Thursday, April 4, 2013

The K-Stros Revisited

The Astros will strikeout a lot this season. You know how I know this? The Astros players, across the board, have high career strikeout rates. Based on this, I predicted they would challenge the 2010 Diamondbacks strikeout record back in February. However, it has nothing to do with the first three games of the season.

Last year, among current Astros, Ankiel led the way with a 34% strikeout rate, which would have led the majors had he qualified for the batting title. An astronomically high number. Carter, Pena and Maxwell were all above 30% as well. That's a lot of strikeouts in the starting lineup. But this year, Wallace and Ankiel are both over 70%. Carter and Pena are over 50%. Of the regular starters, only Dominguez is under 20%. It has been frustrating to watch. But it is not very predictive.

Carter and Wallace will not strikeout in 70% of their at bats. They will probably strikeout in 25-35%, based on previous performance. Carter will likely make up for that with power, and Wallace will likely be an offensive dud, unless his swing retooling is as effective as we were led to believe in spring training. We know this because the past season(s) performance is more far predictive for future performance than any sample of 3 games you can think of. All the first three games did was give the Astros a bit of a head start in their quest for the all-time strikeout record.

One thing that bothers me is when people ignore small sample sizes when they show unexpected results, but act as though it offers proof when it conforms to expectations. Ankiel's great Spring was a fluke whereas Bryce Harper was primed for a huge season. The Astros' first win of the season was a fluke, and the second game showed the Astros' true abilities.Small sample sizes are not predictive, regardless of whether you expected the results or not. Harper might be primed for a breakout because he is a very talented 20 year old who had success at 19, not because he had a strong spring. The Astros are not likely to dominate the season series with the Rangers because they are not as talented, not because they almost got perfect gamed in game 2.

And the Astros will strikeout a lot. But not at this pace for the rest of the season. Whether the actual strikeout rates will be problematic remains to be seen.