I like to cook a little bit, and over time, I’ve gotten better at it. But I remember those early days, when I’d get wild hair to cook something and half-way through, I’d taste the batter or the sauce and determine it was too sweet, too salty, or didn’t have enough spice. Next thing I know, I’m pouring in the “missing ingredient” only to taste the food again and decide I’d gone overboard. This basically put me in full-scale panic, trying not to waste my efforts and working every which way to get things back into balance. It usually didn’t work and I was left to eat whatever I’d made, and slowly, I learned why balance in cooking is so vital.

I say all of that because the Arizona Diamondbacks have essentially had to cook without the proper ingredients this season, and like my early days in the kitchen, the balance has pretty much gone to hell. They’ve been forced to eat it anyways, palatable or not. Swapping out A.J. Pollock for Socrates Brito/Michael Bourn/Chris Owings is a rough trade to make. Exchanging David Peralta for Brandon Drury or Yasmany Tomas isn’t quite as bad, but it’s not far off. Trading Ender Inciarte for Drury or Tomas is like swapping chocolate for vanilla. Tuffy Gosewisch is going to start getting Chris Herrmann‘s at-bats now, too, and that’s not going to taste good. Put it all together and it’s clear the D-backs aren’t using the original recipe.

One area where this is having a tremendous effect is in the strikeout department. They’re collectively fifth in the majors with a K rate of 23%. That’s right, they’re striking out in nearly one out of every four plate appearances. The only teams with higher strikeout rates are the Brewers, Padres, Rays and Astros. Houston is actually good, but the others aren’t. And this has been a growing trend for the D-backs over the last few years, perhaps exacerbated this season by trades and injuries. In 2013, they were 25th in strikeout rate at just 18%. In 2014, they were 22nd at 19.1%. Last year, 14th at 20.9%, then the big jump in 2016. While strikeouts are up in baseball, that’s not the biggest issue at play here as the team has climbed the MLB strikeout leaderboard each of the last four seasons without necessarily getting better at scoring runs.

Strikeouts don’t just magically appear, of course. There’s a culprit. Or maybe culprits. The team does chase pitches out of the zone more often than average and swings at pitches in the zone less frequently than average. That’s not a good combo. While they offer at more pitches out of the zone than average, they’re the 4th-worst at making contact on those pitches. They’re just average at making contact in the strike zone, which can’t help pull them from the depths of their poor plate discipline. Chasing a lot and missing a lot is simply doing them in.

Looking closely, this appears to be much more of a personnel issue than a regression-of-skills issue. Observe:

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 8.55.27 AM

The two positions with the smallest change from 2015 to 2016 are first base and shortstop. Paul Goldschmidt and Nick Ahmed have been stalwarts for the last two years at their respective spots. In center field, there’s been a huge change in strikeout rate and a more-huge change in the rotation of players used to cover the spot. Brito was in over his head and racking up the strikeouts before Chris Owings gave way to Michael Bourn, a guy who’s striking out nearly 25% of the time. A.J. Pollock stuck out 13.2% of the time last year. Whether at the top or the bottom of the order, center field has seen a cavernous drop off in production for the D-backs, and the strikeouts are a large part of that.

Left field hasn’t been much better, although the circumstances are different. Ender Inciarte was traded this winter and his replacement has been some combination of Brandon Drury, Peter O’Brien and Yasmany Tomas. We saw what O’Brien could do (or couldn’t do), Drury is playing out of position but needs to play and Tomas has been in right field thanks to David Peralta’s injury. The contact-oriented Inciarte is missing from the 2016 recipe in both outfield corners and more swings-and-misses have been inserted in his place.

I think we can all live with Jake Lamb‘s strikeouts considering his power surge, and while 27.1% is awfully high, D-backs catchers have hit the ball well this season when they’ve made contact. Jean Segura at second base has been the team’s only major upgrade in terms of strikeout avoidance. Another contact-oriented hitter who’s exceeded expectations, Segura is doing his part to put the ball in play while many of his teammates are swinging and missing more than ever.

Just as Ryan discussed yesterday about the value of generating strikeouts on the mound, D-backs hitters can do just as well by avoiding them. A topic of conversation this year, Chase Field seems to be most-suitable for guys that can put the ball in play regularly given the dimensions and climate of the park. A special bonus goes to guys that hit the ball hard, but that’s the case just about everywhere. Instead of putting the ball in play regularly, Arizona is doing so at an historically low rate. Worse, you can’t time who’s going to be up at the plate when you have runners on base, and if it happens to be one of the many guys striking out at big time levels, you’re more likely than ever before to leave empty-handed. With runners in scoring position, pitchers are fishing for strikeouts and, at first glance, it would appear they’re getting them. Two-strike approaches have been an issue, one worth exploring on its own.

Some things can’t be fixed just by getting the Diamondbacks healthy. I’ve argued they’re still short on talent and I believe that. Owings and Peralta are nearly back from injury, Pollock may return to action in August or September, Zack Greinke will be back at some point and just maybe we see Rubby De La Rosa and Shelby Miller again. There’s a scenario here where they reach “full strength” in September, which will at least be fun to watch. And if they get there, some of these strikeout issues may just go away. Inserting Pollock and Peralta would be a boost, and even if Inciarte isn’t about to come back to the desert, playing Drury over Tomas is a win in the strikeout department. While offense has hardly been the issue, it could improve dramatically just by avoiding so many strikeouts.

6 Responses to Historic Strikeouts Plaguing the D-backs Offense

  1. Puneet says:

    What do you think the team will do and should do with Yasmany? Here’s what I think.

    What they will do: Keep him at the major league level because they’re paying him a ^#&@-ton of money.

    What they should do: Send him to Mobile or Reno and stick hitting coaches on his tail 24/7.

    I don’t think anyone is going to give us anything valuable for him in a trade. He has a huge contract, he’s not performing well, and even though he’s young-ish and can develop no one is going to give up a major prospect for a major question mark.

    • Jeff Wiser says:

      So, you’re right that they’ll keep him at the MLB level. For the time being, there’s no one that’s really capable of out-producing him to push him to the bench or to the minors. Even if he were playing for the minimum, who’s better and healthy right now?

      Sending him to Reno could be a disaster because it’ll just reinforce bad habits. I just don’t think he can see the type of pitching he needs to see there. Mobile’s a little different, but we’ve seen him be able to hit mistakes before and he’d get plenty of chances off of 21 and 22-year old arms. That’s not going to really “help” him.

      One thing that could be done, and he’d need a coach with him to make sure it’s being worked on, is to send him to the Caribbean Winter League, where the pitching’s a little better, it’s not in Reno, it’s culturally comfortable for him to some degree, and he can go up there with a specific plan at the plate, reinforced by his coach. Just an idea, but maybe better than a AA/AAA assignment.

      You’re right, no one’s touching that contract unless they give us they’re bad contract in return. He needs to got Minnesota or something, play the field sparingly, and just hit. Can he be better? I think he can and we’ve seen it at times, but I there are real pitch recognition issues to deal with and he needs to keep seeing MLB pitching to address them.

      • Lamar Jimmerson says:

        “For the time being, there’s no one that’s really capable of out-producing him to push him to the bench or to the minors. Even if he were playing for the minimum, who’s better and healthy right now?”

        Yeah there is: Mitch Haniger. I guarantee you he’d be more valuable than Tomas is right now.

        And in a week, add Owings and Peralta to the list. In two weeks, add Brito.

        It’s not that hard to out-produce a guy who has given you -1.8 WAR so far this year.

        “He needs to got Minnesota or something, play the field sparingly, and just hit.”

        The problem is, he isn’t that much of a hitter. DHs and corner outfielders with OPSs of .736 aren’t that hard to find. Bat-only guys need to OPS well into the .800s to be valuable.

        As I posted over at AZ Snakepit last night, if the Dbacks continue to play Tomas at the same rate for the next four years, he has a chance of being the least valuable position player since World War II.

        He’s really, really bad.

        • Puneet says:

          Well I think the charge is not just finding someone better than Yasmany right now, but someone with more upside. It’s less about having a ton of production at the major league level, and more about whatever needs to be done to right the Yasmany-ship. Because whether we want to trade or keep him, he NEEDS to play better.

          That Caribbean Winter League sounds really interesting, especially with the cultural barrier lower.

          You guys also hit on this point a lot – his big power plays better in places other than Arizona, but strikeouts and poor defense don’t play up anywhere O_O.

          • Lamar Jimmerson says:

            Sure, they need to try to right the Yasmany-ship, with so much invested in him. I just don’t think it can be done. We’re something like 750 PAs in on him now. That’s a pretty big sample size. And he’s 25, not 22 or 23. Prior to that, all we have is his track record in Cuba.

            In short, there’s very little reason to think he can ever become as valuable as he will need to be for the Dbacks to compete. Before the season started, I figured that in order to replace Inciarte’s value, Tomas needed to hit like someone between Brandon Belt and Jose Bautista (in 2015), given his defensive and baserunning deficiencies.

            In any case, if the Dbacks want to contend next year they need to make YT earn his place in the lineup, not just give it to him. They should be anticipating that they’ll need to either stash him in the minors or give him starts only against LHPs. If they are planning on him improving to the point that those things won’t need to happen, they are delusional.

  2. Dave-Phoenix says:

    The D-Backs have a new strategy this year.

    Get him on.
    Get him over.
    Strike out.

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