Strikeouts, Don’t You Just Hate Them?

When pinch hitter Rusty Ryal struck out to end last night’s game it seemed rather appropriate. After all, the Arizona Diamondbacks lead the planet in strike outs. Looking at the latest season statistics on MLB.com, the Diamondbacks have five position players in the top 20 for strikeouts in the National League.

Mark Reynolds of course leads everyone with 115 punch outs in 276 at-bats. In second place is Justin Upton with 108 strikeouts. First baseman Adam LaRoche is in seventh with 88. The other two Diamondbacks in the top 20 are second baseman Kelly Johnson and center fielder Chris Young each with 74 and tied for 18th place. These five players account for 459 strikeouts in just 84 games. To put this into perspective reigning NL MVP Albert Pujols has 611 strikeouts in his 10-year career.

Shortly after Kirk Gibson was named manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks he expressed his desire to reduce the number of strikeouts his team was putting up. Gibson is not the first manager to voice his desire. Bob Melvin and AJ Hinch also expressed a concern of their team’s propensity to strike out.

It used to be that striking out had a negative connotation in baseball. It was almost embarrassing to be punched out rather than putting the ball in play. This new generation of players seems to accept striking out as a logical outcome from an at bat. They shrug and explain that striking out is just a byproduct of being a power hitter.

They are willing to exchange a strike out for the opportunity to hit a home run putting their team back in the game. The concept of a productive at-bat that moves a runner from base to base is as foreign as stirrup socks and bases filled with sawdust.

We are living in a time of immediate gratification and these younger players are willing to sacrifice a few strikeouts for the chance to win the game on a 3-run home run. While they may not admit it, their actions show them to be less team oriented than their counterparts from previous generations.

The fans likewise are at fault. Nightly I hear shouts rooting a player to “hit one out of the park” when all that is really needed is to get on base and extend the inning. The strategy of taking a walk, stealing second, being sacrificed to third and score on a fly ball to the outfield has given way to getting on base striking out and making it to first on a wild pitch then wait for the next guy to hit a home run.

I applaud Gibson for making this a priority I just wonder whether he will be able to convince these young players of the value of playing under control and exhibiting some plate discipline. During last night’s Diamondbacks-Cubs game the Arizona Diamondbacks last five outs of the game came via strikeout killing any opportunity they might have had to get back into the game.

This is not just an Arizona Diamondbacks problem. Going into the All-Star break the National League could see six players with over 100 strikeouts. While we are seeing a resurgence in pitching it is hard to believe pitchers have gotten that much better this season. It is may just be that pitchers have developed a comprehensive plan to take advantage of the free-swinging hitters that proliferate the game these days.


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