Anyone who has read my stuff for a while understands that I am not fond of strikeouts. I have often jousted against the notion that an out is an out is an out. I respectfully disagree. Strikeouts give the batter no opportunity to have anything other than an out where a batted ball will give the batter a 30% chance to get on base. The only scenario where a strikeout is better than a batted ball is a double play. Knowing my predilection to this part of baseball is my discovery that Marlon Byrd has done something in 2014 no player in the history of baseball has ever done before. Marlon Byrd struck out 150 times more than he walked in 2014.
Byrd had a pretty good offensive season by most standards. He had a 110 OPS+, hit 25 homers and drove in 85. In the world of the Phillies, that’s really productive. But when I saw that he had struck out 185 times and only walked 35 times, I was amazed and wondered if anyone had ever done that before.
Using Baseball-reference.com’s handy play index feature, I first looked for players with over 150 strikeouts in a season with less than 50 walks. That did give me a list of 57 all-time players. But I wasn’t sure if that was all inclusive. For example, Mark Reynolds once struck out 223 times and walked way more than fifty times. So then I searched players with more than 150 strikeouts in a season no matter how many walks there were. After all, you need a whole bunch of strikeouts to have 150 more of than walks. I then subtracted the walks from the strikeouts in each case.
It turns out that exactly 200 batters have struck out more than 150 times in a season. Of those 150, 67 have struck out at least a hundred more times than walking in their season. That is 45%. Of those 67, 23 have struck out 120 or more times than they have walked. Mark Reynolds has done it four times. Chris Carter has done it twice. Pete Incaviglia did it twice. And Pedro Alvarez has done it twice.
Obviously, Pete Incaviglia was a man who played before his time. In fact, no player before 1963 ever struck out 150 or more times. Dave Nicholson was the first ever to reach that total in 1963. That season, Don Lock also broke the magic 150 mark).
The following chart shows how exponential the growth of the 150 strikeout season has become. In our current decade, now only five years in, we have seen 65 such seasons. For the chart’s purposes, I doubled that amount to give a projected total to show the growth of such seasons. In fact, in 2014 alone, ten players struck out at least 150 times, the same amount as the entire decade of the 1970s.
And so it only makes sense that we have finally reached such a pinnacle of strikeouts that for the first time in the history of baseball, a player has struck out 150 more times than he has walked. We have flipped the Marlon Byrd.
The top ten seasons in more strikeouts than walks:
- Marlon Byrd – 150
- Mark Ryenolds – 147 (2009)
- Jose Hernandez – 146 (2001)
- Danny Espinoza – 143 (2012)
- Chris Carter (2013), Drew Stubbs (2011) – 142
- Mike Zunino (2014) – 141
- Jim Presley (1986), Juan Samuel (1984), Mark Reynolds (2008) – 140
- Pedro Alvarez (2013) – 138
- Ian Desmond (2014) – 137
- Jose Hernandez (2002), Chris Johnson (2014) – 136
I know that this issue drives me crazier than it should. But I can’t get over the fact that if Marlon Byrd had struck out 85 times instead of 185 times and put the ball in play those 100 times, he would have had 29 more hits (using a .291 BABIP for MLB with two strikes in 2014). If you give him 29 more hits, even if they were all singles, his triple slash line would go from .264/.312/.445 to .313/.358/494. Strikeouts have risen to insane levels and we have finally flipped the Byrd.