Saturday, June 29, 2013

Atlanta Braves 2013 Myths: Part III

Earlier today, I touched on another myth I have seen and a couple of days ago, I began this series. Time to turn a corner and possibly find some truth in a myth.

Possibly.

1. Atlanta doesn't make productive outs because of strikeouts.
2. Atlanta seems to fall behind early and has to play catch-up. 

3.  Atlanta can't win if they keep striking out so much!

Commonly, we hear about the strikeouts being the Achilles's Heel of the Atlanta Braves by "experts" and "analysts" and "Harold Reynolds."  In addition, the mantra is repeated often on message boards, twitter, and in the ballpark.  There is some degree of truth, though not entirely related to the Braves.  Often, especially in history, a plethora of strikeouts is a sign of a bad offensive ball club.  However, the mantra itself does not tell us all that much.  There are 7.53 strikeouts on average by a team per game this season.  In 2000, the average was 6.45.  To put that simply, every team in baseball, on average, is striking out one more time per game and 162 more times in a season than they were 13 years ago.  Every year since 2005, MLB teams have struck out more than they did the year before.

Not all of that is due to hitters just not caring about strikeouts or whatever jibber-jabber they spout on MLB Tonight.  There are some REALLY good fucking pitchers in today's game and every year, more of them seem to develop.  People are throwing harder and with more movement than ever before.  Now, hitters and teams have begun to adopt a model that downplays the importance of strikeouts for batters, focusing on value elsewhere.  And let's be honest, strikeouts generally aren't that worse than any other out.  In situational hitting, that truth can lose its effectiveness. 

With that in mind, I decided to find if there was a certain number that truly defined the breaking point for the Atlanta Braves as far as strikeouts go.  If they strikeout, say 10 times, are they more/less likely to win and does that data have much importance?  And because I can totally kick butt at tables now, here's another one.

# of K's # of Times Record ExtIng
3 1 1-0 NA
4 7 5-2 NA
5 3 3-0 NA
6 10 9-1 NA
7 10 6-4 0-1
8 10 5-5 1-1
9 5 3-2 NA
10 12 4-8 3-2
11 9 5-4 NA
12 4 2-2 2-0
13 3 0-3 NA
14 2 1-1 NA
15 1 1-0 NA
16 3 2-1 NA
18 1 0-1 NA

What's to gain here?  Anything?

Well, from the raw data, if the Braves strikeout 10 times or more, they are 15-20 with only 10 of those wins coming in nine-inning games.  If they strikeout less than 10 times, they are 32-14.  However, the league average is 7.5 K's a game.  Rounding that up to 8 and below, the Braves are 29-12.

If the Braves don't strikeout, they do win.  However, is that truly the myth?  Hell, if they strikeout 14 times or more, they are 4-3, sample size be damned.  Regardless, you would have to assume that when the Braves strikeout more than the league average, they are often facing pretty good starters.  Typically, that does play out.  Anibal Sanchez, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner (twice), Stephen Strasburg (twice), Patrick Corbin, Gio Gonzalez (twice), Zack Greinke, and Cliff Lee were some of the good starters they faced and most often, those starters had good game scores and the Braves were headed to a loss.  The average game score in those games was 67 and the Braves were 4-8 in those games.  Seems to make sense, right?  If there is a good starter on the mound and he's dealing and you strikeout over 10 times, you lose.  However, when the starter isn't dealing, the Braves tend to strikeout a lot regardless, but when they aren't striking out, they are getting hits, hitting homers, taking walks, and most importantly, scoring runs.

The strikeouts in themselves are not a problem.  It goes way deeper than that.  It's why the Braves can strike out 18 times and lose 10-0, but strike out 16 times and win 9-2.  You are going to get strikeouts with this team and quite often, more than you can bear because the ones that you agonize over occur in close games, a good deal of which are lost.  If only Dan Uggla had made contact...or one of the Uptons...or so on...and you come to the knee-jerk conclusion that the strikeouts are the problem.  And they can be.  But win-or-lose, the Braves are, on average, going to strike out 8.8 times a game.  When they strike out less, they often are going to win, but remember, if a strikeout team isn't striking out, it typically means the opposing pitcher is crap or at least pitching like crap.

In the end, I came away from this little exercise surprised by the layout, expecting more victories with 10 or more strikeouts.  However, the more I delved in, the more I saw that you have to see more than the strikeouts.  Was the pitcher dealing or were the Braves simply striking out because that's part of their game?  And in the end, all of this is sample size dependent.  The biggest sample I can take from this is that in 57% of their games, the Atlanta Braves strike out 6-to-11 times, but that's a small sample to take from this.  They have a blistering .695 in those games if you are curious.

Regardless, there is little evidence that striking out is the problem.  For instance, the Atlanta Braves have had 10 games of 10 or more strikeouts this month, a month that has seen their R/G fall over a run from May.  Despite 10 or more strikeouts in 27 games this month, the K rate is the lowest it has been all season (though it's still 8.2 K per game).  Hell, they are walking a lot more and have a new month-high in steals this month.  Why so few runs?  Worst month for homers so far.  That is the telling number about this team.  They're going to strikeout and they will probably walk a good deal.  I'm a little surprised they haven't been more proficient in stolen bases, but whatever.  Their weapon of choice is the homer.  If it's not coming, the Braves aren't scoring like they should.

However, with 6 homers in the last 5 games, maybe the Braves offense is getting back to their bread-and-butter.

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