October 01, 2004
Strikeouts and singles

Everybody knows that Ichiro! is about to pass George Sisler for the all-time single-season hits record, but to me a more interesting record was broken yesterday: Adam Dunn struck out for the 190th and 191st times, passing Bobby Bonds and his 189 whiffs from 1970 for the single season mark.

Dunn wasn't upset at all by setting the record, actually joking with reporters at first.

"It's great. I'm the only person that actually has claim to that record. Now I'm just going to try to add on to it before the year is over," he said.

He did admit the record is a rather dubious one.

"Actually it does matter. But, you know, I'm not going to sit and lose sleep over it," he said.

Nor should he. Look at Dunn's stats for the year: 264/387/564 AVG/OBP/SLG, for a 951 OPS, plus 45 HRs, 101 RBIs, and 103 runs. Who cares if he makes outs by swinging and missing instead of grounders or popups? The dude is a force at the plate.

I've never quite understood the stigma attached to strikeouts. Mickey Mantle was the all-time career leader in Ks for years before Reggie Jackson passed him. Last I checked, they were both good guys to have in the lineup. In 2002, when Jose Hernandez sat out the last three games of the season after reaching 188 whiffs, he was the best bat on the Brewers at 288/356/478, all while playing shortstop. Guys who fan a lot get the chance to do so because they hit the ball hard when they hit it. Maybe now that Dunn has reminded us all of that, we can get over it.

Of course, it is a bit odd that strikeouts by batters are not such a big deal, but strikeouts by pitchers are one of the best predictors of success. I've not seen a good sabermetric explanation of this - Rob Neyer was asked the question awhile ago and more or less waved his hands at it.

Getting back to Ichiro! - It's almost a cliche to call a player unique, but there really are no other ballplayers today who are as well-suited to the task of hitting singles. Of his 256 hits so far, 219 of them are one-baggers. He's got an isolated slugging percentage of .084, meaning that if he were a mere .300 hitter, he'd have a little less pop than Omar Vizquel. Go back and look at Sisler's line for 1920. Ichiro! has 37 extra-base hits. Sisler had 37 in just triples and homers - he also had 49 doubles, and slugged .632 (isolated slugging .225) with 399 total bases. What Ichiro! has done is special, but what Sisler did was more impressive.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 01, 2004 to Baseball | TrackBack

Hey, wait ... do you read rec.sport.baseball ??

Posted by: niq on October 1, 2004 4:32 PM

One reason that ks (either pure strikeout totals, strikeouts per 9 innings and, better yet, strikeout to walk ratios) are a good measure of pitching ability is that, unlike many other stats, they are a relatively pure pitching statistic. Team fielding, team offense, park size, and other factors that effect era, wins, and other stats do not impact strikeout data (park lighting, air thickness,and hitting background do have an impact).

That said, a pitcher with the inverse of Dunn's statistics, eg lots of ks, walks, and home runs would not have a long career.

Posted by: dwight meredith on October 1, 2004 5:11 PM

Niq - No, I've not been on Usenet since the Web became popular. One time-sucking vice is enough. :-)

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 1, 2004 6:02 PM

It was the "Ichiro!" that caught my eye ... he's quite often referred to with the "!" as part of his name on RSB :).

Posted by: niq on October 1, 2004 6:52 PM

There is some truth to power being related to strikeouts, however, let's consider two extreme examples: Dave Kingman and Joe DiMaggio.

Kingman hit 442 HR's in his career, but he was also a lifetime .236 hitter with 1816 strikeouts. With him, it was much like the original "Home Run Derby", where it was either a home run or nothing with him at the plate.

DiMiaggio was a career .325 hitter with 361 HRs and 369 strikeouts in 16 seasons. I think the numbers speak for themselves.

As for Ichiro, I happen to think he's great for the game. While he may not have a lot of power, his speed and ability to hit the ball are amazing. For the best example I can think of in the modern game of speed, power and hitting ability is Vladimir Guerrero. In my opinion (and it is only my opinion), he is the most complete baseball player since Willie Mays.

Posted by: William Hughes on October 1, 2004 7:54 PM

Ichiro is the Jackie Robinson of the 21st Century. Didn't they both win rookie of the year? He has the same speed and has broken cultural lines, although he certainly hasn't faced anything like the barriers that Jackie Robinson faced.

I was living in Seattle when Ichiro came across and the buzz surrounding him in Seattle was just amazing. Every little league kid in Washinton was doing Ichiro's unique warmup at the plate. And Japanese fans were coming over by the hundreds to watch him play in person.

What many may not realize is that Ichiro also has a total cannon of an arm and during his first year he threw out a lot of guys at 3rd from his spot in right field until they got wise and finally stopped challenging him.

Posted by: Kent on October 1, 2004 9:39 PM

Niq - I got the "!" in Ichiro!'s name from Baseball Prospectus. There's surely a lot of crossover there.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 1, 2004 9:50 PM

Re: Pete Rose's hit record Mickey Mantle once said that if he'd hit 4000 singles they'd have made him play in a dress.

For a goddamned Yankee, Mantle sure was a lot of fun. I suppose I'll give him a pass as he is a native of Texas.

Posted by: Andrew D on October 4, 2004 4:11 PM

Strikeouts for a hitter used to have a terrible stigma. In the 1920s and 30s, nobody wanted to strike out, and far fewer did. Today, with no stigma to the strike out, players are far less defensive with 2 strikes. 80 years ago, a player would take a guarded swing that would put the ball in play, but was less likely to be hard hit.

There is some downside to a strike out though. It's a surefire way not to advance a runner and it doesn't test the defense. Maybe the reason why strikeouts are less taboo is defenses have gotten so much better. Back when double plays were rare and errors common, it was a far better play to put the ball on the ground than whiff.

Posted by: pj on October 4, 2004 5:21 PM

Andrew D - I hate to rain on your parade, but Mickey Mantle was born in Oklahoma.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 4, 2004 6:08 PM