How many times this season have we heard that the Atlanta Braves strikeout too much? By far too many to count; time and time again it’s the go-to critique that the analysts choose to undermine the talent and achievements of the Braves. Despite currently holding the best record in the NL, despite the best home record in MLB, despite sweeping 11 separate teams (some of which were swept multiple times) it is still believed that they strikeout too much.
The thing is, strikeouts aren’t really as bad as people think. Just think logically for a minute, about the value of a ball in play. By putting a ball in play, you’re forcing the defense to make a play on the ball which puts the pressure on them. It’s their job to get the out and an error means a base runner. Okay, so that’s understandable — the more balls in play the greater chance for a base runner from an error. But how often do playoff teams really commit errors? Rarely, so we can account for that, but it’s realistically not that much of an advantage.
What about productive outs? You need those in the postseason against high caliber pitching. Sure you do, but how many balls in play even move base runners? Well again, not that many. To move a runner you have to hit the ball to a certain depth or to a certain side of the field. While the Braves may have some less productive outs throughout a season’s length, the benefits of moving runners over doesn’t give one team that much of advantage. Remember, after you move a runner over with a productive out, you still have to hit them in. The Braves are good at that.
Finally, the biggest reason why strikeouts are less damaging than analysts like to allude to is because a strikeout prevents a double play. When the Braves have a runner on first, a strikeout still means that runner is on first while a ball simply put in play could mean a bases clearing or inning ending double play. With a man on first, a strikeout leaves that man there and gives the next batter a chance to hit that runner in. The strikeout minimizes the chance of a double play which essentially balances out any of the positives that come from players who consistently put the ball in play.
The Braves have weaknesses, no doubt about it. There are some good reasons for one to be worried about the Atlanta’s chances in the postseason, like their sub .500 away record, but their strikeout rate certainly is not one of them.