Note: I have no idea if I’m the first to do this, but quite frankly I don’t care.
Let me start by apologizing for the Papelbon thing. It was a pretty stupid article, and I was basically just looking for something to write about. While I’m at it, I should probably apologize for the bFI thing–I thought that would come out better than it did–and the last part of the Pettitte thing–when a guy’s gone 28-6 against you, you tend to harbor some animosity towards him. With all that said, I feel like this is a pretty good one, even if it is rather brief. So, without further ado…
By now we’re all sick of hearing it. Strikeouts don’t matter anymore for hitters! They’ve lost their stigma¹! These crazy kids today don’t know about plate discipline! For the most part, these criticisms all seem to be saying the same general thing: Strikeouts (or the lack thereof) are no longer correlated to offensive success.
Well, I can’t speak for you, but I have really grown sick of these baseless assertions. Other writers have touched on the fact that there is virtually no correlation between strikeouts and offensive performance², but these are all within the past several years. What I wanted to prove was that there has never been a correlation between the two.
The methodology was pretty simple: Since wRC+ is the tell-all offensive statistic, I simply found the correlation, measured by R-squared³, between K% and wRC+ for every season from 2012 going back to 1913 (the first year that strikeouts were recorded for batters). I then graphed the resulting R-squared⁴ values by year for every year, of which there were 100.
And what, you ask, were the results?
“Well, golly, them folks was right!”, the reader might be inclined to say. Indeed, it would seem that–although the R-squared values have fluctuated heavily over the years–they are, overall, at a lower level than they once were. This would mean, of course, that strikeouts did matter more in the days of yore.
But wait! All hope is not lost! For you see, I purposefully excluded one key aspect of the graph in question: the labeling on the y-axis (i.e. the one upon which the R-squared values were measured, i.e. the vertical one). Put that back on, and what do we discover?
For the entirety of baseball’s history, there have only been FOUR YEARS with an R-squared above .1. Remember, R-squared is on a 0 to 1 scale, and the higher the number, the greater the degree of correlation; an R-squared of .1 is basically what you get if you draw random points on a graph. Or, to put that another way:
That’s a scatter plot of the strikeout rates and wRC+s of players from the 1961 season (i.e. the one with the “highest” correlation). Does that LOOK like a correlation to you? Hopefully, you answered no (because of the way the internet works, I can’t know what your answer was, or even if you answered); any monkey⁵ with even a basic grasp of statistics could see that those two variables aren’t connected in any way.
What, then, does this mean?
Not only are strikeouts not correlated to offensive success now, they never have been, and probably never will be. Now, can we please stop saying they are⁶?
¹I tried looking up specific quotes, but searching “strikeout stigma” just returned some ADHD thing.
²And, of course, scatter plots reflecting such will generally be more elliptical than straight.
³In case you’re unedumacated, R-squared measures the degree of correlation between two variables. It returns a value between 0 and 1; the higher the value, the greater the correlation, and vice versa.
⁴I’m forced to say “R-squared” to avoid confusion between that and the footnotes.
⁵Really, a monkey would probably be the one drawing the scatter plot.
⁶Or were. You know what I mean.