The worst out in baseball is a strikeout. Unless the catcher misses the third strike, there isn’t a chance of any thing good happening. If you put the ball in play, at least you may have a chance of getting on base via an error or moving the runner up or driving in a run from third. No such luck exists on a swing and a miss.
The Tampa Bay Rays don’t really strike out a lot. They are in the top third of the American League in fewest strikeouts and that’s the way it should be as they are built to manufacture runs, unlike a team like the Baltimore Orioles which is built on power. However, they have certain players who do strike out way too often, and it costs them them games.
Desmond Jennings is such a player. Placed in the leadoff spot because of his speed and the fact that there is no one else to do the job, Jennings has struck out 108 times in 542 plate appearances so far this season. Jennings’ strikeout rate is 19.9% compared to the MLB average of 17.3% by leadoff men, and that looks even worse when we note that his OPS+ is 98 compared to 106 by leadoff men as a whole. This isn’t just a recent trend–by the end of this season, he will have struck out at least 115 times in each of three full years with the Rays. Leadoff hitters are supposed to get on base and you can’t do that by walking back to the dugout after strike three.
The next culprit is Evan Longoria. So far this year Longoria has struck out 116 times in 606 plate appearances. At least it is a marked improvement over 2013 when he struck out 162 times in 693 PA’s. Some in baseball would say that is ok because Longoria is a power hitter. However, there are different kinds of power hitters. Chris Carter of the Houston Astros has stuck out 151 times in 482 plate appearances, but he has also hit 33 home runs and that is all they ask him to do. Not so with Longoria in the Rays scheme of things. He is a line drive hitter with power who is supposed to produce runs any way he can. In 2010, one of his better seasons, he only hit 22 home runs but hit 46 doubles and drove in 104 runs with 124 strikeouts. That’s a lot better than 2014 where to date he has 22 doubles and 78 RBI. The good news is that he is playing better of late, but if he is not going to hit for as much power, the least he can do is strike out less.
Our real villains here is the duo of Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez. I have praised this pair for their home runs and RBI as a platoon, but the strikeouts tell another story. Joyce has struck out 96 times in 442 trips to the plate plate and Rodriguez 58 times in 222 PA’s. For Rodriguez, that means that nearly over a quarter of his plate appearances with a strikeout. In total, the pair has racked up 154 strikeouts in 664 PA’s and the season isn’t over yet. Most importantly, that’s 154 times when they had no opportunity to help their team score runs.
The hope at the beginning of the year was that the Tampa Bay Rays had finally found a group of steady, if not powerful, hitters who would contribute to scoring runs in a team effort. However, too many strikeouts by key players and too little run production by others have ruined that dream, and the Rays will have to hope that their results are better next season.