Baseball BeatMay 08, 2005
News & Views
By Rich Lederer

I remember taking Driver's Education, Career Guidance, and News & Views my sophomore year in high school. (Hey, I went to public school. I will say these were the easiest classes I took, if you don't count Teacher Aide the last semester of my senior year.) I had the same teacher--Mr. Gough--for all three subjects, which were rotated as a wheel program for tenth graders.

The News & Views of that time were the Vietnam War, anti-war demonstrations at Kent State, cigarette advertising banned from television and radio, and the voting age lowered to age 18. Having felt cheated by not discussing baseball in our class back then, I decided to hold my version of News & Views as this weekend's Baseball Beat column.

  • News: Steve Finley raises his batting average from a dismal .149 at the end of April to .190 in a week by going 7-for-18.

    "We've been talking about that all week--we look at Fin, see his average and wonder how a guy could be hitting so low but be so productive," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "From runs to big hits to RBIs to home runs, every other number he has is terrific.

    "That probably highlights the fact that batting average is way down the scale of how you evaluate a player. You look at runs scored and runs knocked in. Not only has he been knocking them in, but at key moments."

    Views: I'm glad to hear that Scioscia de-emphasizes batting average in his evaluation of players. Although he points to runs scored and RBI as the more important measures, what he really is saying (without doing so) is that Finley's batting average on balls in play is artificially low while his power and plate discipline are basically in line with his career norms--points that I made last week.

    Steve Finley: OF, 40, LAA, .149/.227/.322. Although Finley has perhaps the worst rate stats of anyone, I suspect he is the most likely player of them all to end up with numbers closer to his seasonal average. Why? Well, for one, he is in outstanding shape. Two, his HR, ISO, SEC, and BB rates are all in line or better than his career norm. Three, Steve has stolen four bases in five attempts, suggesting he hasn't lost much, if any, speed. Come October, I think Finley's numbers will be just fine.

  • News: On Tuesday, May 3, Josh Towers throws a three-hit shutout for eight innings against the Baltimore Orioles, the best-hitting team in baseball in 2005.

    Views: I have always been intrigued by Towers because he throws strikes. More often than not, good things happen when you don't walk batters. The Toronto starter has walked two and struck out 25 in 35 1/3 innings. He is on pace to give up 11 BB in 187 IP. Since 1900, no pitcher has given up so few walks throwing 150 or more innings.

    Since the 6'1", 188-pound right-hander signed as a free agent with the Blue Jays in November 2002, he is 18-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 204 IP as a starter. J.P. Ricciardi has gotten a lot of value out of the pitcher making $358,000 this year.

    Towers reminds me of Bob Tewksbury and Jon Lieber. Like Tewksbury and Lieber, Towers almost always gives up more hits than innings--the tradeoff for being around the plate so often and not having much in the way of a strikeout pitch. Interestingly, Tewks and Lieber didn't really come into their own until they turned 29, which Towers will be on his next birthday in February.

  • News: In a recent chat at Baseball Prospectus, Nate Silver answered a question--Is their (sic) a point at which strikeouts presage a problem translating hitting ability to the majors?--by saying the following:

    Here's a secret: strikeouts are a good thing for a young power hitter.

    Views: Well, what I'm about to say isn't a secret. In fact, it is a well-documented fact. Strikeouts are not a good thing for a young power hitter.

    Silver went on to explain, "Let's reverse things for a moment and think of things this way: if Adam Dunn hits .266 and slugs .569 in a year in which he strikes out 195 times, that means he's absolutely murdering the ball those times that he does make contact. In other words, *if* he's able to improve his ability to hit for contact at all, the upside is real, real high as compared with, say, Sean Burroughs or someone."

    I'm not saying Dunn doesn't have more upside *if* he cuts back on his strikeouts than Burroughs. That's a given. In fact, I don't see any value added in that argument at all. I'm also not saying that Dunn, strikeouts or no strikeouts, isn't a better hitter than Burroughs. I don't think you will find many people on the side of the San Diego third baseman in such a debate.

    What I'm saying is that strikeouts are NOT a good thing for a young power hitter despite Nate's claim to the contrary. All else being equal, you would always prefer a young power hitter who doesn't strike out over a young power hitter who does strike out. And my statement is coming from someone who doesn't think strikeouts are nearly as bad as the general public believes.

    Young power hitters who strike out a lot can be good players. Young power hitters who don't strike out often are almost always great players.

    The major league burial grounds are filled with players such as Billy Ashley, Roger Freed, Phil Hiatt, Sam Horn, Dave Hostetler, and Hensley Meulens. I could list many, many more but limited the names to a half-dozen of the higher-profile names that have come along in the past couple of decades. More to the point, there are hundreds of unknowns out there who never even got a sniff of the big leagues because they simply didn't make enough contact to get a chance.

    Look no further than active players Joe Borchard, Jack Cust, Bobby Estalella, Bucky Jacobsen, Brandon Larson, Ryan Ludwick, Eric Munson, and Calvin Pickering as further evidence of young power hitters who are having a difficult time making the transition from the minors to the majors. I'm even skeptical as to whether Dallas McPherson and Wily Mo Pena will be as good as advertised. Josh Phelps, a one-time Baseball Prospectus coverboy, has a huge hole in his swing and is unlikely to be anything more than a mediocre DH on a poor team.

    All else being equal, the goal is to find power hitters who don't strike out. Active players who meet this criteria include Barry Bonds, Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Magglio Ordonez, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, and Frank Thomas (circa 1993-1997). I'm also high on Aramis Ramirez, who hit 36 HR last year while reducing his SO from 99 in 2003 to 62 in 2004.

    One of the weaknesses of the sabermetric community is that we don't challenge each other often enough. By allowing such comments to pass without addressing them adds to the conflict between scouts vs. stats or scouting vs. performance analysis. Nate is an excellent analyst, but he is off base on this subject.

    [Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

  • Comments

    All else being equal, the goal is to find power hitters who don't strike out.

    I don't see that at all. I see the goal as being able to find good players regardless of what comprises their value.

    Seems that both Silver and you are simply shooting from your hips: neither of you documents your assertions. He fails to offer a study showing multiple examples proving his point, while you merely point to established stars while ignoring whether they struck out frequently as youngsters. Maybe all the hot air will hasten summer...

    Gatts, I was referring to power hitters. But I will still stand by my comment even under your interpretation. Show me a power/low strike out hitter who isn't good and we'll take it from there.

    Dodger Dan, In defense of Nate Silver, he made his comments in a chat format. He really didn't have the forum to offer "multiple examples proving his point." As far as my examples are concerned, I didn't hand pick them per se. They were cited because they didn't strike out frequently as youngsters. Every player was linked to ESPN, Baseball-Reference, or Baseball Cube so anybody who was a bit more enterprising could have looked up their seasonal and career records.

    The fact that they are all "established stars" validates my point. You simply can't find many players who hit for power without striking out who are NOT stars.

    To wit, here is a list of players 24 or under who have hit 3O HR in a season, shown with their strikeout totals. Who would you rather have, the players at the top of the list or those at the bottom? (I could run other screens to prove my point but, for the sake of time and space, will go with this one for now.)

    MODERN (1900-)
    AGE HOMERUNS >= 30

    STRIKEOUTS                    YEAR     SO       HR     
    1    Adam Dunn                2004      195       46   
    2    Bobby Bonds              1969      187       32   
    3    Pete Incaviglia          1986      185       30   
    4    Jose Canseco             1986      175       33   
    5    Cory Snyder              1987      166       33   
    6    Troy Glaus               2000      163       47   
    7    Troy Glaus               2001      158       41   
    8    Jose Canseco             1987      157       31   
    9    Dean Palmer              1993      154       33   
    10   Greg Luzinski            1975      151       34   
    11   Nate Colbert             1970      150       38   
    T12  Hank Blalock             2004      149       32   
    T12  Fred McGriff             1988      149       34   
    14   Miguel Cabrera           2004      148       33   
    15   Juan Gonzalez            1992      143       43   
    T16  Reggie Jackson           1969      142       47   
    T16  Andruw Jones             2001      142       34   
    18   Scott Rolen              1998      141       31   
    T19  Matt Williams            1990      138       33   
    T19  Mike Schmidt             1974      138       36   
    T21  Danny Tartabull          1987      136       34   
    T21  Dick Allen               1966      136       40   
    T23  Tim Salmon               1993      135       31   
    T23  Sammy Sosa               1993      135       33   
    25   Dale Murphy              1980      133       33   
    26   Mark McGwire             1987      131       49   
    27   Andruw Jones             1998      129       31   
    T28  Fernando Tatis           1999      128       34   
    T28  Jose Canseco             1988      128       42   
    30   Boog Powell              1966      125       34   
    31   Phil Plantier            1993      124       34   
    T32  Alex Rodriguez           2000      121       41   
    T32  Alex Rodriguez           1998      121       42   
    34   Jim Rice                 1977      120       39   
    35   Eric Chavez              2002      119       34   
    T36  Richie Sexson            1999      117       31   
    T36  Mark McGwire             1988      117       32   
    T36  Mark Teixeira            2004      117       38   
    T39  Harmon Killebrew         1959      116       42   
    T39  Tony Conigliaro          1965      116       32   
    41   Ruben Sierra             1987      114       30   
    T42  Manny Ramirez            1995      112       31   
    T42  Frank Thomas             1991      112       32   
    44   Richard Hidalgo          2000      110       44   
    45   Alex Rodriguez           1999      109       42   
    46   Bill Melton              1970      107       33   
    47   Harmon Killebrew         1960      106       31   
    48   Willie Montanez          1971      105       30   
    T49  Alex Rodriguez           1996      104       36   
    T49  Manny Ramirez            1996      104       33   
    51   Gary Carter              1977      103       31   
    T52  Johnny Bench             1970      102       45   
    T52  Miguel Tejada            2000      102       30   
    T54  Aramis Ramirez           2001      100       34   
    T54  Andruw Jones             2000      100       36   
    T56  Eric Chavez              2001       99       32   
    T56  Mickey Mantle            1956       99       52   
    T56  Juan Gonzalez            1993       99       46   
    T59  Will Clark               1987       98       35   
    T59  Eddie Mathews            1955       98       41   
    T61  Mickey Mantle            1955       97       37   
    T61  Orlando Cepeda           1962       97       35   
    T63  Ron Santo                1964       96       30   
    T63  Jimmie Foxx              1932       96       58   
    T65  Vladimir Guerrero        1998       95       38   
    T65  Frank Robinson           1956       95       38   
    T67  Tom Brunansky            1984       94       32   
    T67  Jim Ray Hart             1964       94       31   
    T69  Frank Thomas             1953       93       30   
    T69  Frank Robinson           1959       93       36   
    T69  Albert Pujols            2001       93       37   
    T72  Nomar Garciaparra        1997       92       30   
    T72  Bob Allison              1959       92       30   
    T74  Orlando Cepeda           1961       91       46   
    T74  Jason Thompson           1977       91       31   
    T74  Ken Griffey Jr.          1993       91       45   
    T74  Hank Greenberg           1935       91       36   
    T74  Boog Powell              1964       91       39   
    79   Rocky Colavito           1958       89       41   
    T80  Chipper Jones            1996       88       30   
    T80  Jeff Burroughs           1973       88       30   
    T82  Eddie Mathews            1956       86       37   
    T82  Mike Piazza              1993       86       35   
    T84  Jimmie Foxx              1931       84       30   
    T84  Lou Gehrig               1927       84       47   
    T84  Johnny Bench             1972       84       40   
    87   Eddie Mathews            1953       83       47   
    88   Ralph Kiner              1947       81       51   
    T89  Earl Williams            1971       80       33   
    T89  Frank Robinson           1958       80       31   
    T89  Vernon Wells             2003       80       33   
    92   Duke Snider              1950       79       31   
    T93  Bob Horner               1982       75       32   
    T93  Jim Ray Hart             1966       75       33   
    T95  Rudy York                1938       74       33   
    T95  Vladimir Guerrero        2000       74       44   
    T95  Bob Horner               1979       74       33   
    98   Ken Griffey Jr.          1994       73       40   
    T99  Ernie Banks              1955       72       44   
    T99  Gus Bell                 1953       72       30   
    101  Eddie Murray             1980       71       32   
    T102 Jimmie Foxx              1929       70       33   
    T102 Matt Nokes               1987       70       32   
    T104 Wally Berger             1930       69       38   
    T104 Albert Pujols            2002       69       34   
    106  Tony Oliva               1964       68       32   
    107  Frank Robinson           1960       67       31   
    108  Jimmie Foxx              1930       66       37   
    T109 Charlie Keller           1941       65       33   
    T109 Albert Pujols            2003       65       43   
    111  Ted Williams             1939       64       31   
    T112 Vladimir Guerrero        1999       62       42   
    T112 Nomar Garciaparra        1998       62       35   
    T114 Eddie Mathews            1954       61       40   
    T114 Chuck Klein              1929       61       43   
    T116 Willie Mays              1955       60       51   
    T116 Hal Trosky               1937       60       32   
    T118 Del Ennis                1948       58       30   
    T118 Hank Aaron               1957       58       44   
    T118 Hal Trosky               1936       58       42   
    121  Willie Mays              1954       57       41   
    T122 Albert Pujols            2004       52       46   
    T122 Rudy York                1937       52       35   
    124  Ted Williams             1942       51       36   
    125  Bob Horner               1980       50       35   
    T126 Hal Trosky               1934       49       35   
    T126 Hank Aaron               1958       49       30   
    128  Don Mattingly            1985       41       35   
    129  Gary Sheffield           1992       40       33   
    130  Mel Ott                  1932       39       38   
    131  Mel Ott                  1929       38       42   
    132  Joe DiMaggio             1937       37       46   
    133  Don Hurst                1929       36       31   
    134  Ted Williams             1941       27       37   
    135  Joe DiMaggio             1938       21       32   
    136  Joe DiMaggio             1939       20       30

    Not sure comparing raw couting stats from the '30s with those of today is that reliable. Looking at only recent (last 15 years) players at the top and bottom of your list, we have at the top:

    Adam Dunn
    Troy Glaus
    Dean Palmer
    Hank Blalock
    Miguel Cabrera
    Juan Gonzalez
    Andruw Jones
    Scott Rolen

    and at the bottom:

    Gary Sheffield
    Albert Pujols
    Nomar Garciaparra
    Vladimir Guerrero
    Ken Griffey Jr.
    Vernon Wells

    I'm not sure there is a convincing difference, esp. given the ages of Dunn, Blalock and Cabrera.

    Not a convicing difference? Of the top-namers, you list a MVP in Juan Gone, a stud in Rolen and the rest are power hitters who, besides Cabrera, have had seasons of erratic performance and have yet to, or never did, "put it all together". From the bottom of the list, you highlight two future HOFers (Sheff and Griffey), two players well on their way to HOF careers (Pujols and Vlad) and Garciaparra, a player who may end up short of the Hall only because of injuries, not his hitting. Wells is the only odd-man out.

    With that said, if you read what Rich original wrote, he'll take players like Dunn and Miguel Cabrera because they are exceptions to "the rule". The bottom of the list is littered with HoFers, MVPs, and perennial All-Stars. The top of the list has Incaviglia, Snyder, Plantier, etc.

    I'm going to repeat this only because people don't seem to be absorbing it into their skulls: Rich (and most everyone with common sense) believes young high-strikeout, power hitting players can succeed at the big league level. But if the player shows some command of the strike zone, his chances are much, much better.

    Strikeouts are not the key to success for young power hitters!

    In addition to those mentioned in my article, I have found another dozen young power hitters from the post-expansion period who couldn't even muster 2000 AB in the big leagues because they struck out about 25% of the time.

    Shane Andrews
    Eric Anthony
    Buddy Bradford
    Willie Greene
    Pedro Munoz
    Dave Nicholson
    Melvin Nieves
    Greg Norton
    Adolfo Phillips
    Phil Plantier
    Ruben Rivera
    Mike Young

    Players who hit HR at the same rate as those above and rarely struck out not only stuck around longer but were generally star players.

    More to the point, there are literally hundreds of players who struck out at an alarming rate who either never made it to the majors or enjoyed nothing more than a cup of coffee.

    Once again, the point is that power hitters who don't strike out succeed at a far higher rate than power hitters who do strike out. If you want to show me proof otherwise, please go right ahead.

    It seems to me that Nate's comment would be read as: "If someone's performance is way over average in something, his expected performance in that metric will regress towards the mean, and if we treat all the other facets of his performance as independent, then all those strikeouts will convert into a decent performance, especially for a young power hitter."

    I suppose you can say the same thing for a young speedster, with a good BB/K ratio, with lots of groundball outs. That is, if you have say Tim Raines with a great eye at 21, and he's grounding into more than his fair share of outs, you figure that one small improvement will turn into a great change.

    This is true in everything, I'd expect. Look for something that's way over average, look for groups of players where that negative is in conflict with all the other positives, and you have a candidate player to alter slightly through good scouting and teaching.

    My question is that Nate thought if Dunn cut down his Ks and put more balls in play and keep on his power pace(and other hitting ability) at the same time in the future, he can be a supreme hitter (sure), but is it possible?

    Is it possible a power hitter with many Ks mature into a power hitter with not-so-many Ks? Can Reggie Jackson mature into Barry Bonds? (I just checked Rich's list...and I don't like the chance)

    Silver has detailed his assertion (albeit briefly) before in a column about Wily Mo (

    "In fact, in retooling PECOTA this past winter, I discovered a positive predictive relationship between strikeout rate and power output. That is, a player with a higher strikeout rate, all else being equal, is expected to produce more home runs going forward than a player with a lower strikeout rate. Strikeout rate has the opposite effect on base hits, diminishing a player's projected batting average, but for a player like Pena, whose value derives from his power, the higher strikeout rate has a positive impact on his forecast."

    Is there evidence that High HR/Low strikeout hitters have figured how to put the ball in play with two strikes? In other words, maybe they take big hacks with less than 2 and then modify their swing slightly with 2, whereas the High HR/High strikeout guys don't. It would be interesting to compare the HR numbers of both groups with 2 strikes.

    No, to reiterate: there is not a convincing difference between my two lists, especially given the sample size and the percentage of the players' careers completed.

    Nothing in the original article proves that having a high K rate portends failure for players with great power. And throwing a list of names out there with some legitimate potential studs at the top (highest Ks) of the list does little if anything to further the argument.

    Silver's thesis is unproven (to the public anyway); but you do not denounce someone else's unproven thesis by offering your own unproven thesis as fact. That fails to achieve anything.

    The other key aspect of Silver's more detailed statement (as posted by anthony) is "all else being equal." And "all" is more than just number of HR in a season. If you wanted to compare young sluggers who were very comparable in all aspects of offesive production (normalized for league/era/park) except Ks, that would be a better starting point than looking at all young sluggers with > x HR in a year, as the original list does. Obviously, it would take a lot of work to do such a study. But anything short of that is just speculation.