Exploring the K/AB Stat and Its Value

Greg Lucas One of those baseball experts who understands that you have to ask the right questions to get the right answers.

Greg Lucas
One of those baseball experts who understands that you have to ask the right questions to get the right answers.

MLB batters have been striking out more often per season ever since Babe Ruth, the lively ball, reachable outfield fences, and the roar of the crowd at the turnstiles taught the owners back in the 1920’s that baseball fans like to have their adrenaline glands pumped to empty during some dramatic point at the old ball game.

Now, in 2015, some of us are asking more often: “Do we really want to pay good money (And what money isn’t good, Mr. Capone?) to watch more and more guys who seem only capable of either crushing the ball out of the ballpark once in a while as they increasingly take their place on the bench more often by the strikeout route 30 to 4o percent of the time without ever putting the ball in play?

The dead ball era hitting philosophy was “get your bat on the ball and put it in play.” Any batted ball has a chance of becoming the hitter’s ticket to first by obvious placement of its landing in the field, human error, or ground, weather, and light of day or night factors. A called or swinging strike three simply sends the batter back to the dugout with nothing. In a play on the wisdom of dead ball hitting master, Wee Willie Keeler, it must be said: “You can’t hit ’em where they ain’t if you don’t hit ’em at all!”

As the Kansas City Royals showed the Houston Astros in the top of the 8th in Game 4 of their ALDS rally win, several balls put in play in succession can produce enough hits and a lucky break tough error that will rescue your club from a 4-run deficit and deliver a win that leads to a series victory to a pennant to a World Series that they this morning lead, two games to one.

Greg Lucas inspired this column when he wrote the following comment to the column we titled as “The Not So Magnificent Seven Astros” with a focus on the club’s 2015 players who each struck out 100 times or more during the 2015 season. Our most general question was: How many of these guys do we want back? Most of them hit home runs pretty well, but all but one had terrible batting averages – and, as we tried to show with our K/AB percentage averaging, very high strike out (K) averages based upon the number of times each struck out, divided by the same number of official times at bat we use to calculate “batting averages (BA)” for the season.

I simply figured that if our ancient romance with a player’s “BA” could tell us that “.200” is the land of the miserable mendozas of swat, that “.300” is the gate to great hitting, and that “.400” is the portal to the gods with golden batting eyes, that a strike out average per times at bat might tell us something too.

The following comment by Greg Lucas brought into focus a better way to examine the value of the “KA” as a measure of value to productive offensive assessment:

“I like this story and wonder what an acceptable level for a K avg. would be. Gattis at .210 might be acceptable and even Valbuena’s .244 is not awful. Would a number equal to an acceptable batting average be the guideline–as too high. Interesting to compare with some good hitters who also K a lot.” – Greg Lucas, commenting on the column titled as “The Not So Magnificent Seven Astros”

https://bill37mccurdy.com/2015/10/30/the-not-so-magnificent-seven-astros/

Stirred by Greg Lucas’s suggestions, I decided this morning to do a “KA” check on the 2015 MLB Season’s Top Ten Hitters to see what we might develop as an initial crude reading on what an acceptable KA might be for the best hitters for average this season. Here’s what I found by base data search and KA calculation for each (KA = # of strikeouts, divided by official times at bat , same as the route we take in figuring a player’s “BA”.)

You may see that data for the seven free swinging Astros at the other column link. The data for the Ten Best 2015 MLB  Hitters for Average is easy to read in the following table:

#   Name AL/NL At Bat   Hits   HR   K   BA   KA
1 Miguel Cabrera AL 429 145 18 77 .338 .180
2 Dee Gordon NL 615 205 4 91 .333 .148
3 Bryce Harper NL 521 172 42 131 .330 .251
4 P. Goldschmidt NL 567 182 33 151 .321 .266
5 Xander Bogaerts AL 613 196 7 101 .320 .165
6 Buster Posey NL 557 177 19 52 .319 .093
7 A.J. Pollock NL 609 192 20 89 .315 .146
8 Yunel Escobar NL 535 168 9 70 .314 .131
9 Joey Votto NL 545 171 29 135 .314 .248
10 Jose Altuve AL 638 200 15 67 .313 .105

To me, the general conclusions from above are these:

  1. The best hitters for average with low HR totals will post KA figures below .200.
  2. The amazing Buster Posey posted a .319 A with 19 HR and an incredible KA of only .093
  3. Paul Goldschmidt marked the highest KA of .266 among the best hitter group, even though he struck out 151 times.
  4. A KA of .300 or higher in the inverse value world of strikeout assessment to value of hitters is counterproductive to the goal of winning.
  5. The higher the KA goes in its approach to the inversely valued .400 mark, the more it says that the player has no real place in the big leagues because it is saying, loud and clear that – 40% of the time, this player isn’t even putting the ball in play as a possible hit or luck factor factor help to his club.

That’s what we see, but what do you think? Should baseball pay more attention to the relativity of player’s KA to his value to the end of winning? Or should we just relax in the glowing wonder of how far the balls go when he finally does hit one – in spite of the fact that he seems to be climbing toward the possibility of sitting down as an out nearly half the time he comes to bat?

Addendum, 11/01/15.

An excellent first reader comment from Mike McCroskey yesterday hastens me to add his words and my reply to the body of this column on my reason for limiting the “KA” exploration to official times at bat:

Mike McCroskey Comment: I should think total at bats including walks and HBP would make a more accurate K per plate appearance statistic. For example Cabrera had a total of 80 walks and HBP’s; and Goldschmidt had 120, which would lower his average K per plate appearance quite a bit. Haven’t looked up Posey’s totals yet, but his would be even more impressi

  • Pecan Park Eagle Response: Mike – You are right. Measuring the K that way would give us a more accurate stat of it per plate appearance, but I was trying to focus on it in the same two-variable way we compute the BA. – (How many times in his official times at bat does a man get a hit? – How many times in his official times at bat does he strike out? – And how do they inversely compare?)This is about how often the K prevents a batter from putting the ball in play? – And not about how the K effects a player’s OBP by the way the pitcher throws to him?

    Although, I will concede – the effect of a KA on a higher or lower OBP looks like worthy data too.

  • I might add this morning that the McCroskey suggestion would also give us a better picture of how much a batter’s record as a slugger or HR hitter draws more or less walks as a result. Keeping in mind all the while that a big factor in drawing walks is not up to the pitcher’s control or intent. Some batters, for better and worse, simply don’t seem to let walks happen. On the “better” side, the low walk ratio will include some of the best contact hitters who can get their bats on almost anything thrown at them, putting balls in play for hits and outs with error possibility instead of the walk. On the “worse” side, are all those guys, sluggers and all, who simply cannot resist swinging at bad pitches and missing, even if it costs them a walk and a trip to first base.

The McCroskey suggestion is not a better one than the KA formula, or vice versa. They are simply different suggestions. Our “KA” is about how much the “K” affects a batter’s failure rate at putting the ball in play. McCroskey’s suggestions goes to a ratio look at how much the “K” affects a player’s on base percentage.

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eagle-0range

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2 Responses to “Exploring the K/AB Stat and Its Value”

  1. Mike McCroskey Says:

    i should think total at bats including walks and HBP would make a more accurate K per plate appearance statistic. For example Cabrera had a total of 80 walks and HBP’s; and Goldschmidt had 120, which would lower his average K per plate appearance quite a bit. Haven’t looked up Posey’s totals yet, but his would be even more impressive!

    Mike

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Mike – You are right. Measuring the K that way would give us a more accurate stat of it per plate appearance, but I was trying to focus on it in the same two-variable way we compute the BA. – (How many times in his official times at bat does a man get a hit? – How many times in his official times at bat does he strike out? – And how do they inversely compare?)

      This is about how often the K prevents a batter from putting the ball in play? – And not about how the K effects a player’s OBP by the way the pitcher throws to him?

      Although, I will concede – the effect of a KA on a higher or lower OBP looks like worthy data too.

      Thanks for dialing in.

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