In our lengthy discussion of Adam Dunn, one topic his detractors hit on hard was strikeouts. As in, he racks them up. He’s been in the top 10 in strikeouts for the past five years, leading the league in 2004, 05, and 06. But good players strike out, right? Does A-Rod not rack up 130 or so strikeouts a year? What’s another 30 or 40?
Yes, good players strike out. But do they strike out that often? Take a look at the all-time leaders in strikeouts. Certainly more good players up there than bad ones (damn you, Dave Kingman). That’s not really fair, though. A more telling list would be strikeout percentage. Unfortunately, the only readily available stat is lowest strikeout percentage. Not useful for our purposes, but interesting because you won’t find many modern players on the list.
So I went over to B-Ref’s Play Index — or, more accurately, Ben went to the PI. The data wasn’t readily available, but I had him put it in a spreadsheet, because I hate baseball. You can view it here. No, the names there aren’t quite as inspiring as the names on the top raw career strikeouts. And lookey there: Adam Dunn is fourth all-time, sandwiched between Pete Incaviglia and Preston Wilson.
Yet is Dunn at all like the players surrounding him? Rob Deer didn’t have nearly as much power and didn’t take as many walks; ditto Jose Hernandez; Incaviglia was never much better than mediocre; there has never been a reason to throw Preston Wilson a strike. If anything, he seems a little bit like Jay Buhner, and even then he didn’t take a walk like Dunn.
I think this is a long way of saying that strikeouts by themselves don’t mean too much. Different players have different games. Some guys, especially those that hit for a lot of power, are going to swing and miss a good deal. It’s when they bring other skills to the table, like a good eye and a power stroke, that we can forgive the strikeouts. It’s when they’re pretty much worthless — looking at you, Mr. Deer — that they’re a major issue.