Walks, Strikeouts, and the Playoff Race

There are still a lot of teams that are fighting for a postseason spot while we wind down the season. As I watch a lot of games down the stretch, I hear many different announcers bring up the same thing. If you want to win championships, then you need to follow a key ideology that the Astros and Red Sox have both preached in their title-winning seasons: You need to be able to take your walks, and you need to be able to put the ball in play instead of striking out.

In 2017, the Houston Astros had the lowest strikeout rate as a team. They were able to do that while also having the league’s highest team isolated power. Last season, the Red Sox had the third-lowest strikeout rate in the league while having the ninth-best walk rate and fourth-best ISO. This got me to thinking about teams’ walk and strikeout rates. But I did not want to just look at it from the full season perspective. I wanted to compare teams’ rates from before the All-Star game to post-All-Star game (more specifically August 26th, because that is when I am writing this).

Thanks to FanGraphs, I was able to pull the data for the two date ranges and compare the numbers. Let us take a look:

Strikeouts & Walk Changes in 2019
Team 1st-Half BB% 1st-Half K% 2nd-Half BB% 2nd-Half K% BB% Change K% Change
Angels 9.3% 17.7% 9.8% 23.2% 0.5% 5.5%
Astros 9.8% 17.9% 10.0% 18.7% 0.2% 0.8%
Athletics 8.6% 20.1% 9.3% 23.0% 0.7% 2.9%
Blue Jays 8.4% 24.4% 8.0% 24.3% -0.4% -0.1%
Braves 9.2% 22.2% 9.7% 24.4% 0.5% 2.2%
Brewers 9.8% 24.4% 9.9% 23.8% 0.1% -0.6%
Cardinals 8.8% 22.2% 8.90% 23.2% 0.1% 1.0%
Cubs 10.0% 23.4% 8.6% 24.0% -1.4% 0.6%
D-backs 7.7% 21.5% 10.0% 20.0% 2.3% -1.5%
Dodgers 9.7% 20.3% 10.5% 23.8% 0.8% 3.5%
Giants 8.1% 23.1% 7.4% 22.1% -0.7% -1.0%
Indians 9.6% 22.2% 8.1% 19.7% -1.5% -2.5%
Mariners 9.5% 25.1% 9.1% 26.7% -0.4% 1.6%
Marlins 6.5% 24.1% 6.1% 24.8% -0.4% 0.7%
Mets 8.3% 22.8% 7.5% 21.2% -0.8% -1.6%
Nationals 8.7% 22.1% 10.6% 18.8% 1.9% -3.3%
Orioles 7.2% 24.0% 7.7% 23.0% 0.5% -1.0%
Padres 7.6% 26.2% 9.1% 25.5% 1.5% -0.7%
Phillies 9.7% 22.4% 9.1% 23.7% -0.6% 1.3%
Pirates 7.0% 20.3% 7.1% 18.6% 0.1% -1.7%
Rangers 9.1% 25.9% 7.8% 25.6% -1.3% -0.3%
Rays 8.4% 24.4% 9.4% 21.9% 1.0% -2.5%
Red Sox 9.5% 20.7% 8.4% 21.6% -1.1% 0.9%
Reds 8.0% 23.6% 6.9% 22.3% -1.1% -1.3%
Rockies 7.6% 24.3% 8.0% 22.0% 0.4% -2.3%
Royals 7.4% 23.4% 7.8% 20.6% 0.4% -2.8%
Tigers 7.3% 26.0% 5.9% 27.4% -1.4% 1.4%
Twins 7.7% 20.3% 8.7% 21.4% 1.0% 1.1%
White Sox 6.6% 25.4% 5.2% 25.90% -1.4% 0.5%
Yankees 9.6% 23.1% 8.2% 21.5% -1.4% -1.6%
Average -0.06% -0.03%

I was a little surprised by the D-backs being the team that has improved their walk rate the most in the second half of the season so far. They are a team that is fighting for a wild card spot despite trading Zack Greinke. The big year that Ketel Marte is having is helping without a doubt. He is especially valuable when you take into consideration that pre-All-Star break, he had a walk rate of just 6.8%, which has risen to 11.2% in the second half.

I was also a little shocked to see that the Cleveland Indians were the team with the biggest decrease in walk rate after the All-Star break. They are a team that went on a very hot streak and even briefly took over the Twins’ spot on top of the AL Central but are now in the wild card race. If I am a Cleveland fan, it is nice to see that they have cut their strikeout rate by 2.5%, which is tied for the second-best difference.

The team with the best difference in terms of striking out less is the Washington Nationals. As mentioned earlier, they are one of the teams that have been good recently and are in the middle of the race for a playoff spot. Just in case you forgot, I wrote back in November about how the Nationals were not in trouble after losing Bryce Harper. And it is easy to see why they are still in it. Their lineup is dangerous and deep, which is seen in their ability to cut down on their strikeouts. They have also increased their walk rate by nearly 2%.

Finally, there is the Angels. I wanted to talk about them last for a reason. As you can see, no other team had a lower strikeout rate in the first half than the Angels. The only other team in the league with a rate lower than 20% was the Astros. But no team has seen a higher increase in strikeout rate to start the second half. What has caused an increase as high as 5.5%? You could say that one reason is the Tommy La Stella injury. La Stella only struck out 27 times in his 312 plate appearances before his injury, making it difficult to replace him. You could also point at the return of Justin Upton to the lineup. Upton missed a good portion of the first half of the season due to an injury and has struggled since coming back. In fact, his current 30.5% strikeout rate is the highest it has ever been in his career. Those two situations are a huge factor in the Angels’ large rise in striking out, and it could be part of why they lost out on their playoff chances.

What else has caused so many dips and rises in these stats around the league? Perhaps pitching staffs are adopting to certain teams quicker than others. Are there any other surprises to you from the list? Look for your favorite team and let me know how their lineup has been adopting.

Gabriel can be found on Twitter at @bsballtalkshop.

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A 23 year old Business Administration major at Arizona State University that has loved baseball his whole life.

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