Strikeout rate might keep Braves from winning a title

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ATLANTA — They might want to consider setting up a wind farm at Turner Field, because there sure is a stiff breeze coming out of that place most nights.

The first-place Atlanta Braves keep swinging away – and missing, a lot of the time – which raises an intriguing question as baseball heads into the dog days of summer:

Can a team that strikes out with such regularity actually win a championship? In all likelihood, no.

The numbers just don’t stack up for the Braves, not if the umpires keep shouting “1-2-3, you’re out!” at such a staggering rate.

Going into Friday night’s game against NL East rival Washington, the Braves were on pace to whiff 1,476 times this season. That would be the second-highest total in baseball history, surpassed only by the 2010 Arizona Diamondbacks (1,529), though it must be noted that woeful Houston is having even more trouble making contact at the moment, so Atlanta could wind up settling for third on the infamous list.

“Are we going to strike out 27 times in a game?” the biggest offender, Dan Uggla, said Friday. “Somebody’s going to make some contact somewhere. We can strike out 25 times and hit two homers and win 2-1. We can strike out 26 times and hit one homer and win 1-0.”

The Braves knew what they were getting into when they signed B.J. Upton and traded for his little brother, Justin, last winter, adding them to a lineup that already included big swingers Uggla, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. Those five players combined for 739 strikeouts last season, so this isn’t exactly a surprising development.

The problem for Atlanta is that Uggla, Heyward and B.J. Upton are all hitting below .200, which has caused their strike zones to expand even more than usual as they try to swing their way out of the slumps. B.J. Upton’s average (.146) was lower as of Friday than any other qualifying hitter in baseball, and he was pace to whiff 190 times. Uggla’s strikeout rate computes to a staggering 202 over a full season.

When the Braves do get their bat on the ball, it tends to go a long way. Atlanta was leading the NL in homers and ranked among the top five in runs. So maybe there’s something to this all-or-nothing approach.

But one thing about baseball: They keep some pretty thorough records.

Taking a few hours to pore over the numbers and with some help from our good friends at STATS, I was able to determine that only eight teams in the entire history of the game have won the World Series after leading their league in strikeouts. More troubling if you’re a Braves’ fan, only two of those teams – the 1976 Cincinnati Reds and 1926 St. Louis Cardinals – were from the National League.

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 1927, the Yankees struck out a then-whopping 610 times, 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. (In 1928, the Yankees won their second consecutive 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 past two decades.

With another postseason defeat.


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