Using advanced stats for Fantasy - Strikeout rate

Jay Bruce has power, but won't hit for a great average. (USATSI)
Jay Bruce has power, but won't hit for a great average. (USATSI)

We continue our advanced stats series looking at strikeout rate for hitters. Strikeouts aren't as devastating as they are made out to be in real life, but they give us some key information about hitters in Fantasy.

Stat: Strikeout rate (denoted as K% on most sites)

Where can I find it: FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

What does it do: Strikeout rate is pretty simple. It tells you how often a player strikes out.

I still don't understand: Strikeout rate takes number of strikeouts, and divides by total plate appearances. This gives you the percentage of plate appearances in which a player strikes out. You can go to the FanGraphs glossary for more information.

How can I use it: Perhaps this is obvious, but strikeouts play a fairly significant role in determining a player's batting average. Ever wonder why Adam Dunn and Jay Bruce don't consistently hit .280? It's because they strike out in over 20 percent of their plate appearances. Players who make a lot of contact, and don't strike out, are typically better bets to hit for a higher average. Think vintage Ichiro here. 

It may not be surprising to learn that Dunn and Bruce aren't going to hit .280, but that's because we have enough data on them to know their career rates. When you take strikeout rate and apply it to a player with less established career numbers, you can get some of the information you need.

Example: Jedd Gyorko is a young player who has hit for poor averages since he's been in the majors. While he's sure to improve, he's not going to be a candidate to hit much higher than .265 if he continues to strike out in 24.4 percent of his plate appearances. 

We can take this example a step farther and look at advanced prospects too. There was a lot of hype about George Springer's promotion, but Fantasy owners shouldn't expect a high average. Springer struck out in a little over 24 percent of his plate appearances at Triple-A. Strikeout rate tends to jump once hitters reach the majors since they face more advanced pitching. Springer is young, and there's reason to think he'll eventually control the strike zone better, but he's not a threat to hit for average right now. 

What are the problems with this stat: As usual, try not to use it in small samples. Looking up monthly splits for strikeout rate won't tell you much. Other than that, though, it does a good job. Players who strike out a lot but post solid averages typically have unsustainable BABIPs.

Anything else: I like to use 20 percent as a benchmark for average. If a hitter strikes out in over 20 percent of their plate appearances, they'll probably hit around .270. Once you get above 25 percent, you start to see guys who top out around .250. If you're strikeout rate is over 30 percent, you're not long for the majors unless you have power for days.

Also, don't let strikeouts scare you away from hitters. If a player strikes out a lot, but is in the majors, it's typically because they do other things well. Most power hitters have above-average strikeout rates. You aren't going to win your Fantasy league with a team full of slap-hitting, non-strikeout guys.

Next post: There will be a next post, but the content is to be determined at this point.

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