Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bill Ladson Strikes Out

Given that a roving mob of Nats bloggers have recently completed a beat-down of Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson, it's probably safe for me to sneak up to his gurgling carcass and give it a few more swift kicks. Ladson likes to justify the Soriano trade by whining about Brad Wilkerson's strikeouts, as on display here in a response to a shadowy "Chris N., Alexandria" back in December:

Why are you so down on strikeouts? They're frustrating to watch, but they're not all that different from a ground out.-- Chris N., Alexandria, Va.

I'm not down on strikeouts, and I know where you are coming from here. You are miffed by the way I've talked about Brad Wilkerson and his strikeouts the last two months. If Wilkerson was a clutch hitter like Reggie Jackson (he is the all-time strikeout king), I wouldn't dwell on Wilkerson's whiffs. The truth is, Wilkerson was killing the team with his strikeouts. I can't tell you how many times he looked at strike three and walked back to the dugout. Wilkerson hit .248 with 11 home runs, 57 RBIs and 147 strikeouts. Let's see how long the Rangers tolerate the strikeouts. If Wilkerson hit .330 with 50 homeruns and 130 RBIs, the strikeouts would be less of a concern.

He takes another shot at Wilk in the most recent mailbag, "Acquiring [Cubs' Corey] Patterson to be a leadoff hitter would be a mistake. While Brad Wilkerson struck out a ton, he at least drew walks."

Capitol Punishment has been a staunch defender of Wilkerson's strikeouts with this theory: if you want a guy to try to hit homeruns, he's gonna have to strikeout a fair amount. And while Wilkerson was the Nats leadoff hitter, he was expected also to be a source of power for the team last year.

Today, that theory gets a boost of support, and Ladson's lame-brained view gets a swift kick in the jimmies, with a great article by Dave Studeman at the Hardball Times. Using some neat graphs, Studes explains that outfield fly balls come in very different types, and some are much more productive than others. The second graph in the article also shows that there is a high correlation between productive OFs and strikeout rate, confirming the thesis that producing high-value flyballs has a price of more strikeouts -- except for a handful of players like Bonds, Pujols and Vlad Guerrero who manage to produce without a lot of Ks.

So, in essence, Ladson's beef with Wilkerson boils down to this: Wilkerson was a problem because he's not Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols. Even Little DM can opine on that.


At 3:46 PM, Blogger Chris Needham said...

Ladson basically admits as much in the last sentence of his response to that amazingly intelligent question.

He's right to a point. Certainly aesthetically strikeouts are brutal to watch. And it's not clear that Wilkerson was even capable of the type of hitting that makes Ks acceptable thanks to the park and the injuries.

What has bothered me all along about Ladson's approach, however, is that he's so blinded by the K thing that he ignores what he does do well. At least in the Patterson comment, he notes something he does well.

Yuda's also mentioned, and it's something that I agree with, that 100 strikeouts from an outfielder who hits homers (allegedly) is a lot different than those from someone like Cristian Guzman or Jamey Carroll. In their cases, the power versus contact tradeoff probably isn't worth it.

At 4:10 PM, Blogger DM said...

I probably should have put more of this in the post, but if you read Studes' article closely, his graphs show that Line Drives and Ground Balls have much less variation in their productivity -- in other words, you produce by hitting more GBs and LDs, not by hitting "better" ones. OFs are different -- there are productive OFs and unproductive ones, and the ones that are productive usually require swings that entail strikeouts.

So it becomes a question of what kind of hitter Wilkerson should be: He's certainly not an Ichiro "lots of GB" type, and trying to rely on LDs is risky given their unpredictability. He seems exactly like the kind of guy to rely on productive OFs. I don't think you can go any other way with him.

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