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Column: Can Braves win a title with all those Ks?
Question of the Day
Of course, strikeouts are a much more accepted part of the game that they once were. Everyone has gotten comfortable with the idea of taking plenty of Ks if it increases the chances of knocking one of the park. Plus, this is a golden age of pitching, with dominant starters often followed to the mound by a bevy of hard-throwing relievers.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the 10-highest team strikeout totals in baseball history have all come since 2001. If the season ended today, the NL playoff field would include three teams that rank among the top five in the league. Over in that other league, Boston leads the East despite the second-most strikeouts (and, really, it’s the highest among bona fide AL teams, since the Astros are little more than a Triple-A franchise).
Given that, maybe Atlanta’s strikeout totals aren’t quite all as staggering as they seem to be, so I crunched a little more.
_ While the Oakland A’s won the AL West last season fanning 1,387 _ the third-highest total in baseball history and most ever by a playoff team _ they were quickly eliminated in the playoffs. Strike one for the Braves.
_ The last four World Series champs have ranked 15th, 16th, 12th and 13th in their league strikeout totals. In other words, the teams that go all the way know how to do something other than hit homers, a good fallback to have in the postseason, when teams can shorten rotations and it’s rare to face a pitcher you can knock around. Strike two for the Braves.
_ Roughly a third of the way through the season, Atlanta is getting rung up at a pace 21 percent above the NL average, a figure that has no historical precedence for a champion in baseball’s modern era. Strike three, the Braves are out.
The most recent World Series winner to lead its league in Ks was the 2004 Red Sox, who finished 14.6 percent above the AL average that season. The five teams that accomplished the feat before the Sox ranged from 7.1 percent to 16.4 percent above league averages. You have to go all the way back to the 1920s to find the only teams higher than the Braves when compared to overall numbers.
In the early years of the live-ball era, Babe Ruth and the slugging New York Yankees showed that it made a lot more sense to swing hard and not worry so much about making contact, as long as it increased the chances of hitting the ball over the fence.
In an interesting twist, the Yankees weren’t the first team to lead the league in strikeouts and win the World Series. That would be the `26 Cardinals, who fanned an NL-high 518 times (23.3 percent above the league average) before beating New York, of all teams, in the series.
Not to be outdone, the Yankees struck out a then-whopping 610 times the following season, nearly 44 percent above the AL average. Didn’t seem to hurt them. With Ruth hitting 60 homers and Lou Gehrig adding 47, New York wiped out Pittsburgh in the World Series and is remembered as one of the greatest teams in baseball history. (In 1928, the Yankees won their second straight title after leading the league in strikeouts, though only 20 percent above the AL average).
This ain’t the Roaring Twenties.
Chances are, if the Braves don’t start putting more wood on the ball, their season will end like so many others over the last two decades.
With another postseason defeat.
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