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.