The case of the Texas Rangers and the incredibly shrinking strikeout rates

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One of things that really stood out when I was doing projections over the last month was how the 2011 Rangers had a bunch of guys that didn’t strike out anywhere near as much as usual. In fact, seven of their nine veterans with at least 400 plate appearances last season set new career-lows when it came to their strikeout rates.

Here’s this list, comparing their 2010 strikeout rates (K/PA) to their 2011 marks. I’m also adding their previous career lows.

Ian Kinsler: 12.4% to 9.8% (previous career low: 11.5%)
Adrian Beltre: 12.8% to 10.1% (previous career low: 12.8%)
Elvis Andrus: 14.2% to 11.1% (previous career low: 14.2%)
Michael Young: 16.0% to 11.3% (previous career low: 12.0%)
David Murphy: 15.1% to 13.9% (previous career low: 15.1%)
Yorvit Torrealba: 18.5% to 15.5% (previous career low: 16.5%)*
Mike Napoli: 26.9% to 19.7% (previous career low: 23.8%)

Josh Hamilton: 16.6% to 17.3%
Nelson Cruz: 18.2% to 22.6%

Torrealba came in at 12.9% in 136 at-bats as a rookie in 2002. 16.5% was his low mark in any of his six previous seasons with at least 200 at-bats.

I didn’t include sophomore Mitch Moreland in the above list. His strikeout rate went from 20.8% in 2010 to 18.0% last season, but given that he had just 145 major league at-bats entering the year, I didn’t think that was a big enough sample. Besides, I hardly needed him to help make my point. Seven career lows. Five of the team’s seven most important hitters (tossing out Murphy and Torrealba) lowered their strikeout rates by at least 20 percent.

That’s just incredible, in my opinion. Andrus is the only one of the seven players who is still on the upswing of his career. The others should be holding steady at best.

As for the two who declined, Hamilton still beat his career average. Cruz’s mark was slightly worse than his career average.

The data is so stark that I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the Rangers were getting some help. Maybe they could have been stealing signs at home? The team as a whole had a K rate of 14.0% at home and 15.7% on the road. That’s a significantly larger gap than the league home-away splits (17.7% at home, 18.3% on the road), but not a big enough difference to suggest that something fishy was going on, not when they were still so much better than average on the road.

It will be interesting to see if the Rangers can keep it going this year. Napoli, Young, Beltre and Kinsler all have to be viewed as candidates to decline after exceeding expectations in 2011. I think Kinsler may avoid that fate and the Texas offense could make up for some of that production with better health (Beltre, Napoli, Hamilton and Cruz all played in fewer than 125 games last year), but barring a Prince Fielder signing, it’s going to be difficult to score quite so many runs again.

Report: Diamondbacks acquire Steven Souza from Rays; Yankees land Brandon Drury

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Update (6:35 PM ET): This is a three-team deal also involving the Diamondbacks, per Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. The Diamondbacks will receive outfielder Steven Souza from the Rays and second baseman Brandon Drury will head to the Yankees. Lefty reliever Anthony Banda will go to the Rays, Piecoro adds. The Diamondbacks will also receive prospect Taylor Widener from the Yankees, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post. MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert adds that the Rays will get two players to be named later from the D-Backs.

Souza, 28, is earning $3.55 million in his first of three years of arbitration eligibility, so the Rays are presumably saving money in moving him. Last season, Souza hit a productive .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBI, 78 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases in 617 plate appearances. Souza’s arrival almost certainly pushes Yasmany Tomas out of a starting gig.

Drury, 25, has played a handful of positions in his brief major league career. Last year, he played second base in Arizona, batting .267/.317/.447 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI in 480 PA.

Banda, 24, made his major league debut last season, posting an ugly 5.96 ERA with a 25/10 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings. The peripherals suggest he pitched better than his ERA indicated.

Widener, 23, was selected by the Yankees in the 12th round of the 2016 draft. This past season with High-A Tampa, he pitched 119 1/3 innings and posted a 3.39 ERA with a 129/50 K/BB ratio. MLB Pipeline rated Widener as the 14th-best prospect in the Yankees’ system.

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Robert Murray of FanRag Sports reports that the Rays will acquire second base prospect Nick Solak from the Yankees. The Yankees’ return is presently not known.

Solak, 23, was selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2016 draft. He spent last season between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, hitting a combined .297/.384/.452 with 12 home runs, 53 RBI, 72 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases.

MLB Pipeline ranked Solak as the eighth-best prospect in the Yankees’ system and the fifth-best second base prospect in baseball, praising him for his ability to hit line drives as well as his speed.