How many strikeouts are too many?
I’m not talking about how it affects the pace of play or the number of balls put in play for the overall good of the game. I’m specifically asking for an individual player. How often is too often to strike out?
For example, Player X is slashing .298/.354/.623 with 11 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, and a 178 wRC+ in 32 games. He has had 127 plate appearances so far this season and has made out 80 times.
Do you care how many of those outs were by striking out?
If the offensive production remains at this level (and I give you that’s a big if), does it matter if all 80 outs were by strikeout? I’m honestly starting to think it doesn’t.
That way of thinking is a cultural shift in the game not only from when I grew up but from even 20 years ago.
There have been 27 Major Leaguers who’ve hit over 500 home runs, and only four (Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Reggie Jackson) have strikeout rates above 20%. Thome has the highest at 24.7% which means he struck out nearly once every four times he came to the plate.
But in the short amount of time since Thome retired, strikeouts have gone through the roof across the board. Wil Myers is tops on the leaderboard this season with a 36.0% K rate or once every 2.78 plate appearances.
The poster boy in MLB for this movement (or lack of one if you will) has to be Texas Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound slugger has a career strikeout rate of 37.7% but is also coming off back-to-back 40 home run seasons.
On Friday night in Hartford, Player X, better known as Harrisburg Senators third baseman Drew Ward, went 1-for-5 with a three-run home run and four strikeouts. That night at the plate encapsulated his year pretty perfectly.
The 24-year-old is second in the Eastern League with 44 strikeouts with a K rate of 34.6%. But Ward has also been tearing the cover off the ball when he makes contact this season to the tune of eight home runs, 11 doubles, and a .623 slugging percentage.
To put that in perspective, the league leader in strikeouts with 50, the Yard Goats’ Brett Boswell, is slugging only .244 with six extra-base hits. Hartford’s Vince Fernandez and Altoona’s Hunter Owen are the other two batters in the top 30 in the league in strikeouts that have slugging percentages over .500 and both fall woefully short of Ward’s current mark.
So again I ask the question from before, how many strikeouts are too many?
The deeper we get into the dog days of summer and Ward keeps this pace up, I’m not sure there’s an answer that matters.