The Red Sox currently have a few high strikeout guys. That has caused quite a bit of angst in the Nation. Especially when one of them strikes out in a key situation.
“Get the bat on the ball!”
The Sox broadcasters like to complain about strikeouts because they “don’t move the runners along” in contrast to some opinions that a strikeout is “just another out.” That theory states that the damage the hitters do when they don’t strike out makes it worth putting up with the frequent K’s.
So, which is it? If you have two men on base with one out, is Mike Napoli someone you want at the plate?
Should Napoli adjust himself when he’s at the plate to avoid the strikeout? Should he go all Ty Cobb, choke up, separate his hands, and slap at the ball so he puts it in play? The tricky question is when Napoli should do that. If there’s a runner on first with one out? Bases loaded with no outs? That’s a big question because if you’re having Napoli do that, you’re almost giving up on getting a hit. Sure, if he slaps a grounder it might squeak through, but I wouldn’t count on it. So, we need to be willing to take a sure out and advance a runner just to avoid the chance of striking out. How many times does that really happen? And, in how many of those times is advancing the runner ALL you’re really wanting? Runner on third with none out in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game? Isn’t that it? And, really, since the infield is probably playing in at that point, not sure it’s a great idea then. So, all these people complaining must be talking about other situations. Like, runner on second trailing by a run with none out in the seventh. In that case, a ground ball to second would be better than a K. But, a base hit would be better than either of them, right? So, let’s look at that situation. Let’s use some numbers from Mike Napoli’s 2012 season. A normal 2012 Napoli struck out 30% of the time. So, let’s assume he’d strikeout 30% of the time with a guy at second and none out. But, using the same 2012 stats, he’d get a hit 20% of the time. And, he’d get a walk 13% of the time. The other 34% of the time he makes another kind of out. By sheer luck, some percentage of those would be productive, right? Half of them? A third? Let’s go with a third, just to pick a number.
So, to recap, a regular 2012 Mike Napoli at-bat with a runner on second would strike out 30% of the time. So, 30% of the time it would have been better to have just slapped the ball to second to get the runner to third. But, you’d be limiting yourself. After all, on his own Napoli would do something at least that good 44% of the time. And that’s the number that sticks out to me. You can have Napoli give himself up, and ground out to second. But, almost as often as not, that would be the wrong call. And, sometimes a really wrong call. After all, 5% of the time, Napoli would homer.
People who complain about strikeouts also fall into the same trap as people who like the sacrifice bunt. (After all, I suppose, it’s really the same maneuver.) Moving the runner over is a good thing. After all, it’s easier to score from third than it is from second. That’s true, depending on your definition of “easier.” There are certainly more way to score from third. A sac fly, or a wild pitch for instance. But, are we basing a strategy upon the pitcher throwing a wild pitch to the next batter? Does that make sense? Even the sac fly. Once we get Napoli to ground out to second, we now need the guy after him to hit a deep flyball. So, now we’re basically asking two straight guys to do their best to try to make an out. Does that seem weird to anyone else? What if we just told Napoli to take his rips? He may get a hit. Even a home run. That’s way better than simply moving the runner along. Of course, he may strike out. But, then maybe the next guy will get a hit. If the guy after him gets a hit, the guy scores from second anyway. So, the Sox didn’t lose anything from letting Napoli loose. What if Napoli slaps the ball to second, moving the guy to third and the next guy singles? He would have scored from second anyway. So, you just wasted Napoli. Why would you do that?
What it comes down to is, yes, a strikeout is bad. In a single situation, it looks really bad. But, overall it’s worth the chance since the alternative is so much more.
If you play for one run, that’s usually all you get.