Chris Davis of the Orioles leads all hitters with 206 whiffs—becoming the fifth player to surpass 200 strikeouts in a season. Cubs’ rookie standout Kris Bryant ranks behind Davis by going down on strikes 195 times—a record for first year players.
“Strikeouts are outs to me,” Bryant said. “It’s where the game is going. More people are striking out. That’s OK. It’s part of my game. I know I’m going to strike out a lot, but it doesn’t bother me one bit.”
For Bryant, strikeouts may come easier to accept, knowing he is going to have a lot of production that comes with his strikeout frequency. Through Sept. 30, he has accumulated 31 doubles, 26 homers, 99 RBI, .279 batting average, .369 on-base percentage and a .495 slugging mark.
“His strikeouts don’t worry me,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “There are more power pitchers in the game. Hard throwers, guys who are in the 96 (mph) and up velocity range with a lot of movement. The game has changed with specialty pitching and hitters often see a couple or several fresh arms every game. A hitter may face three different pitchers in a game and that makes it difficult. Hitters are often at a disadvantage, so today you see a higher frequency rate of batters striking out.”
Bryant is a special talent who won’t allow his strikeouts to affect his play. At 24, he will only get better and with continued experience, his strikeouts will decrease.
But for players with high strikeout totals and questionable offensive production, playing time becomes an issue. Chris Carter, Houston’s slugging first baseman/DH has 24 homers and 62 RBI to his credit, but hitting at a .196 clip with 146 strikeouts in 126 games, the frequency in which he fails to put the ball in play often kills rallies and limits scoring chances for his club. In 2015, Carter is hitting .233 with runners in scoring position—belting six home runs and fanning 34 times in 91 at-bats. With runners on base, his totals are .240 BA, 10 homers and 56 strikeouts in 151 at-bats.
Strikeouts do matter when it limits a team’s ability to advance runners and put runs across the plate.
The first batter to strikeout 100 times in a season, since 1901, was Harry Lumley of the Dodgers in 1904 when he fanned 106 times. From 1901 through 1950, the 100-strikeout barrier by a batter was reached only 33 times by 23 different players with Vince DiMaggio and Dolf Camilli each reaching the mark four times.
From 1951 through 1970, the 100-K level was reached 248 times by 106 players with Mickey Mantle leading the way with eight 100-strikeout seasons during that span.
The century strikeout mark continued to escalate during the years 1971 through 1990 with the feat being matched 511 times. From 1991 through 2010 it was reached 1,269 times and over the last five campaigns (2011-2015) the total number is at 517.
A remarkable find is the fact that among the 93 players with 350 or more career home runs, only 23 never fanned 100 times in a season—these players, with their single-season high marks in parentheses, include: Hank Aaron (97), Babe Ruth (93), Albert Pujols (93), Ted Williams (64), Mel Ott (69), Gary Sheffield (83), Lou Gehrig (84), Stan Musial (46), Chipper Jones (99), Carl Yastrzemski (96), Vladimir Guerrero (95), Cal Ripken (97), Mike Piazza (93), Billy Williams (84), Al Kaline (75), Graig Nettles (94), Carlton Fisk (99), Rocky Colavito (89), Gil Hodges (99), Joe DiMaggio (39), Johnny Mize (57), Yogi Berra (38) and Carlos Lee (94).
Today the game has changed and the strikeout is much more common than in years during the dead ball era, before expansion or the increase of specialty pitching, specialty pitches and the inclusion of players from all over the world joining the major league talent pool.
But the strikeout is still a hindrance to a club’s offensive game plan—it has no benefit. Give me a hitter who can put the ball in play at a high frequency rate with good power and the ability to hit for average, and you have a most valuable run producer.
Bryant’s production in 2015 was an important piece in helping the Cubs reach postseason contention and will earn him the N.L. Rookie of the Year award. As he moves forward in his career, the All-Star slugger can improve his offensive totals dramatically if he cuts his strikeout rate by 25 percent—that would mean an added 50 at-bats of putting the ball in play, getting on base and driving in runs. With his ability to make adjustments and his high level of baseball intelligence, it is likely that Bryant will improve on his strikeout rate and that will inflate his offensive totals and make him a star worth watching.
Bryant will probably be a perennial 100-strikeout guy who will produce runs at a consistent pace, but if he can curtail his level of punch-outs, his value will skyrocket.
A player who hits 20 or more home runs in a season and strikes out fewer times than homers hit is a rare occurrence in the major leagues, having been accomplished 45 times by 22 different players — including a record seven times by Joe DiMaggio. Johnny Mize is the only player to accomplish this feat in both the American League and National League, and is also the only batter to hit 50 homers in a season and fan fewer than 50 times when he clubbed 51 homers for the Giants in 1947 while striking out 42 times. Barry Bonds was the last N.L. player to strikeout fewer times than homers hit when he clubbed 45 homers and struck out 41 times for the Giants in 2004.