So Tom tells me people are concerned about how much the Cubs are striking out and that I should write about it.
FINE, I’LL DO IT ^_^
This is following up the Jesse Rogers interview with Theo Epstein in which Rogers, like some in the media, have over-concenred themselves with the strikeout potential this team possesses now and in the future. Also, by the way, strikeouts don’t actually impede OBP in and of themselves.
Before we really get going, we need to ask whether the Cubs actually are striking out a lot. The numbers tell us the answer and that answer is: yes, they are! In fact, they have struck out in nearly 1 out of every 4 plate appearances (24.1% K-rate). That’s more strikeouts than literally any other team in the league!
Question number B: is this a problem? Apparently the answer to this question is “Not always,” if you ask Theo Epstein. According to him, strikeouts are okay, as long as your hitters are knocking enough doubles and homers to justify the whiffs.
Let’s step back for a minute and evaluate the theory of that statement. If the Cubs struck out in, say, 50 percent of their plate appearances, would there be a situation where that would be okay?
Well, what if the rest of the time they hit doubles and homers? That’s an extreme example, of course, but it shows that strikeouts are not the be-all, end-all of offensive output. I’m basically restating Theo’s argument using more words, but it’s worth thinking through.
Now let’s go back to the offensive numbers for 2014. The Cubs struck out the most. Does that make them the worst offense?
The simple answer is no. The worst offense in the league is in San Diego, according to Fangraphs. They’ve struck out in fewer plate appearances than the Cubs (21.9%), but they have much less power as well (.115 ISO).
The Cubs offense is actually ranked 24th in MLB based on offensive runs. Despite striking out more than the Padres, Reds, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Braves, and Red Sox, the Cubs still managed better offensive output than each of those teams.
So, okay, 24th place is better than 30th I guess, but we want a championship here. And the argument Theo offers is: you can strike out AS MUCH AS YOU WANT, as long as you hit for enough power.
So are there any high-powered offenses that strike out a lot? The answer is, kinda but not really. The Twins and Orioles each have teamwide K-rates of about 21%, which puts them in the top 11 among MLB teams. And those offenses are 6th and 8th in the league in terms of total overall output.
Let’s look in the other direction: do teams that don’t strike out much automatically have better offenses? That’s not necessarily true either. Of the 7 teams that have struck out in fewer than 19% of their plate appearances — Tigers, Blue Jays, Athletics, Rays, Cardinals, Yankees — you have the league’s 2nd, 5th, 9th, 10th, 15th, 16th, and 22nd best offenses. So that’s several good offenses, but some middling-to-bad ones too.
To drive the point home: the Blue Jays and Yankees have identical K-rates (18.6%), but vastly different offensive production (-58 runs vs. +68 runs).
Of course, when we only talk about strikeouts and power, we’re leaving out a very important aspect of offense, which is getting on base. But if we’re wondering aloud whether strikeouts will hold this Cub offense back permanently, the answer is absolutely not.