Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, an achievement colloquially known as a “golden sombrero.” Hopefully it makes Bryant feel better to know he’s not alone. Lonnie Chisenhall, Aaron Judge (twice), Jay Bruce, and Cody Bellinger have all worn golden sombreros this postseason.
With six four-strikeout games already this postseason, 2017 has tied 1997 for the most golden sombreros in a postseason. And we’re not even past the Division Series yet. In 1997, Dan Wilson, Brady Anderson, Marquis Grissom (twice), Rafael Palmeiro, and Devon White accomplished the ignominious feat. 2016 saw zero golden somberos in the postseason. In case you’re wondering, 2015 had two, 2014 had three, 2013 had four.
Why so many this postseason? I’d posit that the evolution in pitcher usage has something to do with it. Starters are now being used in relief roles previously taken by middle relievers. For example, rather than using someone like Addison Reed after Rick Porcello could only last three innings in ALDS Game 4 against the Astros, then-manager John Farrell opted to use starter Chris Sale, who led all starters with 308 strikeouts. He struck out six in 4 2/3 innings in Game 4.
Furthermore, in general, there’s a lot more emphasis by pitchers to strike batters out, as evidenced by the strikeout rate, which has been climbing every year since 2005. Hitters emphasize power hitting and hitting fly balls now more than ever. Take J.D. Martinez for example, who said back in March, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball. I’m trying to hit the ball in the air.” He smacked 45 home runs this season, including 29 in 62 games after joining the Diamondbacks.
Of course, an equally valid explanation is that it’s just random chance that four-strikeout games would cluster in a particular year. Nevertheless, it is an interesting data point and it will be fun to see how much higher the golden sombrero count will climb by the end of this postseason.