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Giancarlo Stanton and your 2016 strikeout reminder

Giancarlo Stanton strikes out a lot. And when you're a good hitter, that's OK.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Giancarlo Stanton hit his 11th home run of the season to help alleviate the pain of a rough week at the plate for the Miami Marlins. In the six games before yesterday's contest, Stanton was hitting just .136/.240/.182 with nine strikeouts versus three walks. Those nine K's were not good, worth a 36 percent strikeout rate to cap the week. This recent cold streak, which extended from the end of the Philadelphia Phillies series, brought those questions once again about Stanton's oft-mentioned problem with strikeouts. As of Sunday's game, Stanton has struck out in 28.9 percent of plate appearances. His strikeout ranks 14th among qualified players in baseball.

That's not unusual for Stanton in the least. Since 2013, he ranks 17th in strikeout rate among the 251 players with at least 1000 plate appearances. This has been a common issue for him throughout his entire career. And there's no questioning that it is an issue, a weakness in Stanton's game for which he has to compensate.

As we did last season, I will confirm this. Strikeouts are bad.

But like I said last season, strikeouts are not a special kind of 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.


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.

So the problem with Stanton right off the bat, without considering anything else, is that he makes more than the usual number of outs in one particular fashion. More strikeouts means that you have to compensate by making fewer outs in other ways. Since we know that outs are a difficulty for Stanton, let's take a look at his out rate per non-intentional walk plate appearances as compared to other Marlins players since 2013 and in the 2016 season, as of before Sunday.

Player 2013-2016 Out Rate 2016 Out Rate
Christian Yelich .632 .569
Giancarlo Stanton .642 .653
Martin Prado .651 .585
Dee Gordon .655 .711
Casey McGehee .663 ---
Derek Dietrich .675 .591
Justin Bour .676 .664
Marcell Ozuna .686 .639
J.T. Realmuto .711 .692
Donovan Solano .713 ---
Adeiny Hechavarria .714 .767

What these numbers mean is essentially the percentage or rate of plate appearances that ended in outs. As we discussed above, outs are baseball's clock and its most limited resource, and one of the ways to hit well is to avoid making outs. Since 2013, Stanton ranks second only to Christian Yelich in terms of avoiding outs on the Marlins. Zoom out to the entire set of qualified big-league players and Stanton ranks 28th in all of baseball in avoiding outs. He has been on par with guys like Ben Zobrist, Yasiel Puig, and Michael Brantley.

So Stanton does an above-average job avoiding outs. getting about four percent fewer outs than the average baseball player in that time period. The difference between his 2013-2016 numbers and this season's numbers are close, though he has played slightly worse this season. Still, the point here is that while Stanton makes a lot of strikeout outs, he does a good job overall of limiting outs elsewhere.

How does he do it? One way is by walking. A walk is not as valuable as a hit, certainly. However, a walk is a positive event, and more importantly, it is one that is less dependent on the defensive talent that a pitcher carries with him. It is, first and foremost, not an out and therefore it is a helpful way to avoid outs. Stanton owns the 10th-highest walk rate (including intentional) since 2013 among players with at least 600 plate appearances.

Of course, hits are also a part of avoiding walks, and while Stanton's batting average is low, that is only a consequence of his high strikeout rate. When Stanton puts the ball in play, he actually gets plenty of hits; since 2013, Stanton's batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which does not include home runs, is at .322, with a league average around .300. We now know empirically that this has something to do with just how hard Stanton hits the baseball, whether it is for singles or extra-bases.

And all of that added value, the areas in which Stanton performs above average, still does not count his home runs, which are the most valuable part of his game. Stanton is a great hitter despite the strikeouts. Strikeouts do not preclude a player from being one of the best hitters in baseball today, and Stanton is proof of that. Like anyone who has flaws in their game, he has to do other things to make up for that lost value, and Stanton usually does that in spades.