Flipping the Marlon Byrd revisited

Yesterday I wrote about Marlon Byrd and the fact that he did something no other player has ever done before by striking out 150 times more than he walked. I did mention that Byrd did have a good offensive season. But my over-arching point was that he could have done better sans the strikeouts. That post was syndicated by It’s About the Money, the other site I write for. And one of my favorite commenters had this to say: “Mike Trout struck out 101 times more than he walked. Somehow I doubt the Angels are getting their underwear in a twist over that.” Interesting point. Let’s look at it for a second.

Certainly Mike Trout had an MVP season. I cannot imagine him not winning the award this season. The Angels also ended up with the best record in the Major Leagues, so, no, the Angels do not have much to complain about. Trout led the league in runs batted in and runs scored. According to all of that, the Angels should be ecstatic. But that doesn’t mean the Angels aren’t worried about the strikeouts.

My difficulty with the comment is that just because Mike Trout was the bomb again this year for the third straight year of brilliance on the field, it doesn’t mean he could not have been better. The comment comes with certain assumptions.

The first assumption is that Trout’s season was good enough just as it was. And I cannot argue that point. It was good enough to garner him an MVP and it was good enough for the Angels to be the best team in baseball during the regular season. But the assumption is also wrong because as scary as this sounds, Trout could have been much better with, say, a hundred less strikeouts.

The second assumption is that the sudden jump in strikeouts for Trout is not a concern. I totally disagree there. When his strikeout rate the previous two seasons were 21.8% and 19% respectively, then jumping to 26.1% is a big concern. The problem I am having is that his plate discipline and swinging strike rates did not change much from his previous two seasons. That said, it could be just a fluke and he will return to his normal rate of the previous two seasons. But what if it wasn’t?

Let’s say this new strikeout rate is the new norm for Trout moving forward. It will impact things for Trout and for the Angels in future years when the Angels have to fight more for the post season and Trout has other competition for post season awards. Trout winning the MVP with a .939 OPS will be the third lowest OPS to win the award since 2000. He will have challengers in the years ahead.

My contention is still that as good as Trout was in 2014, it could have been better with less strikeouts and more contact. Most people assume that power hitters would not hit more homers with less strikeouts and that strikeouts are the trade off for the power. I just don’t buy that. If a power hitter makes contact and puts more balls in play, then the power numbers will not go down and would probably go up even higher.

Stating anything else would be to assume that being defensive with two strikes would lead to weaker contact and not more homers. Again, I am not biting. Mike Trout did hit 14 of his homers with two strikes. But surely (please don’t call me Shirley) if Trout put the ball in play eighty to a hundred more times a few more would go over the fence.

And even if it didn’t, with the BABIP being pretty well established at .291 for the Major Leagues with two strikes, Trout’s OPS would be closer to one with 25 to 29 more hits that would result in putting the ball in play.

I realize that I am flying in the face of the “an out is an out” crowd made up of really smart people. I cannot let go of the idea that such outs are not equal. A strikeout leaves no possibility of getting on base. A batted ball will always lead to a 30% chance of getting on base. As good as Mike Trout was in 2014, it was not as good as his 2012 and 2013 seasons and the strikeouts were the number one reason.

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