He’s John Anderson, and He Doesn’t Understand Baseball – Update

And he just said one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in quite a while. I was listening to Tony K on ESPN radio over the internet stream. If you’ve ever done this, then you’ve heard the “ESPN Extra Point” or whatever it’s called. They give their SportsCenter personalities a minute to talk about the sports issues of the day. I don’t have a problem with this, I don’t mind sports reporters giving opinions, as some people do. I mind that they play they same clip 50 times a day, but that’s a different issue.

Anyway, today, John Anderson decided to wax poetic about strikeouts. He said that today, batters don’t care about strikeouts. He panned Mark Reynolds for striking out 200+ times this year, and breaking the old record, set by Mark Reynolds last year. He brought Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard and Jack Cust into the discussion of players who should basically be ashamed of themselves for striking out so much. He continues to say that “Babe Ruth never struck out 100 times in a season.” His point? I’m not sure. Babe Ruth was the best player ever. He didn’t strike out alot… he also had a career batting average of .342 and a career OBP of .474. How is this relevant?

There are plenty of Hall of Famers who struck out alot.

Reggie Jackson has the most Ks in baseball history. Three other Hall of Famers (Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt and Tony Perez) are in the top 10 all time, and three of the four have at least one season with 150 or more Ks. And sure there is a point to saying that striking out 200 times a season isn’t good. I’m sure the DBacks would prefer him to strike out only 100 times, hit .50 points higher, and sneak in a few more sacrifices. But his argument was insane. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that it is unimportant to strike out. It may well be, even if statistics don’t show that. It is likely to be much less detremental to a players ability to help a team win that we once believed. Reynolds also have a pretty decent OBP, so he’s certainly able to get on base or score runs (of which he currently has 93). I’m not trying to be high and mighty about his beliefs being wrong. What I’m saying is that his arguments do not make sense.

What really got me going was how he finished. He asked, if Ks are inconsequential, why do we make such a big deal about strikeout pitchers? Wait, what? Before I get into a rant, let me just answer his question. It’s because striking out doesn’t affect whether or not you can get base nearly as much as people once thought. Yes, it may hurt your abilities to hit a sac fly, and help your abilities to stay out of double plays, but statistically speaking, for a batter, and out is an out. Meanwhile, for a pitcher, the number of strikeouts, the ratios of strikeouts to innings and to walks are enormous indicators of how well that pitcher will perform in the future. The reasons are many. Striking someone out is independent of your fielders. A groundout to the SS, 2 inches to the left or right, could be a base hit. Seeing eye singles count as hits, hard line drives to the third baseman snared at the line count as outs. Strikeouts are ALWAYS strikeouts. This is why people obsess over things like BABIP, because they are trying to see what the pitcher is like with all the other variables stripped away. Strikeouts significantly help us there.

That one little rant by John Anderson made me realize, there are still guys who work in sports, see sports every day, and still have no clue about anything past what they learned 20 years ago. It is disappointing, and I wonder how some of the other ESPN employees, ones who know about baseball, felt about his soliloquy. Hopefully, they were disappointed, too.

Ok so I sent a question in to Keith Law at ESPN to see his take on the thing, here’s how it went:

Charlie (Bethesda, MD): I was listening to ESPN radio and John Anderson came on to basically rip apart Reynolds an Dunn for striking out so much, and everyone for not minding. Then he asked if striking out isn’t so important why do we care about it from a pitchers perspective.

Keith Law: Well, it’s not an unreasonable question, even if his answer is wrong. Strikeouts are much more important for pitchers because of their inability to control the outcome of a ball in play. For hitters, not only do they have some control over whether balls in play become hits, we also know that strikeouts often correlate positively with power. If you tell Mark Reynolds to stop striking out, he’ll stop hitting home runs, and then he’ll suck.

He phrased it much better than me, which isn’t surprising. Also, I want to reiterate that I don’t think that the question itself was completely ridiculous. More that a sports anchor at ESPN asked it, and seemed clueless about the answer. Thanks to Law for answering the question…

More on the subject from Rob Neyer.

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