the majority of the pack. Let’s start with a simple comparison of value. Using the auction calculator’s year-to-date setting for each year (2021-2023), I looked at the spread of each bucket’s standard roto-value:


K% Box Plots

The outliers in the “High” group are the players that make fantasy baseball fun. They strike out at incredibly high rates, yet they add real value to fantasy teams. Here are the top five earners in this dataset within the “High” group:

High Value, High K%
Name Season K% Dollars
Tyler O’Neill 2021 31.3% $26.43
J.D. Martinez 2023 31.1% $15.26
Adam Duvall 2021 31.4% $14.85
Mike Zunino 2021 35.2% $11.19
James Outman 2023 31.9% $10.55

From this sample, it appears that the average value of the “Low” group is best, but is that simply because they are more likely to get on base? Here’s a breakdown of how much individual category value these groups produce on average:

Bucket Average Value by Category
K%_bucket mAVG mRBI mR mSB mHR
Everyone else -$2.26 -$10.13 -$10.66 -$2.27 -$6.45
High -$2.94 -$14.69 -$15.47 -$2.99 -$8.41
Low $0.08 -$8.78 -$8.19 -$1.64 -$6.73
FanGraphs Auction Calculator

This value assessment in both the box plots and the table above is skewed by players who you would never want to roster in the first place. There are plenty of hitters who enter the “High” strikeout group because they stuck around for more than 30 plate appearances in a season, but never got their footing to accumulate positive value. Typically, this includes young players, like 2023 Jordan Lawlar, who get their cup of coffee in the big leagues but prove to not be ready. So, in order to make better sense of these numbers, I’ve isolated the dataset to players who returned positive total dollar value and recreated the table from above:

Bucket Average Value by Category: Positive Value Players
K%_bucket mAVG mRBI mR mSB mHR
Everyone else -$0.61 $0.14 -$0.16 -$0.38 $0.50
High -$4.81 -$0.84 -$3.45 -$1.58 $2.20
Low $2.20 -$0.44 $0.97 $0.22 -$1.80
FanGraphs Auction Calculator

In this case, we see most of the value held by players in the “Low” strikeout rate bucket, but we see some shifting in RBI value and HR value. Lastly, how does this apply to the 2024 season? The bar chart below shows 2024 positive year-to-date category value by strikeout bucket:


Positive Value Distribution by Strikeout Category Bar Chart

So far this season, rostering quality players in the low-strikeout group has brought more value than quality players in the high-strikeout group. What can we take from this? High strikeout rate hitters are adding value in home run categories, but you’re more likely to accumulate value with players who avoid the strikeout. When assessing players, it’s important to balance surges of success with how often they are striking out. To finish, here are the most valuable players in each category by total value so far in 2024:

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