Brandon Allen, Strikeouts, and Definitions

Sometimes baseball analysis is similar to semantics. Define Brandon Allen one way, and he’s got a bright future despite some early struggles. Define the 25-year-old first baseman from a different direction, and the odds are incredibly stacked against him.

Let’s de-emphasize Allen’s 209 plate appearances so far. Even if those plate appearances had all happened in one season — which they haven’t — we’d only barely be looking at a reliable sample for his in-season strikeout rate, and we’d know next to nothing about his power.

It’s obvious that his strikeout rate is the big ‘problem.’ So far in the major leagues, he’s had a 34.9% strikeout rate, which simply is not enough contact. But Allen’s minor league strikeout rate was only 23%. What happens if we define Allen as a minor leaguer with a 23% strikeout rate?

He looks a lot better.

Minor leaguers with at least 600 MiLB PAs and a 23-25% strikeout rate averaged 27.9% strikeout rates in the major leagues. A 27-28% strikeout rate in the major leagues is not great either, but Josh Willingham, Carlos Pena, Mike Stanton, Austin Jackson, Kelly Johnson, Mark Reynolds, Miguel Olivo and Drew Stubbs have all managed to provide positive value to their teams while showing similar rates this year. It’s no death knell, and a player with enough power and patience can make it work. Since Allen had a double-digit walk rate in both the majors and minors, and prodigious power in the minor leagues, this definition is friendly to Allen, especially since we included him in a bucket with players with worse minor league strikeout rates.

But say we do combine Allen’s partial seasons. And we do find a reliable sample for his strikeout rate therein. And we do define Brandon Allen as a slugger with a strikeout rate over 30%. What happens to his prognosis then?

He looks a lot worse.

Sort the career leaderboard by strikeout percentage with a minimum of 1000 PAs in order to find players that put up 30+% strikeout rates over their careers. Right away, you’ll notice that the sample is small: 29. Now take out the pitchers, and we’re down to 14. Take out the catchers. We’re down to 12. That’s right, over the history of baseball, only 12 non-catchers have managed to accrue 1000 PAs with a strikeout rate over 30%. It’s a small group. It’s hard to stick around with a strikeout rate that high.

Obviously, not all minor leaguers with 23-25% strikeout rates are created equal. Nelson Cruz had a 23% strikeout rate in the minors and has shown a 22.4% strikeout rate in the majors. Chris Davis had a 24.5% strikeout rate in the minors, in some of the same parks, and he’s closing in 1000 PAs with 31.5% strikeout rate in the majors.

But if you define Brandon Allen by his minor league brethren, he’s got a fighter’s chance. If you choose to define him by his major league work so far, he’s got quite the uphill battle. It’s a question of definition as much as it is a question of contact.

Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman for researching some of the numbers in this piece.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

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