Monday, May 9, 2011

Swing and a miss

US Presswire photo
Michael Morse has struck out in a whopping 28.6 percent of his plate appearances.
There is perhaps nothing more frustrating in baseball than the act of striking out. Or, specifically, watching someone from your team strike out. Which may explain in part why the Nationals have been particularly frustrating to watch so far this season.

The Nationals have turned the strikeout into a rite of passage. Through 34 games, they've totaled 270 strikeouts, an average of 7.94 per game. Amazingly, they don't rank dead-last in the NL in this category. Both the Pirates and Padres have whiffed more, though not in the last week, when things have really taken a downward turn.

Over their last five games, the Nats have struck out 61 times, a stunning average of 12.2 per game. Three of the last four opposing starters they've faced (Roy Halladay, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez) have reached double digits in K's.

Why have the Nationals struggled so much this season to produce runs? More than anything, it's been their inability to put the ball in play.

As a team, the Nats are striking out in 21.6 percent of their plate appearances. That's the second-worst rate in baseball (ahead of only the Pirates) and far above the major-league average rate of 18.6 percent.

Some managers and general managers don't mind high strikeout totals. "An out's an out," some might say. Frank Robinson, though, used to abhor strikeouts. "Absolutely nothing productive comes from striking out," the Hall of Famer and former Nationals managed would say.

It's hard to argue with that logic, especially when you've got a lineup built not for the three-run homer but to manufacture runs one at a time.

We've seen Jim Riggleman play for one run on numerous occasions this season, bunting a runner over to second or third base in an attempt to get him 90 feet closer to the plate. (The Nationals rank second in the majors with 20 sacrifice bunts.)

All too often, though, that runner has been stranded in scoring position because the guy at the plate couldn't even make contact.

Unfortunately, it wasn't difficult to see this coming. The Nationals' lineup and bench are loaded with players known to swing and miss at a high rate. Check out these guys' strikeout rates in 2011 and over their careers (stats represent the percentage of a player's plate appearances in which he strikes out)...

   PLAYER                2011 K RATE         CAREER K RATE

Two things immediately stand out: 1) Most of these players posted high strikeout totals prior to this season, and 2) Several key players (like Werth, LaRoche and Ankiel) are actually striking out at a lower rate this year than they have in the past.

Neither conclusion should give you reason to smile. The Nationals, as currently constructed, are going to strike out a lot this season.

Which means runs are going to continue to be at a premium.

Which means these guys better hope they continue to get quality pitching and defense on a nightly basis to at least give themselves a chance of winning in spite of their swing-and-miss lineup.


UNTERP.NAT said...

You are on the mark, Mark. It would be nice to see most of the players choke up on their bats and stop thinking so much...

phil dunn said...

Mark, Please answer this question. When is the hitting coach going to be held accountable for this mess and what are his credentials for being a major league hitting coach? Thanks in advance for your reply.

Unkyd said...

They need to institute a stiff penalty, for called third strikes. Make everybody fight it off....some of these guys make it way too easy on the Cy Dopplegangers...

Mark'd said...

At least Matt Stairs leads the team in one category, largest increase in strikeouts! Way to go Matt!!!

waiting......... said...

Riggleman is not an "improvement" manager, and his staff reflects that. He is a caretaker who will be replaced if and when we get players worthy of motivation.

Grandstander said...

Actually, Stairs leads the team in BB%. Out of 23 PA he has 5 BB and 7 K, meaning he's only puts the ball in play half the time, which of course has resulted in only 1 hit.

Matt Stares

But at least that's forgivable compared to Nix, who has struck out a whopping 19 times and hasn't drawn a single walk. Still not exactly what you expect from your "pinch hitting specialist" who can't even field a position.

Anonymous said...

Frank Robinson is wrong in one respect, which only a Nationals fan could appreciate - the one productive thing to come from a strikeout is that at least it wasn't a double play grounder (I'm looking at you, Pudge)....

Mark'd said...

Is part of this high K count attributable to taking more first strikes or is this just a lot of aging players losing bat speed and slumping?

On a different subject, ESPN did a prospects report and they reported Harper went back go the War Paint and they said Hagerstown got a call from the Nats front office to remove it. Has anyone else reported that story?

ouij said...

Great post, Mark, but I don't think strikeout rate tells all of the story. You'd have to look at it in context of overall offensive performance.

After reading your post I went ahead and looked at the Nats' strikeout per walk ratios and their slugging percentages.

I won't bore you with the statistical tables--you can get them faster than I can, I'm sure--but a few things jump out:

*Desmond, Morse, Pudge, and Nix: If you want to look at how the increased strikeouts are hurting the team, look no further than these four. So far this season, each of them has a strikeout/walk ratio 6.0 or greater: that's a lot of unproductive outs before we get to a productive one.

*Nix: His K/BB ratio to date is literally incomprehensible: he has struck out, but has never walked. Even if we discount the very small sample size, we should expect him to be much, much better. Last year, he posted a K/BB ratio of 2.05. The good news is that when he does hit, he hits well--and he has slugged at around the same level as last year.

*Pudge: Pudge is probably the best example of the strikeout malaise. Although he's still slugging like he did last year, his K/BB ratio to date has jumped. This year, on average, Pudge is striking out 2.33 times more per walk. Whether that's because he can't see the ball as well or because he's swinging & missing is tough to say--I don't have swinging/looking stats at hand.

*Morse. Same story as Pudge, with a difference: even when he has hit, he's not hitting it as hard. His K/BB ratio has jumped by a shocking 3.72 from last season to this season, and his slugging is down an astounding .156. Do you think NL pitching has finally solved Morse? Did he show up too many guys in Spring Training?

Finally, an interesting note on Werth: He's a remarkably patient batter, and the stats bear that out--his K/BB ratio is essentially unchanged from year to year--but his slugging percentage has collapsed, from .532 last year to .387 to date. I wonder if that's a defensive positioning issue. Leadoff batters haven't been getting on for Werth, which lets opposing defenses align better for him. Tough to slug when you seem to be hitting it right at the defense all the time--and easy for the defense to set up for you if they don't have to worry about a man on base.

Keep up the good work!

Drew8 said...

On another topic, has a nice overview on the arms race in the June draft. Here's the key graph for the Nats, with pick No. 6:

"If there is one strength in the class, it may come from those arms on the college scene. There are at least a half-dozen college pitchers who currently project to go at or near the top of the first round. Gerrit Cole (UCLA), Danny Hultzen (Virginia), Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt), Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech), Taylor Jungmann (Texas), Trevor Bauer (UCLA) and Matt Barnes (Connecticut) have all been mentioned as potential top 10 picks. And that's without TCU's Matt Purke, once considered to be a top selection, but whose stock has been hurt by shoulder bursitis."

One consideration: If the Nats pass on Jungmann, do we need to sing YMCA?

"Jungmann, there's no need to feel down...."

Anonymous said...


When presenting information as a numerical value called "rate", it's generally considered good form to include the units so the reader knows what the rate is. I'm guessing it's at bats per strikeout, but hard to tell for sure.

Will said...

Anon, Mark's using K/PA, he even introduces the stat earlier in the article, "As a team, the Nats are striking out in 21.6 percent of their plate appearances."

Anonymous said...

Revisiting the Michael Morse deal:

The Mariners announced they've designated Ryan Langerhans for assignment to make room for outfielder Mike Wilson, tweets ESPN 710's Shannon Drayer. (Wilson 27, is hitting .370 in AAA for the Rainiers)

Langerhans, 31, hit .173/.317/.346 in 64 plate appearances for the Mariners this year after re-signing on a minor league deal in December. Langerhans is no stranger to the DFA, as this is the third time in his career.

masnstinks said...

To para-phrase FP Santangelo -- "these guys need to stop thinking so much and SEE BALL, HIT BALL. I don't really care if Eckstein's "approach" is the most perfect one in all of mlb -if it doesn't work, you need to try something else. Although I hate K's as much as the next person, my personal pet peeve is having a runner on third and no one can put the ball in the air for the sac. Bunting has seemed to be pretty good, though.

Mark Zuckerman said...

The "K rate" is the percentage of a player's plate appearances in which he strikes out.

Grandstander said...

Another fun stat, the Nationals are 2 for 37 pinch hitting, that averages out to .054. Far and away the lowest in the league. Every other team also has at least 3 RBIs pinch hitting, we have none.

Now, a lot of that is on the back of Stairs, but he was only responsible for 15 of those 37 ABs. The only player other than Stairs who has gotten a pinch hit is Flores.

DFL said...

This is called Rizzoball. Get rid of hitters and replace them with banjo-hitters and Ray Oyler/Dal Maxville wannabees. Boring baseball. Without Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham, this is a AAA team with the bat. And anybody realize that Jayson Werth's Phillies numbers were inflated by batting in a line-up with Howard, Utley, Rollins, Victoriano and the rest. What we are seeing now is the Jayson Werth of 2005 and not a $118 million man.

I wonder what the Nats' attendance will be in July when they're twenty games out and the team continues to impersonate the Hitless Wonder White Sox of 1906.

Ernie said...

@DFL -

The 1906 White Sox won the World Series. I'll take an impersonation of that!

natsfan1a said...

No, but we can tell really bad jokes (Example: take my draft pick, please).

Drew8 said...

One consideration: If the Nats pass on Jungmann, do we need to sing YMCA?

UNTERP.NAT said...

DFL said...

"I wonder what the Nats' attendance will be in July when they're twenty games out"

Try wondering what it will be if the Nats are .500. It may or may not be any better...

Sam said...

Mark, I think you started off by asking a really great question. It's a question that most people find annoying. Little kids use it to bug their parents. Yet, it is a very intellectual question. "Why?" In essence, "what is the reason for such a behavior?"

"Why have the Nationals struggled so much this season to produce runs?"

Great question. Good answer. Now you need to ask the next question: why are they striking out so much? Maybe that is a question that Rick Eckstein can - even should - answer. It's also a question that each player must be able to answer on his own. Then, they should fix it, immediately.

Sam said...

@DFL: It wasn't that Werth had those players in the lineup that made him better. In all likelihood, it was the fact that he got to play so many games in the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park. He has had over 1000 PAs there and has a .912 OPS there. The only other two stadiums where he has over 100 PAs and similar-ish batting numbers are Turner Field and, go figure, Nationals Park. Still, 100 PAs is hardly anything to get excited about.

DFL said...

Good point, Ernie. Unfortunately, the Hitless Wonders had a better pitching staff than the Nats. Team ERA of 2.13. 116 complete games. Aces like Frank Owen 22-13, Nick Altrock 20-13, Ed Walsh 17-13(Hall of Famer and last 40 game winner)and Doc White 18-6. The lead hitters were Hall of Famer SS George Davis whose numbers were 0HRS 80 RBIS and .277 BA and 2b Frank Isbell 0-57-.279. The Sox hit 7 homers all year.

Doc said...

Mark, it would be interesting for the fans to hear from Rick Eckstein on this issue. But I'm sure you've tried to get his input Mark, and he has resisted an interview.

HHover said...

Morse's performance is certainly a disappointment after his #s last year (the spring #s were obviously out of whack with anything to be expected in the regular season).

I wonder if he's victim of the team's emphasis on seeing more pitches per plate appearance--or rather, if he just doesn't have the eye and the discipline to adhere to that approach.

Morse actually isn't taking more pitches overall (he's seeing an avg of 3.69 pitches/PA this year, vs 3.65 last year), but he is taking more *called* strikes, and he has more first pitch strikes this season--72.5% vs. 59.4% last year (I haven't seen #s that distinguish between swinging and called first pitch strikes). Once's he's behind in the count, or kicking himself over the strike he didn't swing at, perhaps he's more prone to desperate swings, which would also explain the decline in his power #s and in his BB rate.

sjm308 said...

I want to thank Drew 8 for finishing his joke because until he posted the verse I was lost. Made me laugh at the end.

I also get frustrated that we can't even drive the ball to the outfield with a runner on 3rd and less than 2 outs and I don't have stats but it seems to happen more than you would want.

My thoughts on attendance are that until we become actual winners and are contending for at least the wild card it will hold steady and not be that great. I remember the Caps and how you could walk in and get a great seat 5 years ago. Lots of front runners and bandwagon people in this town and when we start to win things will change. I just pray we are near .500 this year.

Go Nats

Grandstander said...


Last season, Werth had an OPS+ of 145. Plus he led the league in doubles with 46. Did playing at CBP increase his chance to hit doubles?

He's slumping, he'll improve, especially when Zimmerman gets back.

CBinDC said...

Look at this year compared to the past 5.
Can one say that the moves made in this off season were really to put the team in a position play well draw better attention and attract more free agents and increase the fan base. OR was it put together after several high profile free agents said NO one said YES but at a premium and the rest of the moves were to save any money at any cost. Not waste salary on middle line players and save money on the fan experience from sub horns for fireworks to fake grass in the batters eye to a sudden reduction of services and offerings.
OR is there a third view?

Mark'd said...

Another lousy start by Detwiler yesterday. Problem now is it will play in his in a negative way. Rizzo's decisions are difficult and glad I don't have to make them because it seemed like having him in the Nats bullpen contributing looks better than regressing as a starter.

Rabbit said...

I agree with Frank Robinson. With the strike outs, the Nats are only playing five inning games. Every pitcher pitches like Cy Young aginst them. I have to chuckle at the announcers when they think the opposing pitchers were so outstanding in a particular game. That's only because they are pitching average but are pitching against the Nats. Ah, I'm going back to sleep.

Drew8 said...

Those famed scouts, The Village People, were pretty prescient:

Jungmann, there's no need to feel down.
I said, Jungmann, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, Jungmann, 'cause you're in a new town
There's no need to be unhappy.

Jungmann, there's a place you can go.
I said, Jungmann, when you're short on your dough.
You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

They have everything that you need to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys ...

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal
You can do whatever you feel ...

Jungmann, are you listening to me?
I said, Jungmann, what do you want to be?
I said, Jungmann, you can make real your dreams.
But you've got to know this one thing!

No man does it all by himself.
I said, Jungmann, put your pride on the shelf,
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.
I'm sure they can help you today.

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

They have everything that you need to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys ...

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal,
You can do whatever you feel ...

Jungmann, I was once in your shoes.
I said, I was down and out with the blues.
I felt no man cared if I were alive.
I felt the whole world was so jive ...

That's when someone came up to me,
And said, Jungmann, take a walk up the street.
It's a place there called the Y.M.C.A.
They can start you back on your way.

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

They have everything that you need to enjoy,
You can hang out with all the boys ...

It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A
Jungmann, Jungmann there's no need to feel down
Jungmann, Jungmann pick yourself off the ground

then just go to the Y-M-C-A
Jungmann, Jungmann I was once in your shoes
Jungmann, Jungmann I said, I was down and out with the blues.

Doc said...

Thank you for the much needed levity Drew8.

Can we substitute 'N-A-T-S' for 'Y-M-C-A? Seems an appropriate substitution.

It's time Rizzo and company looked on the funny side, like Prince Oppo Boppo and his Kiss eye grease!

Goooooooooooo Bryce (and maybe Jungman)!!!!

NatinBeantown said...

Unfortunately, if you substitute N-A-T-S, then you also need to substitute "play with" for "stay at," and then the whole thing goes in a direction too creepy for this family blog.

Grandstander said...

Rizzo on 106.7 just said Zimmerman's timetable is early to mid-June, for those curious.

Anonymous said...

Would love Rizzo to say: we just sent Ian Desmond down to 'Cuse . . .

Mark'd said...

Grandstander - Thanks for that. Good news!

Louis Armstrong Section, My Sofa said...

As Pops once said, "I gotta get me some of this, gimme one these choruses boys..."

Jungmann, there's no need to feel down.
I said, Jungmann, 'cause you're new in Natstown
I said, Jungmann, you were picked the first round
There's no need to be unhappy.

Jungmann, there's no place you can't go.
Because, Jungmann, Boras showed you your dough.
You can play here, through your arbitra-tion
It's a place you still can have fun ...

JaneB said...

Good one, Drew* and Louis Armstrong! Now, Anon at 7:39, haven't you been paying attention since Desmond has come back? He's doing really well. I don't want him going anywhere.

I'm wondering what is the characteristic that high strike-out guys have that not only makes them likely to strike out, but somehow is attractive to the FO? It can't be a total coincidence that we have so many. We signed them -- we didn't create them. This isn't on Eckstein.

JaneB said...

I meant Drew8

JD said...


Desmond has been doing really well? I must have missed something. On the bright side Robbie Ray made his season debut for Hagerstown today: 5 innings 0 runs, 1 hit 0 walks 6 k's. Pretty nice start.

Drew8 said...

Actually, that riff wasn't mine. Well played, Satchmo.

Great news out of Hagerstown tonight, my Nattily attired compadres.

In his first start Robbie Ray did swell. In 5 innings he gave up one hit and no walks.

Bryce Harper and Brad Kelso had two hits each. Harper's hitting .376 and Kelso's up to .360. Kelso is leading off, by the way.

There are a lot of high averages in that league, but the killer B's are raking.

JD said...


'there are a lot of high averages in that league'. Keep that in mind; it's a pretty big step up to the Carolina league.

Doc said...

@ NatinBeantown: You're right, a literal translation into Nats parlance would be somewhat creepy--given the intention of the original lyrics.

The whole song would have to be re-formatted much like @ Louis Armstrong Section, My Sofa has put to verse.

The Nats deserve their own song--one that features their propensity to strike out. 'Casey At The Bat' may provide us with some direction.

Cwj said...

Meh, they're still on pace for 75-77 wins. They can strikeout a billion times for all I care.

BTW, the BABIP for most of the Team is extremely low. They may strikeout, but they'll hit before long.

Go Nats!

Cwj said...

Let me revise that last sentence of mine:
They may strikeout, but the balls they do make contact with will start to fall for hits. :-)

sjm308 said...

JaneB - he has been playing better since returning, batting around .250 and playing much better defense. The people that want him sent down don't see the stuff that goes on in the clubhouse. He is one of the first to arrive and last to leave. He actually takes infield almost every day and he is a managers dream in that he listens. With Espinosa being a top SS as well, its easy to try and move him in the minds of all the GM's on this site. I think Riggs has mentioned many times how valuable Desmond is to the club and we will hopefully see both he and Espinosa for years to come. He is not a leadoff hitter and he will make errors with his outstanding range but I like his mental makeup and the fact that after less than two years he is looked on as a leader in the clubhouse.

Not sure which Anon wants him at Syr.

I do see Lombardozzi as a definite possiblity and I guess Desmond will be used as someone we can trade along with Marquis or Lannan but I like our middle infield just fine.

Neal said...

Just a little food for thought. Last year the league leader in strikeouts had a total of 1,292 strikeouts for the year in 6264 plate appearances for 20.6%. The Nats last year had a total of 1,220 strikeouts in 6099 plate appearances for 20%. The team that lead MLB in strikeout last year was the Tampa Bay Rays and we all know where they finished last year and where the Nats finished. Now I'm not saying that the Nats are the Tampa Bay Rays or even close. Nor am I even saying that the Nats will win their division by being one of the leading strikeout teams in the league. What I'm am saying is that Nats have improved dramatically this year in many areas. The strikeouts will level off and the hitting will get better (closer to their norms).

I think sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture. Cwj said...that he expected 75 to 77 wins this year and I think that with a little luck the Nats can get to 500 ball. Does anyone realize that's an 18 to 22 game swing in 2 years. Given the talent in the Nat's farm system plus a certain pitcher on the DL, Rizzo's willingness to spend real money and using the same swing trend in the next year, that could mean a record of 85 to 94 wins in 2012. That's contending baseball and within the realm of possibility. Is there anyone here who would not take that in a heartbeat? Especially after all the decades of sports futility in DC, the Nats future looks fine indeed! Go Nats!

BTW, some of you may know me as nationalsfanatic if you go on the Wash Post comments sections.

Wally said...

Crazy stat of the week: JMaxx was tied for the MiLB lead in HRs with 12 until ... wait for it ..... WilyMo hit #13

N. Cognito said...

Grandstander said...
"Rizzo on 106.7 just said Zimmerman's timetable is early to mid-June, for those curious."

What is the timetable if I'm not curious?

Doc said...

JMaxx and WillyMo....let's trade for 'em! Hmmmm...maybe not.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Has anyone else watched the Hagerstown games on MiLB? If you are not afraid of heights, you can watch the game on line by buying the MiLB package for $29.95 for the season.

I say that about the height because the game really isn't a broadcast but a camera that appears to be mounted to a flag pole high above home plate. The only voice you get is the stadium announcer.

I watched Robbie Ray last night and am getting ready to watch them again this AM.

What's with the 10:35 AM start?

Wally said...

NatsJack - have you been to extended ST recently? Just wondering about a Stras update

NatsJack in Florida said...

I'm going over Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. I'll have something for you then.

Last month he was throwing off flat ground about 60% speed and throwing long toss about 130 feet.

Wally said...

@NatsJack, Thanks, I'll look for it

Big Cat said...

Nats Jack......any word on Solis and AJ Cole? Think they are in extended spring

NatsJack in Florida said...

Cole is in Hagerstown and pitched 2 nights ago. Solis will be assigned in about a week.

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