Does Astros rookie George Springer strike out too much?
MAY 27, 2014 2:45p ET
Monday, George Springer enjoyed a big game against the Royals: one home run, two doubles, four hits, five runs. That home run, a “towering” drive in the eighth inning, made him the first rookie in Astros history to homer in four consecutive games. Springer’s now got a .268/.348/.500 batting line, which places him solidly in the Big Boy Hitter category.
I’m just not sure how long this can last.
In his 35 games, Springer has struck out 49 times. Springer’s struck out in 32 percent of his plate appearances. Which is a lot of strikeouts, even these days. The problem, as you probably know, is that high strikeouts usually mean low batting averages, and low batting averages usually mean low on-base percentages, and a low on-base percentage makes it exceptionally difficult to be a highly productive hitter.
Among the 176 major leaguers with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, only 11 have struck out at least 30 percent of the time. Two of them have been better than replacement-level, as hitters: the Cubs’ Junior Lake and the Marlins’ Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Nine have been worse, some a lot worse: Mark Reynolds, Danny Espinosa, Marcus Semien, Jason Kubel, B.J. Upton, Jason Castro, Chris Colabello and Brandon Hicks.
Thanks to a .375 batting average on balls in play, Lake’s got a .271 batting average, .301 on-base percentage. Thanks to a .341 BABiP (and a scad of walks), Saltalamacchia’s got a .253 batting average, .347 OBP. Those other guys, though? There are a bunch of sub-.300 on-base percentages, and only the guys with a bunch of homers — Reynolds and Hicks, basically — haven’t been flat-out terrible. Colabello just got sent back to the minors.
And this is an Astros problem in particular, as both Castro and Chris Carter are Springer’s teammates. There’s also Jonathan Villar, who’s struck out 29 percent of the time and sports a sparkling .261 OBP.
Granted, strikeouts aren’t necessarily debilitating. Justin Upton’s struck out 29.9 percent of the time, and he’s having a great season. But a) nobody can count on being Justin Upton, and b) even Justin Upton can’t count on being Justin Upton. Not this way, anyhow. He’s batting .379 on balls in play this season. But his career mark is .334, and he’s probably going to regress toward that number this season. If his strikeout rate doesn’t also regress toward his career number, around 25 percent, his great season probably becomes a good season.
It’s funny ... just after writing the above, I saw this:
Justin Upton. George Springer. Justin Upton has the same contact rates across the board, slightly better swinging strike rate.— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) May 27, 2014
So, yeah. But again, there aren’t many Justin Uptons and I’m not convinced Upton can keep going like he’s gone. Last season, seven hitters struck out more than 28 percent of the time: Carter, Mike Napoli, Dan Uggla, Adam Dunn, Reynolds, Pedro Alvarez, and Chris Davis. Davis was excellent, Napoli very good, and the others (except Uggla) were just OK.
It’s just a tough way to make a living. And I think it’s worth mentioning that Springer’s hardly a kid. I mean, he’s young for an everyday player in the major leagues. But he’s older than Mike Zunino and Yasiel Puig and Wil Myers and Giancarlo Stanton and a bunch of other guys with more service time. Springer has time to grow, but he doesn’t have that much time; he’ll be 25 in four months. There’s little doubt that he’ll get smarter, and make adjustments as his season and his career moves along.
The pitchers will adjust, too. Springer’s a good hitter, but he won’t become a great hitter unless his adjustments trump the pitchers’ adjustments. Hitters are predictable ... but only to a point. Four years ago, Carter ranked among the top prospects in the minors. Today, he’s just trying to avoid going back to the minors.
Every day on Twitter, Rob Neyer tries to avoid hurting himself and others.