Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 2/4/13
The Tampa Bay Rays used to be the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays used to have a player named Bobby Smith. On August 24, 1999, in a game against the Chicago White Sox started by Jim Parque, Smith finished 0-for-4, striking out looking four times. To get more recent — just last June 14, in a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers, Justin Upton finished 2-for-5, striking out looking three times. Many strikeouts are called, but most strikeouts are not. This is something you knew, even if this isn’t something you knew. Last year, Jerry Sands got into nine games, batting 24 times. He struck out nine times, and he struck out looking four times. Last year, Delmon Young got into 151 games, batting 608 times. He struck out 112 times, and he struck out looking four times. Of Delmon Young’s strikeouts, 4% were called strikeouts. No regular or semi-regular player posted a lower rate of called strikeouts. Of all of Delmon Young’s problems, strikeouts haven’t really been one of them, as his strikeout rate is right around the league average. This is mostly because his swing rate is decidedly above the league average, and he isn’t awful at making contact. When you combine decent contact skills with an aggressive swing trait, you end up with fewer deep counts and therefore fewer potential strikeout counts. Young, for his career, has averaged about 3.4 pitches per plate appearance. And when you have an aggressive swing trait, you end up with fewer called strikeouts, because of all the swinging. If you swing a lot against the average pitch, you’re going to swing a lot when one more strike means you’re out. Delmon Young became a regular in 2007. Here are his year-to-year called strikeout totals: 2007: 13 2008: 8 2009: 10 2010: 9 2011: 10 2012: 4 That four is incredible, given that Young was just about an everyday player. Interestingly, in 2007, between April 26 and May 4, Young struck out looking six times. Last year he struck out looking four times, and not once between May 25 and the end of September. There was a stretch where Young played 111 games — starting 107 of them — without getting called out one time. He struck out swinging 78 times. We look back now at Delmon Young’s four called strikeouts from the 2012 regular season, to see what we can see, if in fact we can see anything. Date: April 13 Pitcher: Hector Santiago Result: Delmon Young strikes out looking It’s a pitch in a full count, and Delmon Young thinks he’s drawn a walk. It’s a fastball at 94 miles per hour over the plate and above the knees, so there’s not a whole lot of question that this is a strike, and not a ball. Of course, if Delmon Young better understood the difference between most strikes and most balls, he wouldn’t be Delmon Young as we know him. Santiago’s body language is interesting, though, for whatever it’s worth. It appears he’s frustrated with himself before he realizes he got the strikeout. Maybe he can’t believe he got to a three-ball count against Delmon Young. From stage left to stage right, the fans in the background are increasingly animated. Date: April 15 Pitcher: Zach Stewart Result: Delmon Young strikes out looking It’s a pitch in a full count, and Delmon Young thinks he’s drawn a walk. It’s a fastball at 92 miles per hour just in the corner of the zone, maybe. You think Zach Stewart had a plan for Delmon Young in this at bat? The fourth pitch was earlier called a strike. The seventh pitch seems close enough so as not to be objectionable. Young nearly sprints out of the box to first base before he’s punched out for the second time in three days. It looks like Delmon Young is really excited when he thinks he’s drawn a walk. Which is understandable, given the rarity. You know how thoroughly satisfying it is to draw a base on balls in a baseball video game? Date: May 24 Pitcher: Justin Masterson Result: Delmon Young strikes out looking It’s a pitch in a full count, and Delmon Young thinks he’s drawn a walk. He’s less certain this time, though — he doesn’t really dart out of the box. This is Young’s first strikeout since May 16. Over the previous five games, he’d batted .444. “Young is really seeing the ball well,” an announcer might have said. He saw the ball well, here — right into Lou Marson‘s glove. Maybe Young learned from the two previous examples not to take the walk for granted. Maybe that’s why he didn’t jump out of the box right away. On the other hand, do we have any other evidence of Delmon Young learning with regard to behavior and the strike zone? Date: October 1 Pitcher: Bruce Chen Result: Delmon Young strikes out looking It’s a pitch in a 2-and-2 count, and Delmon Young knows he’s struck out. It’s a fastball at 88 miles per hour over the plate and above the knees. I’ll remind you that this is Delmon Young’s first called strikeout since May 24. With that in mind, he’s remarkably understanding about the whole thing. Between the start of September and the end of the regular season, Young struck out 32 times, against one unintentional walk. “Young is really not seeing the ball well,” an announcer might have said. Well duh. We have now reviewed all four of Delmon Young’s 2012 called strikeouts. In three of them, Young thought he drew a walk. In none of them did Young actually draw a walk, because all of them were strikeouts. In conclusion, Delmon Young doesn’t swing at literally every pitch. In conclusion, these people are liars.
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