The Royals’ Low Strikeout Rate

December 2, 2015

Much of the attention paid to the 2015 Royals was given to their excellent pitching and defense, but their offense was compelling as well. Despite being in the bottom third of the league in home runs and walk rate, the Royals were seventh in runs out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball. As has been mentioned in the media, they were quite special in one area: making contact. The Royals struck out just 973 times this season. No other team struck out fewer than 1,100 times. The Royals struck out on just 15.9 percent of their plate appearances; no other team was close, with the Oakland A’s a distant second at 18.1 percent.

Lowest Strikeout Rate, 2015
Team Strikeouts PA Strikeout Rate
Royals 973 6116 15.9%
Athletics 1119 6171 18.1%
Braves 1107 6034 18.3%
Red Sox 1148 6237 18.4%
Blue Jays 1151 6232 18.5%
Average - - 20.4%

 

Perhaps the most interesting thing about that leaderboard is the differences in the teams’ final records. The Royals and Blue Jays were two of the final four teams in the playoffs. The Athletics and Red Sox were last-place teams, and the Braves lost 95 games. Meanwhile, the teams with the highest strikeout rates showed a similar variance of team success.

Highest Strikeout Rate, 2015
Team Strikeouts PA Strikeout Rate
Cubs 1518 6200 24.5%
Astros 1392 6073 22.9%
Orioles 1331 6007 22.2%
Padres 1327 6019 22.0%
Nationals 1344 6117 22.0%
Average - - 20.4%

 

The Cubs and Astros were both playoff teams, but the Padres lost 88 games. As bad as strikeouts are for offenses, they do not fully characterize them. For example, the Cubs and Nationals were in the top five in walk rate, and the Astros and Orioles were top five in home runs. It’s increasingly common for players with power and plate discipline to also strike out a lot; you cannot judge the latter in isolation from the former. The strikeout-averse Royals, Red Sox, and Blue Jays were in the top 10 in run scoring this season, but so too were the strikeout-prone Astros, Orioles, and Nationals.

Most Runs per Game, 2015
Team Runs per Game
Blue Jays 5.50
Yankees 4.72
Rangers 4.64
Red Sox 4.62
Rockies 4.55
Astros 4.50
Royals 4.47
Diamondbacks 4.44
Orioles 4.40
Nationals 4.34

 

The Royals may not have found the only formula for success, but their formula helped them to become one of the top offenses in baseball. By eschewing power and plate discipline for contact ability, they are a throwback to a previous generation.

 
 

COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

doncoffin
Single season outcomes are, of course, no particularly definitive. I took a quick look at strikeouts and scoring, by team, for 5 seasons--1975, 1985, 1995, 2005, and 2015. I measured strikeouts as K/PA relative to the league and scoring as R/G relative to the league. There is a (small) correlation between strikeout rates and scoring (-0.18), suggesting that there is a (slight) tendency for a team to score fewer R/G if it has a higher K/PA. How slight? A team with a strikeout rate 75% of the ML average would, according to this, score about 5% more runs per game. A team with a strikeout rate that is 125% of the ML average would tend to score about 5% more R/G. (Or,, at a scoring level of 4.25 RGP, the low strikeout team would score about 4.46 RPG, while the high strikeout team would tend to score about 4.04 RPG. That's about 68 runs--call it 7 wins--per season.

The problem is that the variation around that average is huge.
10:08 PM Dec 2nd
 
Gfletch
I agree that there is something to the idea of certain kinds of offenses being more consistent in scoring 3-5 runs per game, but on the other hand KC's Runs Created were within 1-2% of what they actually scored. And their runs scored totals, or per game, were not remarkable.

Strikeouts, to be sure, are unproductive outs, but they also do not produce double plays. The Royals SH / SF totals were not unusual in any way. So, no, I don't see their low strikeout total being particularly key to their success. I guess you could say their lineup, top to bottom, though sort of middle-of-the-road, was at least fairly consistent.

Let's face it, the Royals success intrigues us all because the team doesn't look to be, in any measurable way, like a World Series favourite, and yet they have come within a whisker of winning two straight. But consider why we all seem to love them: it's because they didn't just win, they surprised, they won exciting games, and often by narrow margins, or won them with surprising or unusual events.

A really great team relies less on remarkable events or spectacular plays. The Royals are more surprising and exciting than they are good. What's great for KC fans is that they've got two World Series, one of which they won, already in hand. And my impression is that their organization doesn't believe they have come anywhere near where they want to be.
4:58 PM Dec 2nd
 
hotstatrat
I disagree with Gfletch on a couple of points:
I think the Royals and Blue Blue Jays qualified as "great teams". Toronto's offense vs. defense by runs scored vs. against should have produced 102 wins, but they were a level greater than that after they acquired David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. They Royals beat them. They didn't have the type of offense that generates great run differentials, but I suggest that it is the type of offense that generates runs in patterns that are more liable to win close games. Similarly their bullpen was so strong, that their defense was designed to win the closer games. And they, too, became a team another level greater towards the end after they acquired Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist.

Strikeouts are not like other outs. You have no chance of driving in a run or later scoring a run, if you strikeout. Hits come from not striking out. You have more or less a 30% of getting a hit if you don't strikeout. There is also about a 2.5% chance that you will have an error made on trying to get you out - if you don't strikeout.
3:38 PM Dec 2nd
 
Gfletch
As far as I can see the Royals are still exactly what they are. Pretty damn good, but not great. There are no great teams in the AL, they play in a weak division, their run differential is just half a run per game.

The information in this article just reinforces the fact that strikeouts are just outs.

Now, don't get me wrong; I love the Royals, love what they accomplished. Simplifying, we are in a current environment, offensively, of Walks and Homers vs Strikeouts. KC, perhaps philosophically, is refusing to play that game. If the opponents strategy is to strike you out and risk walks and homers, hey, why not mess that up?

It worked. I hope other teams copy them, because it's way more fun. This is a team that played 'aggressive' baseball and it paid off in the clutch, if I can be forgiven that expression. Good on 'em, man, but I still wouldn't be surprised (too much) if they didn't even make the post season next year.
1:17 PM Dec 2nd
 
 
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