Let me once again reiterate something I have said here before: strikeouts are bad.
Never once have I said a strikeout is a positive outcome. It is not always a hugely negative outcome, but it is never positive to strike out. In a vacuum, if given the choice to strike out less, you would want that for a player. The more strikeouts a player has, the harder it is for that player to maintain a good batting average and subsequently support the rest of his (more important) batting line, as he depends more on balls in play for success. Strikeouts are definitely bad.
But strikeouts are mostly bad because outs are bad. In looking back at the run-scoring effects of various outcomes at the plate, strikeouts are not worth less than any other out. Take a look at this table representing run scoring from 1999 to 2002. If you scan through the columns labeled "Out" and "K," you will note that often times, those two numbers are very similarly negative. At the end of the day, the average value of a strikeout was only 0.01 runs worse than the average value of a regular out. Basically, outs so rarely produce positive events (even "productive outs" tend to be overstated in their value, as moving baserunners for outs is often at best a net neutral occurrence) that the average difference is minimal.
Ultimately, the true problem with a player who strikes out a lot is not that his batting average is low, but that he makes a lot of outs. Outs are of value; they are the clock of baseball. If you make fewer outs, you do a better job hitting.
But as with any evaluation of any player, the number of strikeouts he makes is just one part of that assessment. The entire player is a sum of all of his accomplishments. This brings me to my next point: while striking out more often is bad, certain players are good enough to overcome that. Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is one of those guys.
That was Stantons 22nd home run of the season from last night's game. He has only 261 plate appearances this year. He has hit a home run in an astounding 8.4 percent of plate appearances. He also struck out twice last night to bring his season strikeout total to 84, a whopping 32 percent of his chances at the dish. Both of those rates represents career highs for the slugger, and when Stanton was struggling, the latter became more of a focus than it had been in recent years.
It is understandable to focus in on Stanton's one negative, especially in light of his massive $325 million contract from last offseason. However, it is important to note that Stanton is a great player despite strikeouts. The problem with strikeouts is that they are outs, and the more outs you make at the plate, the harder it is to get on base. Stanton has very little issue with this, mostly because pitchers are forced to avoid the plate with him in fear he will launch balls into the stratosphere. Pitchers have thrown 44 percent of pitches in the strike zone at Stanton this year, a bump from the 41 percent of the last two years. Still, he has walked 11.1 percent of the time, and as teams begin to once again adjust carefully around him, that number may go up. Stanton's on-base percentage, which is essentially the opposite of out rate, is at .332, the lowest it has been since his rookie year but still an acceptable number, especially for a player with such a high whiff rate. His career .361 mark shows that he is a player who still avoids outs successfully despite the strikeouts.
More importantly, Stanton has other tools to avoid the negative drag of strikeouts. His most obvious one is power, and he is using it to full effect this year. Stanton's power streak this year has been spectacular, and it has helped buoy his value. His 22 home runs have yielded a .341 ISO, second only to Bryce Harper this season. Stanton is projected at the moment to finish with 48 home runs this year.
Since 1993, there have been 69 player seasons with at least 45 home runs that did not occur among Colorado Rockies players, and only nine of those player-seasons had batting lines worse than a wRC+ of 140 (40 percent better than league average). If Stanton reaches the 45-homer mark, especially in this latest era of decreased power production, he will have been a very productive hitter in 2015. Even now, with a career-low .278 BABIP despite hitting more than 50 percent of his batted balls "hard" by BIS classifications, he owns a batting line that is 44 percent better than league average, which is right on par with his career numbers.
Striking out is not good, and if I could guarantee that Stanton would retain everything else about him if he just made a little more contact, I would prefer it. However, Stanton is already a great player, and the things that he does well should not be overshadowed by his one flaw. He strikes out a lot, but that by no means makes him any less of a star.