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Are team strikeouts an important determinant of winning? A first look.

It has been my long held belief that minimizing strikeouts on offense and maximizing them on defense by the pitching staff is one of the important keys to winning. I have asserted this opinion in various ways in discussions regarding comparing players, situational hitting, and managerial decisions that are impacted by consideration of strikeouts. With the exception of the relatively rare double play, the strikeout is the ultimate unproductive out on offense. Also, the strikeout puts no pressure on the opposing team's defense or allow for a batted ball to find a gap between defenders. From the defensive perspective, the strikeout has all the advantages just cited as disadvantages for the team when on offense. There are a number of ways to attempt to quantitatively assess the importance of the strikeout. I used team statistics for the 2013 National League season. The calculated season team statistics were formulated so that there would be an offensive-defensive differential that could be compared to team run differential. The latter is strongly correlated with team win-loss differential.

Procedure A:

  1. For each team, the ratio of offensive base on balls (BB) to strikeouts (SO) was ranked from best (high) to worst (low).
  2. For each team, the ratio of defensive (pitching) SO to BB was ranked from best (high) to worst (low).
  3. The rank number, 1 (best) to 15 (worst) for offense and defense, was averaged, then the average rank number was itself ranked from best (high) to worst (low).

Results:

Shown in col. 2 below. My hypothesis is that it is significantly beneficial to winning by having a high BB to SO ratio on offense and a high SO to BB ratio while on defense. The teams ranked 1 to 5 for runs differential (col. 1), calculated as runs scored minus runs allowed, were ranked 1, 2, 4, 5, and 9 by this measure (A3). Of the five top ranked teams via runs differential only PIT was not in the top five by this measure. WSN was ranked 3 compared to rank 6 in runs differential. Overall, a close relationship is seen in 2013 for the NL, between runs differential and BB with SO ratios combined from the offense and defense.

Procedure B:

  1. For each team, the ratio of offensive SO to outs was ranked from best (low) to worst (high).
  2. For each team, the ratio of defensive (pitching) SO to outs was ranked from best (high) to worst (low).
  3. The rank number, 1 (best) to 15 (worst) for offense and defense, was averaged, then the average rank number was ranked from best (high) to worst (low).

Results:

Shown in col. 3 below. In each game there are a set number of outs, either 27 or 24 for each team. My hypothesis is that the fewer outs achieved by strikeouts on offense and the greater number of outs achieved by strikeouts on defense, the better for winning games over the course of the season. The teams ranked 1 to 5 for runs differential (col. 1), calculated as runs scored minus runs given up, were ranked 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 by this measure (B3). Of the five top ranked teams via runs differential only PIT were not in the top five by this measure. WSN was ranked 5 compared to rank 6 in runs differential. Overall, a close relationship is seen in 2013 for the NL, between runs differential and SO with total outs ratios combined from the offense and defense.

Procedure C:

For each team, the combined rank resulting from the first procedure in A3 (i.e., using the ratio BB to SO, or vice verse) was further combined with the combined rank resulting from the second procedure in B3 (i.e., using the ratio SO to outs). This yielded a grand combined rank that accounted for SO, BB, and total outs by both the offense (batting) and the defense (pitching).

Results:

Shown in col, 4 below. The teams ranked 1 to 5 for runs differential (col 1), calculated as runs scored minus runs given up, were ranked 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8 by this measure (C). Of the five top ranked teams via runs differential only PIT was not in the top five by this measure. WSN was ranked 5 compared to rank 6 in runs differential. Overall, a close relationship is seen in 2013 for the NL, between runs differential and appropriately formulated ratios involving BB, total outs, and SO combined from the offense and defense.

Procedure D:

In order to see if offensive-defensive measures, that did not involve the strikeout, would have a strong relationship with runs differential, I chose the HR totals to examine. For each team, the HR difference calculated as HRs hit by the offense minus the HRs allowed by the defense (pitching), was ranked from best (high) to worst (low).

Results:

Shown in col 5 below. The teams ranked 1 to 5 for runs differential, calculated as runs scored minus runs given up, were ranked 1, 2, 5, 7, and 10 by this measure. Of the five top ranked teams via runs differential LAD and CIN were not in the top five by this measure. WSN was ranked 4 compared to rank 6 in runs differential. Overall, a close relationship was not seen in 2013 for the NL, between runs differential and HR differential.

2013 NL

Rank by runs

differential

Combined

rank using BB

and SO

Combined

rank using

SO and outs

Combined

rank using

BB,SO, & outs

(pitch. & bat.)

HR

differential

1. STL*

CIN(-2)*

CIN(-2)*

CIN(-2)*

PIT*

2. ATL*

ATL(0)*

STL(+1)*

ATL(0)*

ATL*

3. CIN*

WSN(-3)

LAD(-1)*

STL(+2)*

COL

4. LAD*

STL(+3)*

ATL(+2)*

LAD(0)*

WSN

5. PIT*

LAD(+1)*

WSN(-1)

WSN(-1)

STL*

6. WSN

ARI(-1)

SFG(-5)#

SFG(-5)#

CHC#

7. ARI

SFG(-4)#

PIT(+2)*

ARI(0)

LAD*

8. MIL

NYM(-1)

ARI(+1)

PIT(+3)*

SDP#

9. NYM

PIT(+4)*

NYM(0)

NYM(0)

PHI#

10. COL

SDP(-2)#

CHC(-3)#

CHC(-3)#

CIN*

11. SFG#

CHC(-2)#

PHI(-3)#

SDP(-1)#

MIL

12. SDP#

MIL(+4)

SDP(0)#

PHI(-2)#

NYM

13. CHC#

PHI(-1)#

MIA(-2)#

MIL(+5)

MIA#

14. PHI#

MIA(-1)#

MIL(+6)

MIA(-1)#

SFG#

15. MIA#

COL(+5)

COL((+5)

COL(+5)

ARI

* Made playoffs

# Bottom five in runs differential

Note: The values in parentheses show the amount of rank displacement between team runs differential and the given metric. Example: a value of +2 means the team had a runs differential two rank numbers above the given metric rank.

Conclusion

While team metrics involving the strikeout, with offense combined with defense, had a strong relationship with team run differential for the 2013 NL season, the relationship of team home run differential with team run differential was tepid. Other non-strikeout metrics should be examined also.

This is not the definitive study on the subject of the importance of the strikeout to winning games over the course of a season, but it is a contribution in that direction. It covers only the 2013 season, and one league. Work is (slowly, sporadically) in progress for additional years and the American League. Some of the results (i.e., using the BB to SO ratios) for the 2013 AL season have been determined. Like the 2013 NL season there appears to be a strong relationship between AL team runs differential and combined offensive and defensive BB with SO ratios. When I have the calculations for several more years, for both leagues, I will report the results.


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