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How Could Something So Wrong Feel So Right?

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Twice this weekend, Charlie Slowes mentioned the Marlins ranked highly in the National League in runs scored despite leading the league in strikeouts. Actually, he didn't so much mention this tidbit as express amazement in it, and, as noted on Friday, the Marlins don't so much pace the circuit in whiffs as have already lapped the field in the category. And so it is. They lead the league in strikeouts by a ridiculous amount yet entered the weekend series near or at the top of the league in runs scored. The inflection of Charlie's voice as he related this apparent contrast practically begged the question: How is this possible?

It's possible because the view that strikeouts -- even in bulk -- are per se harmful to offensive production is horribly benighted. The view is rooted more in perception than reality. The perception is that a strikeout is a deflating failure, an embarassment; the reality is often something rather more mundane. Strikeouts are not necessarily detrimental [clarifying note: as compared to other outs]. Generally speaking, strikeouts correlate neither positively nor negatively with runs scored. Teams can score lots and lots of runs despite registering lots and lots of strikeouts. The Cincinnati Reds, for instance, led the NL in runs scored in 2005 even as they fanned almost 150 more times than anyone else in the league. Conversely, teams can have massive trouble scoring runs despite not striking out much at all. For example, last season's edition of the Chicago Cubs was the third-toughest team to strike out but finished next-to-last in runs scored. You will, of course, find teams that fan too much and also can't score, as well as teams that are tough to fan and rank highly in runs scored. But a "therefore" should not be placed in those statements. One does not need to follow from another, and strikeouts could but do not necessarily mean troubled offensive performance.

Please do not read this post any farther than I intend it. I'm not endorsing the strikeout as an offensive strategy, obviously. Depending on the situation, strikeouts can be especially damning. Other times, they represent just another out. I'm merely saying we don't need to tiptoe around the subject like the propensity to strike out is a moral failing. Looking at last year's leaderboard, you'll find many exceptional names and many mediocre names (and a still-familiar name at No. 5). Essentially, if you want to look at run-scoring, don't look at the strikeouts. Look at the on-base and slugging percentages.