You may have noticed that I place a notable emphasis on walks and strikeouts around here. Indeed, as we’re perusing box scores after a game, I (or the collective we, in the comments) often note how each team performed relative to each other with respect to walks and strikeouts. Generally speaking, walks are among the best things a team can get, because they come with a free baserunner, an increased pitch count, and they don’t involve an out. And, generally speaking, strikeouts are among the worst things a team can do at the plate, because they do come with an out and they don’t involve a ball in play (so that plate appearance never even had a chance to become a hit or an error). You don’t really need to appreciate – or even agree with – sabermetrics to get on board with the importance of walks and strikeouts.
This is why, among other reasons, I’m pretty high on good old fashioned K rate, BB rate, and K/BB ratios for evaluating pitcher performance. They are so simple, and yet so important.
As part of a larger piece on macro trends in the game so far this year, Tony Blengino takes a look at a pretty simple team evaluation metric at FanGraphs, which involves netting out the number of strikeouts a team is getting and giving up, and adding that to the net of the number of walks a team is taking and giving up.
Again, this is a very simplistic approach to evaluation, because it doesn’t consider types of hits – or even hits at all – or other game events. But, the thing is, the metric is pretty damn good at pegging the teams that wound up performing well overall last year*, as well as the teams that wound up losing a lot of games (the Cubs were 6th worst at -147). This year, the Cubs are slightly better – 9th worst, at -13 – so that’s … good? The bulk of the negative comes from the fact that the Cubs have given up 10 more walks than they’ve taken, which is no bueno. It’s still super early, but this will be interesting to track throughout the year.
*Interestingly, the one strong outlier? The Pirates were at -115. Obviously they’re faring much better so far this year, given that most of their games have come against the Cubs.
Here’s the relevant chart from Blengino’s piece, which gets into a whole bunch of other interesting topics:
The Astros may be in trouble again this year.