Seattle Mariners and Strikeout Rate: Sabermetrics Saturday


Sep 10, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners center fielder

Abraham Almonte

(36) and first baseman

Justin Smoak

(17) high five after Almonte scores a run against the Houston Astros off a RBI single hit by right fielder

Franklin Gutierrez

(not pictured) during the 6th inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another new series at Sodo Mojo, loosely and quickly, but still very cleverly titled, Sabermetrics Saturday. If you have read anything from me in the past, you likely know that I am a very statistically-minded person. I often incorporate analytics of some sort into my writing, because I feel it gives us the best picture of what is going on. 

So to best utilize my talents — if you call an obsession that really isn’t all that advanced when compared to other writers around the blogosphere “talent” — I am going to dedicate a post each week to a certain stat or stats, and relate them to the Mariners. The format could change, but I will likely outline a few players on the team that stand out in either the happy or sad way, talking about how their numbers relate to the league, their own past performance, or whatever I see as fitting on a case by case basis. 

I feel these posts will provide readers more understanding of advanced baseball statistics, and likely do the same for me. I know that some of you are already sabermetric-minded, but some are also more traditional. While I clearly stand on one side of the fence, both have their own merit, and my goal is not to start a debate, or say “I’m right, you’re wrong.” I simply want to inform, and hopefully continue to build a larger, and more well-rounded readership here. 

It’s April 19th. I tell you this for two reasons.

1) You may not have known the date, in which case, you’re welcome.
2) It means we are less than three weeks into the baseball season, and stats at this point are filled with only the noisiest of noise. What I mean is, regression toward the mean is due in almost every case, and the sample is just far too small to draw any conclusions.

However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still fun to look at the numbers, and for someone like me, equally as difficult to not look at them. It just means we have to do so with the knowledge that what we are seeing is far from stable, and will probably  certainly change by a large margin as the year wears on.

But, that is precisely why I have chosen K%, or strikeout rate, for the first edition of SS. According to research done by people I can only aspire to be as smart as, K% beings to stabilize at 60 plate appearances. Begins to stabilize, not has stabilized, so the caveat of small sample danger is still there, just maybe not to the same level as something like BABIP (which I am sure I will touch on in this series) which takes over 800 balls in play to stabilize.

For those unfamiliar, K% is just strikeouts over plate appearances, allowing us to get a more fair and contextual look at how often a player strikes out. Check out how Fangraphs characterizes different K-rates:

[table id=10 /]

These are just estimates and subject to variation year to year, but they are still good, quick rules of thumb to follow. 10% is extremely low, over 25% is extremely high, and somewhere around 18% is pretty average. Let’s see where the Mariners stand to this point:

[table id=11 /]

The eight players shown above are the Mariner hitters with over 50 plate appearances on the year, and keeping in mind the sample size, there is a definite possibility that a strikeout problem will arise. The team as a whole is striking out 22.3% of the time, which Fangraphs would say is somewhere between below average and poor.

Abraham Almonte sticks out like a sore thumb that just can’t seem to make contact with his current 33.8% clip. That is certainly not what you want to see from a guy who’s role is to get on base and set up run-scoring opportunities at the start of the game. He only really leads off once obviously, but he is getting an extra plate appearance per game because of that, and striking out in over a third of them. Ouch.

The reasons for the high strikeout totals is pretty easy to identify. He is currently watching 46.1% of strikes go by, while the league watches just 35% of them. Patience is a good thing, especially at the top of the order. But there is a difference between patience and passivity, but it seems that difference is something Almonte doesn’t quite understand.

This is worsened by the fact that pitchers are going right after Almonte with a 52% zone rate. Over half of pitches thrown to Abe are for strikes, but he is barely swinging at half of those. He is essentially making it so only a quarter of pitches he sees have the potential to become hits. That is a problem.

You then have guys like Mike Zunino and Brad Miller who are also striking out over 25% of the time. While that kind of rate isn’t ideal for them either, they both still have things to show for their aggressiveness.

I would love for Miller to figure out his contact problems and over-swinging, because he was a 10%+ walk and 18% or less strikeout guy in the minors, and that is why I advocated for him as the leadoff hitter entering the year. He shouldn’t be a hacker, and hopefully that whole mess is fixed. But Brad still has a .174 ISO, and has been better of late, both more than what Almonte can say.

Zunino is a guy who may always be a hacker, but can probably make it work. You never want a guy to go up there swinging at junk, but he could end up being a player who doesn’t hit for a ton of average, but absolutely punishes mistakes. He has still managed to slug .540 with a 128 wRC+, so even in the early stages of his development, he is managing to be productive with a strikeout problem in tow.

That being said, he should improve as he gets more mature and develops more of a plan at the plate. But if he has the benefit of being a 6 hitter or lower in the future, it may not be a bad thing for Zunino to go up there are be aggressive if that’s what will bring him the most success.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Robinson Cano and Dustin Ackley, with 11.3% and 12.1% K-rates respectively. Both have demonstrated the ability to lay off pitches out of the zone (36.4% and 23.5% O-Swing) which has greatly reduced the amount of swings and misses (7.7% and 6.4% Swinging Strike rate) which obviously contribute to strikeouts. They are sure to regress, but both should maintain low K-rates for the year.

Around the league, the players with the highest and lowest K-rates are as follows:

Chris Carter, Astros, 41.7%
Mark Reynolds, Brewers, 36%
Abraham Almonte (ugh), Mariners, 33.8%

Andrelton Simmons, Braves, 1.8% (holy hell)
Dioner Navarro, Blue Jays,  3.1 %
Victor Martinez, Tigers, 3.9%

Clearly, given enough time, all of those extremes will regress. But the names, for the most part, make sense being toward either end of the spectrum. Carter and Reynolds have always been big whiffers (35.1% and 32.4% career K%), Simmons only K’d 8.4% of the time last year, and Navarro and Martinez have maintained low rates throughout their years (13.4% and 10.8%). Unfortunately, it seems likely that Almonte will remain on the high end of this particular metric.

I want to again remind of the volatility of numbers this early in the year, and warn everyone to keep that in mind when looking at any stat this early in the year, or in any small sample. Here is a great resource that gives estimates for when different stats begin to stabilize, courtesy of Fangraphs, where all of the data in this post came from.  Feel free to leave suggestions for next week’s stat either here, or at our Twitter or Facebook pages.