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.

Will fans be allowed to attend MLB playoff games?

The MLB Playoffs are underway!
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After a condensed 60-game regular season, the MLB playoffs kicked off this week with an usual 16-team format that you can read more about below, but one of the many questions on everyone’s mind is whether or not fans will be allowed to attend MLB playoff games.

Will fans be allowed to go to MLB playoff games?

There have been no spectators at any games this season but MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is hopeful that fans will be able to attend the National League Championship Series and World Series Games. Both will take place in Texas which has been one of the few states allowing spectators to attend events this year.

“We are pressing ahead to have fans in Texas with a ticket sales announcement expected soon,” said Manfred to reporters at USA Today Sports. “One of the most important things to our game is the presence of fans. Starting down the path of having fans in stadiums, and in a safe and risk-free environment, is very, very important to our game.’’

Earlier this month, the Dallas Cowboys allowed over 21,000 fans into AT&T Stadium for the home opener. However, the MLB is still waiting for approval from Texas government officials. ALCS and NLCS games are expected to begin on October 11 and 12, respectively.

Below is the format and locations for each round. Unlike the regular season, there will be a bubble setup for each series in the postseason with the exception of the Wild Card round. Click here for the MLB schedule and scoreboard.

MLB Playoffs Format

Wild Card Series (Best-of-three): September 29 – October 2

All games will be held at the higher seed’s ball park.

American League

No. 1 Rays vs. No. 8 Blue Jays
No. 2 Athletics vs. No. 7 White Sox
No. 3 Twins vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 Cleveland vs. No. 5 Yankees

National League

No. 1 Dodgers vs. No. 8 Brewers
No. 2 Braves vs. No. 7 Reds
No. 3 Cubs vs. No. 6 Marlins
No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Cardinals

Division Series (Best-of-five): October 5 -10

The American League Division Series will be contested at Petco Park in San Diego and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The National League Division Series will be held at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas and Minute Maid Park in Houston.

League Championship Series (Best-of-seven): October 11-18

The American League Championship Series will be held at Petco Park in San Diego while the National League Championship Series will take place at Globe Life Field in Arlington.

World Series (Best-of-seven): October 20-28

The World Series will be held at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Home field advantage will go to the team with the best regular-season record.

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