Kevin Towers’s Strikeout Lowering Crusade Proceeds

“Personally, I like contact hitters. I like guys that have good pitch recognition. Strikeouts are part of the game, but if you have four or five or six guys in your lineup, it’s hard to sustain any sort of rally.”

Those were among Kevin Towers’s first official words as Arizona’s general manager. His actions have, more or less, backed up the philosophy espoused therein. He inherited a team that finished with an atrocious 24.7 percent strikeout rate in 2010. His first moves saw Mark Reynolds traded and Adam LaRoche dismissed to free agency. As 2011 progressed, Kelly Johnson and his 27 percent strikeout rate was dealt to the Blue Jays for Aaron Hill and his 13 percent strikeout rate.

Not every move Towers has made has been strikeout-crazed — both Jason Kubel and Cody Ross are noted whiffers — but overall the effects have been notable. The Diamondbacks lowered their strikeout rate by over four percentage points (down to 20.6 percent). As the league strikeout rate rose by over a full percentage point (18.6 to 19.8), the Diamondbacks’ strikeout rate held steady.

Still, the Diamondbacks struck out more than the league average again last season. The club Towers inherited just didn’t have the consummate pitch recognizer and contact hitter to match his stated desire in the organization when he joined. The only two players to receive at least 300 plate appearances since 2011 with elite strikeout rates (15 percent or lower) are Hill and Willie Bloomquist, a free agent acquisition during Towers’s first offseason.

Since July, four more high-strikeout players have been given the boot from the organization: Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Chris Johnson and, of course, Justin Upton. The quartet featured strikeout rates of 21.4 percent, 21.3 percent, 25.0 percent and 19.0 percent as Diamondbacks the last two seasons. Replacing them will be shortstop acquisition Didi Gregorious, center field prospect Adam Eaton, corner outfield acquisition Cody Ross and third base acquisition Martin Prado.

Although Ross doesn’t fit the mold at all — he struck out 24 percent of the time last season — the other three do considerably. Gregorius and Eaton each own career minor league strikeout rates below 14 percent. Prado defines pitch recognition and contact — he struck out just 10.0 percent of the time last season and owns an 11.0 percent career rate. His 26.2 percent career PITCHf/x out-of-zone swing rate sits nearly three percentage points below the league average, and his 90.1 percent career contact rate bests the league average by over 10 percentage points.

Towers didn’t even want four high-strikeout guys in his lineup, but he’ll have them in Ross, Kubel, Paul Goldschmidt (24.2 percent) and Miguel Montero (20.2 percent). Still, the Justin Upton trade and the rest of the moves Towers has made in the last six months or so have stayed within his stated desire for contact hitters and the general theme of lowering strikeouts throughout the roster.

The efficacy of Towers’s anti-strikeout crusade remains to be seen — Prado, Eaton, Gregorius et. al will have to hit a lot more singles to make up for the home runs departing with Upton, Young and Drew. Regardless, it seems apparent Towers wasn’t bluffing when he indicated the culture of Ks would change upon his arrival in Arizona just over two years ago.



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Ryan Simmelink
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Ryan Simmelink

It’s definitely going against what the norm of the current day. There seems like there can be value found in this as other teams are looking for high walk/high power players more often, leaving those players who make their living making contact. A real possibility that the DBacks are going to find some sort of market inefficiency to exploit.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)

Alternatively, a real possibility that the DBacks are going to be some sort of market inefficiency to exploit.

eckmuhl
Member
eckmuhl

From the trades we’ve seen from Towers this offseason, Aaron’s possibility seems far more likely. The notion of playing gritty small ball when your home park is a HR haven doesn’t seem to have a lot of common sense attached to it, either.

David
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David

eckmuhl, welcome to the world of Kevin Towers. Common sense not included.

Bill
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Bill

I could see the Padres pursuing this strategy, but I can’t see this working out in the bandbox in Arizona.

diegosanchez
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diegosanchez

It’s a fact that power guys are more expensive so this is also another way of keeping the payroll down, or alternatively, being able to spend more on one power guy, retaining premium talent, or on pitchers.

Ryan Simmelink
Guest
Ryan Simmelink

I totally agree with this. The pattern I’ve been seeing from the DBacks is that they are turning to guys who will force teams to beat them on the field, pitchers who excel at getting ground balls, and who’s to say that going after these non-traditional power bats wont lead to these players putting up higher than average power numbers themselves? Just because a guy is now hitting the ball 375 feet as opposed to 365 does not make them worse than a hitter who hits a ball 420 feet instead of 410 at a ballpark like this.

Petruchio
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Petruchio

I can understand the appeal of a Moneyball-style offense – power hitters sell Cadillacs, contact hitters wreck Fords, or something – but I’d be surprised that any team would proactively seek out a uniform offense. Intuitively, that kind of team seems easier to exploit that one flexible enough to toolbox power, speed, patience or contact as needed. Three of the previous teams to appear in the World Series (2010 Texas, 2011 Texas, 2012 Giants) had dynamic offenses.

The park factors for Chase Field vary each year, but it’s always at least a Top 10 ballpark for H, HR, 2B or 3B, often in multiple categories. I’d think a high K, high OBP/XBH team would fit Arizona just as well as a high H would.

Curious?

Will
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Will

Do not call the 2012 Giants offense dymanic.. anemic but “opportunistic”, or lucky, is more like it

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