Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart was justly ridiculed this week when he expressed hope free agent James Shields would take less money to play in Arizona for “a true baseball team vs. some of the other teams out here that are geared more toward analytics and those type of things.”
But old schoolers like Stewart aren’t the only execs reluctant to think outside their comfort zone. Stat geeks have long maintained that strikeouts don’t matter, and, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow — the darling of the analytics crowd — persists in constructing an offense filled with prolific whiffers.
Newly acquired Evan Gattis struck out 97 times in 106 games last year but, compared to some of his new teammates, he’s Tony Gwynn. Incumbent catcher Jason Castro struck out 151 times in 126 games in 2014. DH Chris Carter struck out more than even B.J. Upton while rookies George Springer and Jon Singleton’s were on pace to strike out a combined 466 times. Returning starters Dexter Fowler, Matt Dominguez and Robbie Grossman also eclipsed 100 K’s.
We know how excessive strikeouts stifled the Braves offense last year, but they weren’t alone. Of the 10 teams with the most strikeouts in 2014, only Washington finished with a winning record. Conversely, of the 10 teams with the fewest strikeouts, seven had winning records and four reached the playoffs.
Granted, the 2013 Braves managed to reach the postseason despite striking out 15 more times than a year ago. But good pitching almost always got the better of the Braves’ all-or-nothing offense.
In the three years that Luhnow has been GM the Astros have finished either first or second in the majors in strikeouts and are certain to maintain that trend in 2015. Obviously Luhnow doesn’t believe making contact is all that important, but those of us who endured the 2014 Braves know better.