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Strikeout Debate Hides Different Orioles Problem

March 20, 2012

By Jim Henneman

In this business, when pursuing the importance of one set of statistics, it isn't unusual to be led to another of equal interest and/or importance.

That's exactly what happened this week when the PressBox brain trust dialed up a point/counter-point debate about the impact the potential 350 strikeouts between Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis would have on the Orioles. Those numbers, of course, are presuming each would approximate 500 at bats during a full season. That is likely to happen only if the free-swinging pair is productive enough to overcome a lack of contact, thus ensuring its place in the lineup.

Mark Reynolds

As so often happens, one thing led to another, eventually leading to weighing the negative aspect of strikeouts to overall team production. For the record, the Orioles were seventh in the American League last year in both strikeouts (1,120) and runs scored (708), a somewhat surprising middle-of-the pack ranking.

More of a surprise was the fact that the Orioles actually struck out less than every other team in the American League's Eastern Division, with the exception of the Boston Red Sox (who were eighth with 1,108). At the other end of the spectrum, the AL champion Texas Rangers somewhat surprisingly recorded the fewest number of strikeouts (930).

Equally confounding the equation was the fact that the grossly underachieving Chicago White Sox, despite Adam Dunn's astonishing 177 whiffs during fewer than 400 at bats, were next to last among AL teams in the strikeout column with 989.

As one number led to another, the more telling statistic in the case of the Orioles was the number of GIDPs (grounded into double plays). Going into the season, with Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero inked into the No. 3 and No. 4 slots, and with Matt Wieters another prime candidate in the middle of the lineup, the Orioles figured to challenge for the league lead in that dubious department -- and they didn't disappoint, easily leading the AL with 154.

Vladimir Guerrero

By stark contrast, in addition to their stellar pitching, the Tampa Bay Rays undoubtedly owed their postseason existence to the fact that they grounded into only 101 double-plays, a statistic much more revealing that you might expect on the surface. For example, the Orioles produced 106 more outs on GIDPs than the Rays. That is the rough equivalent of four complete games -- and that is a staggering number of additional outs during the course of a season.

The moral of this statistical story shouldn't startle anyone: GIDPs are more damaging than Ks. If the O's pitching staff can dramatically improve its numbers in both categories, that would have more to do with what happens in 2012 than whatever takes place offensively.

But with Guerrero (23 GIDPs) and Lee (13 in 85 games, along with 83 Ks) gone, the Orioles figure to be dramatically better in the GIDP department. Wieters, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones tied for second most GIDPs last year with 16, so it's reasonable to expect a marked improvement.

Posted March 20, 2012