Strikeouts, again.

I feel like I’ve been harping on the K’s lately, or lack of them in the Diamondbacks’ case. But I keep coming back to the strikeouts like I keep coming back to the home runs when I try to mentally reconcile the 2013 season. In fact, last week, I linked the two of these phenomena and today I want to spin that discussion around and focus on the mound.

Earlier, I examined how the Diamondbacks have bucked the trend of trading strikeouts for power by making a ton of contact but hitting very few homers in 2013. The pitching staff was less unique in that it allowed a ton of contact and a ton of home runs. In case you’re new to the sport of baseball, that’s a very bad combination.

In 2013, the Arizona pitching staff ranked 23rd in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings. They failed to dominate hitters and only seven teams struck out hitters less frequently. The league average was 7.65 K/9 and Arizona checked in at 7.33. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, one needs to consider the dramatic effect that a timely strikeout can have on an inning. When it comes to stringing together base runners, strikeouts are the main deterrent as there’s no doubt that the hitter won’t reach base. Essentially, by striking out more batters, you keep more runners off the base paths and give up less runs.

Although it’s tough to directly relate strikeouts generated to home runs allowed, in theory, it’s tough to hit a homer when you strikeout. Therefore, the more strikeouts the better, but as we’ve established, the Diamondbacks didn’t generate a ton of K’s. They did, however, allow a ton of homers and only seven teams gave them up at a higher clip. Watching Diamondbacks games this year was painful at times when the ball was flying out of the park. And this is the problem: while the rest of the league was trading strikeouts for power, Arizona gave up both a ton of contact and a lot of homers. In essence, that contact was damaging in that it left the yard way too often.

So, going forward, one would like to see an emphasis on grooming and/or acquiring pitchers that can generate more swings and misses. Four of the five Diamondbacks starters were pedestrian in their strikeout rates as McCarthy (5.07 K/9), Delgado (6.11), Cahill (6.26) and Miley (6.53) were nowhere near dominant. Even the team’s top strikeout starter, Patrick Corbin, was average at 7.69 K/9. In fact, when one filters for only starting pitchers, Arizona was 25th in the league in K/9. That’s not going to cut it.

Arizona is going to need more swing-and-miss down the road, especially from the rotation. Of the top ten strikeout staffs in the league, only the Mariners (Felix) and Giants were afterthoughts. The rest of the teams made the playoffs and if the Diamondbacks want to join them, upgrading the pitching staff with a dominant starter or two would be a good idea.

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