Analysis: Strikeouts piling up for more than just Braves
by T.K. Greer
May 11, 2013 | 1698 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you’ve watched any of the Atlanta Braves’ games so far this season, you’re likely wondering if every player is masquerading as Rob Deer — a career .220 hitter who led the league in strikeouts four times during his playing days with Detroit and Milwaukee in the 1980s and 1990s.

When you pile up 318 strikeouts in your first 34 games (that’s 9.35 strikeouts a game), it’s easy to wonder if this thing can go off the rails in a hurry. But believe it or not, that’s not the worst strikeout rate in the majors.

That distinction belongs to Houston. The Astros have whiffed 353 times in 35 games — an average of 10 punchouts a contest. Houston hitters recorded 43 strikeouts in their first 93 at-bats of the season, and they recorded 15 strikeouts in back-to-back nine-inning games earlier this year. Only three other teams since 1910 have done that.

So while the Astros are on pace for more than 1,600 strikeouts as a team — which would easily set the all-time record — and while the Braves are hot on their heels (on pace for more than 1,530), all of this strikeout stuff is kind of where the game is today.

Major-league games produced an average of 15.29 strikeouts per game in April to set the highest mark for any month in history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Each of the past seven seasons has produced more strikeouts than the year before. Last year’s 36,426 strikeouts established a major-league record, according to Elias. And the pace for this year will see hitters top 37,000 if they can keep it up.

So if you want to see Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Juan Francisco, Evan Gattis or Chris Johnson choke up and try to make contact more often, like on 0-and-2 counts, forget about it. B.J. Upton has already had two four-strikeout games, and we’re just about to start the seventh week of the season. I’d set the over/under on four strikeout games for B.J. at eight for the season — and I’d be tempted to take the over.

But there are two things that set the Braves apart from the Astros and some of the other high-strikeout teams, and should enable their offense to be successful over the long haul of the season.

Patience and power.

The Braves have a .324 on base percentage as a team (10th in MLB) despite posting a less-than-ideal .248 batting average (17th in MLB). Atlanta is fourth in all of baseball with 121 walks. So, while the Upton brothers, Uggla and their friends fail to have bat meet ball more often than we would like to see, they are still grinding out most at bats and finding a way to reach base.

That plays into the power. Atlanta has out-homered its opponents 48-31 so far this year, and its 48 homers are good enough for second in all of baseball behind only Cleveland.

Justin Upton, Gattis, Uggla and Francisco are all on pace for more than 20 home runs. Freddie Freeman is back from his injury and should surpass 20 home runs if he stays healthy. Brian McCann could approach that number, as could Jason Heyward. For comparison, Houston has one player — Chris Carter — on pace for more than 20 home runs.

Atlanta also has allowed the fewest runs in all of baseball at 113 while scoring 153 — the third highest run differential in the majors. So while the offense will struggle at times, it is far from inept.

Is it frustrating to watch the strikeouts pile up? Yes. Will there be more 17-strikeout games like Atlanta posted against Anibal Sanchez and Detroit? Yes. Will there be more shutouts like the five the Braves have suffered so far? Yes.

But as long as the patience and the power remains, Atlanta will continue to win games. It’s just that when they lose, it could be really ugly to watch.
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