Mark Reynolds broke his own single-season strikeout record last night by whiffing for the 205th (and 206th) time and … well, no one seems to care all that much. Which is a good thing.
Not so long ago a player even approaching the strikeout record was viewed as a big deal that usually drew all sorts of heavy-handed criticism from columnists and talking heads, but whether because the baseball media has evolved or someone breaking his own record simply isn’t much of a story the hand-wringing over Reynolds has been minimal.
Last week, while writing about why the focus on hitter strikeouts is largely misguided, I noted that the 10 guys who’ve struck out most often this season have been significantly more productive hitters than the 10 guys who’ve struck out least often. Along those same lines, the 10 highest single-season strikeout totals have all come from very productive hitters:
YEAR SO AVG HR RBI OPS
Mark Reynolds 2009 206 .266 43 100 .919
Mark Reynolds 2008 204 .239 28 97 .779
Ryan Howard 2007 199 .268 47 136 .976
Ryan Howard 2008 199 .251 48 146 .881
Jack Cust 2008 197 .231 33 77 .851
Adam Dunn 2004 195 .266 46 102 .956
Adam Dunn 2006 194 .234 40 92 .855
Bobby Bonds 1970 189 .302 26 78 .879
Jose Hernandez 2002 188 .288 24 73 .834
Bobby Bonds 1969 187 .259 32 90 .824
Preston Wilson 2000 187 .264 31 121 .817
It’s very difficult to post a high batting average while striking out 180-200 times in a season, but batting average doesn’t equal production and the seasons shown on the above list have averaged 36 homers and 101 RBIs with an .870 OPS. Reynolds is having a fantastic offensive season, just as guys like Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn and Bobby Bonds did before him, and anyone unwilling to see that is missing the forest through the trees.
There are some situations where a strikeout is worse than other types of outs. For example, with a runner on third base and less than two outs, hitting a sacrifice fly out has more value than striking out. However, there are also some situations where a strikeout is better than other types of outs. For example, with a runner on first base and less than two outs, striking out is more valuable than grounding into a double play (which Reynolds has done just eight times this year compared to 29 for high-contact hitter Miguel Tejada).
Add up all of those different situations and at the end of the day a strikeout is no worse than flying out or grounding out, even if a certain segment of the baseball-watching public refuses to believe it. Striking out has the added bonus of typically coming with lots of homers and walks, and unlike the difference between types of outs those things actually have a huge impact on scoring runs.
Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.
Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.
Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.
It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.
After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.
The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.
Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.
The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.
Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.
Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.
After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.
According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.
The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.