Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

How OK is Striking Out?

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In the last post, I hypothesized that an increase in strikeouts makes it easier for pitchers to record perfect games and no-hitters.  While that might be true, it does not necessarily mean that hitters are faring worse than they used to; it simply means that there are more feast-or-famine days for major league teams. Using data from 1955 up through the current season, I looked at what hitters are doing while at the plate to determine if they are using their plate appearances as efficiently as they can.

In order to do this, I simply looked at how many runs are scored per game and how many strikeouts are recorded per game (shown in the first chart below).  The number of runs per game jumped sharply in the early 1990s, just as strikeouts were increasing.  Between 1992 and 1993, strikeouts jumped 6.6% per nine innings as runs scored increased by 7.0% per nine innings.  Obviously, hitters were doing more productive things in their non-strikeout at-bats.

I then looked at the weighted on-base average (wOBA) of the league from 1955 to 2010.  I’ve talked about wOBA before, but to clarify, wOBA averages the run value of each positive action achieved by a hitter; the resulting number is scaled to on-base percentage to make it easier to understand.  Therefore, an average hitter has a wOBA near 0.335, a great hitter is 0.400 or higher, and a poor hitter would be under 0.300, just like OBP.

The following chart tracks the league-average wOBA and the strikeout rate of the league for the last 55 years:

During the late 1960s (when the rules had been changed to favor pitchers), strikeouts went up and wOBA went down; when the rules were readjusted to even the playing field, hitters were back to their pre-dead ball era numbers and strikeouts decreased.  Beginning in the mid-1980s and continuing through the mid-1990s, strikeouts went up significantly as did the league’s wOBA.  This wOBA graph mirrors the runs scored graph, as it should, since wOBA attempts to place run values on each action assigned to a hitter.  Until this season (which, as I said in the previous post, is the most offensively-challenged season since 1992), the wOBA and average number of runs scored stayed fairly constant even as strikeouts continued to increase.

The formula for wOBA is as follows: wOBA = (0.72 * NIBB + 0.75 * HBP + 0.90 * 1B + 0.92 * RBOE + 1.24 * 2B + 1.56 * 3B + 1.95 * HR) / PA, where NIBB is non-intentional bases on balls, RBOE is the number of times reached base on error, and PA is plate appearances.  So the variables shown are the numbers needed to determine if what hitters are doing something that is counteracting the strikeouts.  Here’s a nasty looking chart if you want to see the numbers for yourself.

Year R/G 1B 2B 3B HR SO HBP NIBB wOBA
1955 4.48 6.26 1.32 0.28 0.90 4.38 0.21 3.37 0.327
1956 4.45 6.17 1.35 0.29 0.93 4.64 0.19 3.31 0.326
1957 4.31 6.32 1.37 0.27 0.89 4.84 0.21 3.01 0.319
1958 4.28 6.20 1.37 0.27 0.91 4.95 0.20 3.02 0.320
1959 4.38 6.19 1.40 0.24 0.91 5.09 0.20 3.02 0.319
1960 4.31 6.15 1.39 0.27 0.86 5.18 0.20 3.10 0.319
1961 4.53 6.16 1.39 0.26 0.95 5.23 0.20 3.20 0.324
1962 4.46 6.28 1.33 0.26 0.93 5.42 0.22 3.12 0.322
1963 3.95 6.00 1.27 0.24 0.84 5.80 0.22 2.67 0.304
1964 4.04 6.12 1.31 0.23 0.85 5.91 0.21 2.65 0.307
1965 3.99 5.94 1.29 0.24 0.83 5.94 0.22 2.74 0.305
1966 3.99 6.04 1.28 0.25 0.85 5.82 0.21 2.55 0.303
1967 3.77 5.96 1.26 0.24 0.71 5.99 0.23 2.58 0.299
1968 3.42 5.90 1.19 0.21 0.61 5.89 0.24 2.44 0.292
1969 4.07 6.11 1.24 0.22 0.80 5.77 0.23 3.08 0.313
1970 4.34 6.16 1.35 0.24 0.88 5.75 0.21 3.15 0.319
1971 3.89 6.18 1.27 0.21 0.74 5.41 0.21 2.87 0.310
1972 3.69 6.06 1.25 0.20 0.68 5.57 0.20 2.78 0.304
1973 4.21 6.41 1.34 0.20 0.80 5.24 0.19 3.02 0.319
1974 4.12 6.49 1.34 0.22 0.68 5.01 0.20 2.98 0.318
1975 4.21 6.41 1.41 0.23 0.70 4.98 0.20 3.11 0.321
1976 3.99 6.48 1.35 0.25 0.58 4.83 0.18 2.90 0.315
1977 4.47 6.36 1.53 0.28 0.87 5.16 0.19 2.96 0.324
1978 4.10 6.27 1.47 0.24 0.70 4.77 0.18 2.91 0.318
1979 4.46 6.43 1.53 0.25 0.82 4.77 0.18 2.91 0.324
1980 4.29 6.56 1.51 0.26 0.73 4.80 0.16 2.79 0.320
1981 4.00 6.35 1.43 0.24 0.64 4.75 0.17 2.86 0.314
1982 4.30 6.40 1.50 0.23 0.80 5.04 0.16 2.85 0.318
1983 4.31 6.33 1.53 0.24 0.78 5.15 0.17 2.87 0.319
1984 4.26 6.40 1.48 0.23 0.77 5.34 0.16 2.86 0.317
1985 4.33 6.12 1.53 0.23 0.86 5.34 0.17 2.97 0.318
1986 4.41 6.11 1.55 0.20 0.91 5.87 0.19 3.07 0.320
1987 4.72 6.12 1.61 0.21 1.06 5.96 0.20 3.11 0.326
1988 4.14 6.15 1.52 0.20 0.76 5.56 0.22 2.76 0.312
1989 4.13 6.18 1.50 0.21 0.73 5.61 0.19 2.87 0.313
1990 4.26 6.20 1.55 0.21 0.79 5.67 0.20 2.96 0.319
1991 4.31 6.14 1.54 0.21 0.80 5.80 0.22 3.03 0.318
1992 4.12 6.20 1.56 0.20 0.72 5.59 0.23 2.94 0.317
1993 4.60 6.31 1.64 0.21 0.89 5.80 0.26 3.00 0.327
1994 4.92 6.25 1.79 0.22 1.03 6.18 0.27 3.16 0.333
1995 4.85 6.24 1.72 0.20 1.01 6.30 0.30 3.26 0.333
1996 5.04 6.29 1.76 0.19 1.09 6.46 0.31 3.25 0.335
1997 4.77 6.17 1.77 0.19 1.02 6.61 0.32 3.20 0.332
1998 4.79 6.13 1.80 0.18 1.04 6.56 0.33 3.16 0.331
1999 5.08 6.20 1.80 0.19 1.14 6.41 0.33 3.45 0.341
2000 5.14 6.11 1.83 0.20 1.17 6.45 0.32 3.50 0.341
2001 4.78 5.91 1.81 0.19 1.12 6.67 0.39 2.97 0.327
2002 4.62 5.90 1.79 0.19 1.04 6.47 0.36 3.05 0.326
2003 4.73 5.99 1.82 0.19 1.07 6.34 0.38 3.00 0.328
2004 4.81 6.03 1.84 0.18 1.12 6.55 0.38 3.06 0.330
2005 4.59 6.02 1.82 0.18 1.03 6.30 0.37 2.88 0.326
2006 4.86 6.09 1.88 0.20 1.11 6.52 0.37 2.97 0.332
2007 4.8 6.15 1.89 0.19 1.02 6.62 0.36 3.04 0.331
2008 4.65 6.02 1.86 0.18 1.00 6.77 0.34 3.09 0.328
2009 4.61 5.92 1.80 0.20 1.04 6.91 0.33 3.18 0.329
2010 4.46 5.93 1.79 0.18 0.94 6.93 0.32 3.08 0.325

The first thing I notice is that singles are at an all-time (since 1955) low, supporting the theory that hitters are sacrificing contact in order to drive the ball.  Also at an all-time low are triples, though that number has been fairly stable since 1986 and might have more to do with today’s ballparks (I’m a big believer that triples are usually hard hit balls that hit a wall funny or are misplayed; obviously there are stadiums with huge outfields and big alleys for triples, but they are the exception).  Hitters are certainly walking more than they did in the 1960s and 1970s, but it’s seen a significant decrease since the turn of the century (3.50 walks per nine innings in 2000 to 2.97 walks per nine innings in 2001).  The number of hit batters is up, probably because today’s hitter stands on top of the plate with no fear, some thanks to the body armor they are allowed to wear to the plate.  The largest increases have been in home runs and doubles, the latter of which has seen a nearly 50% increase in the last 40 years.

Looking back at the run values for each event, a typical double produces 0.3 more runs than a single and a home run produces a full run more than a single.  Strikeouts have gone up, but so have walks (slightly) and hit batters (nearly double in some seasons).  The total number of hits has increased slightly, but the extra value in extra base hits more than makes up for the strikeouts.

This exercise showed us basically what we expected; hitters hit the ball less often, but make up for hit by reaching base more on balls not in play (walks, HBP, and home runs).  The increase in extra base hits provides more than enough value to make up for the decrease in singles and the overall decrease in balls in play.  So even if a hitter strikes out 40+ percent of the time he goes to the plate, he still can be an above average hitter.

955 4.48 6.26 1.32 0.28 0.90 4.38 0.21 3.37 0.327
1956 4.45 6.17 1.35 0.29 0.93 4.64 0.19 3.31 0.326
1957 4.31 6.32 1.37 0.27 0.89 4.84 0.21 3.01 0.319
1958 4.28 6.20 1.37 0.27 0.91 4.95 0.20 3.02 0.32
1959 4.38 6.19 1.40 0.24 0.91 5.09 0.20 3.02 0.319
1960 4.31 6.15 1.39 0.27 0.86 5.18 0.20 3.10 0.319
1961 4.53 6.16 1.39 0.26 0.95 5.23 0.20 3.20 0.324
1962 4.46 6.28 1.33 0.26 0.93 5.42 0.22 3.12 0.322
1963 3.95 6.00 1.27 0.24 0.84 5.8 0.22 2.67 0.304
1964 4.04 6.12 1.31 0.23 0.85 5.91 0.21 2.65 0.307
1965 3.99 5.94 1.29 0.24 0.83 5.94 0.22 2.74 0.305
1966 3.99 6.04 1.28 0.25 0.85 5.82 0.21 2.55 0.303
1967 3.77 5.96 1.26 0.24 0.71 5.99 0.23 2.58 0.299
1968 3.42 5.90 1.19 0.21 0.61 5.89 0.24 2.44 0.292
1969 4.07 6.11 1.24 0.22 0.80 5.77 0.23 3.08 0.313
1970 4.34 6.16 1.35 0.24 0.88 5.75 0.21 3.15 0.319
1971 3.89 6.18 1.27 0.21 0.74 5.41 0.21 2.87 0.31
1972 3.69 6.06 1.25 0.20 0.68 5.57 0.20 2.78 0.304
1973 4.21 6.41 1.34 0.20 0.80 5.24 0.19 3.02 0.319
1974 4.12 6.49 1.34 0.22 0.68 5.01 0.20 2.98 0.318
1975 4.21 6.41 1.41 0.23 0.70 4.98 0.20 3.11 0.321
1976 3.99 6.48 1.35 0.25 0.58 4.83 0.18 2.90 0.315
1977 4.47 6.36 1.53 0.28 0.87 5.16 0.19 2.96 0.324
1978 4.1 6.27 1.47 0.24 0.70 4.77 0.18 2.91 0.318
1979 4.46 6.43 1.53 0.25 0.82 4.77 0.18 2.91 0.324
1980 4.29 6.56 1.51 0.26 0.73 4.8 0.16 2.79 0.32
1981 4 6.35 1.43 0.24 0.64 4.75 0.17 2.86 0.314
1982 4.3 6.40 1.50 0.23 0.80 5.04 0.16 2.85 0.318
1983 4.31 6.33 1.53 0.24 0.78 5.15 0.17 2.87 0.319
1984 4.26 6.40 1.48 0.23 0.77 5.34 0.16 2.86 0.317
1985 4.33 6.12 1.53 0.23 0.86 5.34 0.17 2.97 0.318
1986 4.41 6.11 1.55 0.20 0.91 5.87 0.19 3.07 0.32
1987 4.72 6.12 1.61 0.21 1.06 5.96 0.20 3.11 0.326
1988 4.14 6.15 1.52 0.20 0.76 5.56 0.22 2.76 0.312
1989 4.13 6.18 1.50 0.21 0.73 5.61 0.19 2.87 0.313
1990 4.26 6.20 1.55 0.21 0.79 5.67 0.20 2.96 0.319
1991 4.31 6.14 1.54 0.21 0.80 5.8 0.22 3.03 0.318
1992 4.12 6.20 1.56 0.20 0.72 5.59 0.23 2.94 0.317
1993 4.6 6.31 1.64 0.21 0.89 5.8 0.26 3.00 0.327
1994 4.92 6.25 1.79 0.22 1.03 6.18 0.27 3.16 0.333
1995 4.85 6.24 1.72 0.20 1.01 6.3 0.30 3.26 0.333
1996 5.04 6.29 1.76 0.19 1.09 6.46 0.31 3.25 0.335
1997 4.77 6.17 1.77 0.19 1.02 6.61 0.32 3.20 0.332
1998 4.79 6.13 1.80 0.18 1.04 6.56 0.33 3.16 0.331
1999 5.08 6.20 1.80 0.19 1.14 6.41 0.33 3.45 0.341
2000 5.14 6.11 1.83 0.20 1.17 6.45 0.32 3.50 0.341
2001 4.78 5.91 1.81 0.19 1.12 6.67 0.39 2.97 0.327
2002 4.62 5.90 1.79 0.19 1.04 6.47 0.36 3.05 0.326
2003 4.73 5.99 1.82 0.19 1.07 6.34 0.38 3.00 0.328
2004 4.81 6.03 1.84 0.18 1.12 6.55 0.38 3.06 0.33
2005 4.59 6.02 1.82 0.18 1.03 6.3 0.37 2.88 0.326
2006 4.86 6.09 1.88 0.20 1.11 6.52 0.37 2.97 0.332
2007 4.8 6.15 1.89 0.19 1.02 6.62 0.36 3.04 0.331
2008 4.65 6.02 1.86 0.18 1.00 6.77 0.34 3.09 0.328
2009 4.61 5.92 1.80 0.20 1.04 6.91 0.33 3.18 0.329
2010 4.46 5.93 1.79 0.18 0.94 6.93 0.32 3.08 0.325
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Written by Dan Hennessey

July 20, 2010 at 10:27 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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