Steve Melewski of MASN wrote a nice article on Mark Reynolds yesterday, noting that the powerful corner infielder is looking to cut down on his hefty strikeout rate—that if he could “strike out 25 or 30 less times a year and put more balls in play, I could have a chance at a better average, more RBIs and home runs.” That brings up an interesting question—if Reynolds were to make this adjustment and cut down on his strikeouts, let’s say about 30 times per year, what effect might that have on his batting line, and ultimately his value?

Reynolds’ Marcel has him hitting .238/.334/.475 in 622 plate appearances (playing time based on a weighted average) with 33 dingers, 74 walks and 200 strikeouts. This translates to a park-neutral wOBA of .353 (league set to .330); +12 runs above the average. Estimating Reynolds’ defense to be around -3 runs, he projects to be around a 3.3 fWAR player (which just so happens to match up almost perfectly with FanGraphs’ current fan projections for him). That’s pretty solid for a guy who’s forecast to reach the 200-strikeout mark again.

If we rewrite his forecast, substituting his real-life numbers with a lowered strikeout rate (30 per season) and holding his rate of home runs per balls in play and types of non-home run hits constant, we actually see a pretty dramatic increase in performance. Reynolds’ forecast batting line is raised to .256/.350/.513 with 35 homers and a .374 wOBA (+22 runs). This improves his forecast WAR to 4.4, a full win of improvement.

Just by decreasing his strikeouts a little less than five percent—his target rate—Reynolds could (hypothetically speaking) see a pretty big jump in performance. This works under the assumption that those extra balls in play land at the same rate they typically do, of course. Rather than being the league leader in strikeout rate, Reynolds would settle around the likes of Adam Dunn, Carlos Peña and Ryan Howard (~33%). Baltimore received Reynolds for a pretty good price—two pitchers who have shown little major league success (although they’re still just in their mid-20s)—and the deal could look even better if he can cut down on those strikeouts, just by a little bit.

CJ said...

I question the assumption that the HR rate remains the same for the additional batted balls which previously would have been strike outs. The most common advice given to a slugger for reducing strike outs is to change the 2 strike approach at the plate. Reynolds mentioned “2 strike approach” in his quotes, if I recall. If the batter is told to try hitting the ball up the middle in those situations, that reduces the liklihood of a HR. I would suspect the groundball rate may turn out to be higher for these additional batted balls.

Cyril Morong said...

Some research I did a few years ago had a regression which was

AVGChange = -.00036 – .274*(SO/AB)Change

So if your strikeout rate went down, your average went up. But take Reynolds. Suppose he went from 200 Ks per 600 ABs to 150 ABs per 600 ABs. His average would go up about .023.

Here is something from another study I did

I found all the hitters in baseball who had 300+ ABs in both 2006 and 2007 (190 plyaers). Then I calculated their strikeout rates (K/AB), their contact rates and how each one changed from 2006 to 2007. The correlation between the change in strikeout rate and the change in contact rate was .142. So if a batter’s strikeout rate increased, his batting average while making contact also increased. Looking at the changes from 2005 to 2006 gave a .18 correlation.

Maybe this makes sense. If you swing harder, you strike out more. But a harder swing means the ball is hit harder, which should mean more hits. So combined with the earlier study, a player should be careful if he thinks he should make a big effort to strikeout less.

So we can’t be sure what might happen if anyone cuts down on strikeouts. If they don’t swing as hard, maybe they don’t hit the ball as hard

JT Jordan said...

Cyril, great stuff!

CJ: I agree, and I was thinking about it a bit when I put this little piece together- I remember my swing changed with two strikes to just try and put the ball in play (and you hear people talk about it all the time)- so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Reynolds began generating weaker balls in play instead of maintaining his high power in those situations. I just wasn’t sure how much to adjust the numbers to accommodate for it.

Cyril Morong said...

Thanks, glad you liked it.

Grandpa Boog said...

Reynolds could foul things up for himself and the Orioles by changing his approach to hitting. Dave Kingman comes to mind. He K’ed a great deal but kept on swinging away. Reynolds is dangerous because he “went [swung]for the Downs,” as Dizzy Dean used to say in the early TV days of Saturday afternoon Game of the Week. I reckon that I am dating myself by mentioning those mid-1950’s TV Games of the Week, but sometimes ball players think too much. Reynold needs to change his two-strike approach, maybe, as one fella above mentions but his 20-30 extra singles may translate to 5-10 fewer homers. Or he just might screw things up royally and entirely.

—Stay tuned.