Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Better Metric for Strikeouts

Even with sports analytics impacting baseball more every season, opportunities still exist to upgrade some mainstream statistics.

High strikeout totals grab media and fan attention, despite research showing that strikeouts are only slightly less damaging to offensive production than other outs. Nonetheless, since they get perceived as a negative, we should at least evaluate them in the proper context.

Ryan Howard (54), David Wright (50), Adam Dunn (50) and Prince Fielder (48) rank third through sixth in NL strikeouts (through May 27). But their strikeout rates – the percentage of plate appearances that end in a strikeout – rank much better. Howard drops from third in total strikeouts to fifth in strikeout rate. Wright falls from fourth to ninth, and Dunn goes from a tie for fourth with Wright to 10th. Fielder falls all the way from sixth to 13th. All these players get lots of plate appearances, which makes them look worse at making contact than is actually the case.

Strikeout rate also makes a great stat for showing which players shine at making contact. Miguel Tejada leads the NL with a 5.6 percent strikeout rate. Carlos Lee (7.9) and Albert Pujols (7.9) place fifth and sixth. By the way, this measure is superior to the more commonly used at-bats per strikeouts, which penalizes hitters who draw more walks than other players.

Strikeout rate also works as a better tool for evaluating pitchers than the more commonly used strikeouts per nine innings. For example, Zack Greinke (9.7) and Joba Chamberlain (9.1) have comparable strikeouts per nine innings figures. But Greinke (28.6) owns a far superior strikeout rate than Chamberlain (22.8). Why? Chamberlain has faced more batters per inning because he has allowed hits and walks more often than Greinke. This gives him more chances to log strikeouts each inning. But why should Greinke’s pitching effectiveness hurt him in this statistical category? If strikeout rate gets used, this isn’t a problem.

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