The Most Difficult Hitters to Strike Out in MLB

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIMarch 23, 2013

The Most Difficult Hitters to Strike Out in MLB

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    There are some players in Major League Baseball who just won’t go down on strikes.

    These players are a pitcher’s worst nightmare—the ones who foul off pitch after pitch, battling until they find a pitch they can put into play. The batter might ground out, fly out or line out, but he definitely isn’t going to strike out.

    Oftentimes, players who don’t fall by way of the K very often see many pitches and walk frequently. If you think about it, this makes plenty of sense. The batter waits for the perfect pitch, and if he doesn’t see it before the pitcher throws two strikes, he’s going to do his best to work the count. As the pitcher throws more and more pitches, it becomes more likely that the batter watches four balls get called.

    But this isn’t about walking, it’s about not striking out. It’s about having a good enough eye to determine a difference between pitches. It's about what a batter has to do to avoid swinging and missing on a pitch down the pipe or letting the umpire make the ultimate decision for him.

    Here are the eight toughest batters to strike out in all of baseball.

    *All statistics were obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts. All injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus.

Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays

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    After being traded from the Miami Marlins to the Toronto Blue Jays over the winter, it remains to be seen if Jose Reyes will be just as difficult to sit down by way of the K. In his 10 years as a big leaguer, Reyes has struck out 10.2 percent of the time.

    Although Reyes was limited to just 126 games with the New York Mets in 2011, he set a career-low with a strikeout rate of 7.0 percent. Last season with Miami, that percentage increased just 0.8 percent. But now, out of the National League East, how will Reyes fare?

    In Reyes’ career against the American League East teams he’ll be facing most often this season, he’s never really had much trouble staying alive against pitchers. He has struck out 22 times in his career against the New York Yankees—the most against any AL East team—but that was in 188 at-bats. 

Marco Scutaro, San Francisco Giants

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    In the 11 seasons that Marco Scutaro has played in the majors, he’s never struck out more than 75 times. And it’s not like he isn’t getting a lot of at-bats. On average, he gets nearly 400 per season.

    Scutaro has gotten much smarter at the plate over the years, decreasing his strikeout rate nearly every season since getting called up by the New York Mets in 2002. He has a career strikeout rate of 10.8 percent, striking out less than eight percent of the time last season. Last year was the second time he finished with a sub-10 percent strikeout rate.

    Scutaro strikes out the most against the Los Angeles Angels, which makes sense since he played nearly his entire career in the American League and spent four seasons with the Oakland Athletics. He has 51 career K's against the Halos, which is five more than he has against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Ichiro Suzuki, New York Yankees

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    Because of Ichiro Suzuki’s batting stance, one would assume that it would be easy to strike him out. Since he’s nearly out of the batter’s box by the time the pitch crosses the plate, all a pitcher has to do is throw a pitch that moves toward the right-hand side of the plate.

    That’s not the case, though.

    Ichiro is actually one of the best at avoiding the strikeout. That pitch on the other side of the plate doesn’t fool him too often. He has a career strikeout rate of just 9.3 percent and has only gone over the 10-percent mark three times in his 12 years as a big leaguer.

    It shouldn’t be any surprise that Ichiro has struck out the most against the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels, since he played nearly his entire career with the Seattle Mariners. What’s interesting, however, is that after his 52 strikeouts against the Cleveland Indians, no team has sat him down by way of the K more than 50 times.

Ben Revere, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Ben Revere has only been a regular in the league for two years, but he’s already established himself as a tough cookie when it comes to pitchers trying to strike him out. The last two seasons combined, Revere has been the seventh-toughest batter to strike out in terms of K rate.

    What’s interesting about Revere is how he fares against left- and right-handed pitching. Many left-handed hitters have a harder time against left-handed pitchers, and we would expect a higher strikeout rate. But that’s not the case here. The last two seasons, Revere has struck out less often against lefties than righties.

    Another intriguing note about Revere’s first two years in the big leagues is that he’s much tougher to strike out in the first half of the season compared to the second half. There’s about a three-percent difference in favor of the first half, which could make sense considering the wear and tear on the body as the season goes on.

    Regardless, it still isn’t easy to sit him down by way of the K at any point during the year.

Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

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    In Dustin Pedroia’s first few seasons with the Boston Red Sox, he was one of the league’s top players, winning the American League Rookie of the Year in 2007 and the American League MVP in 2008. What helped his case was his ability to stay in the batter’s box for so long without striking out.

    Pedroia’s first three full seasons have been, by far, his best. In 2007, he struck out 7.2 percent of the time. In 2008, another 7.2 percent. In 2009, he lowered that rate to 6.3 percent—an unreal stat since he played in 154 games and got over 700 plate appearances. Recently, he’s still been tough to strike out, never topping 11.6 percent in the last three seasons.

    In Pedroia’s seven-year career, he has a strikeout percentage of 8.6 percent, which is the 12th-best from 2006 through last season. In more than 3,800 plate appearances and 3,300 at-bats, he has yet to strike out more than 45 times against any team in baseball.

Placido Polanco, Miami Marlins

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    Placido Polanco doesn’t get the credit he deserves no matter what team he plays on. Over the course of his career, which started back in 1998, Polanco has always been more of a role player. He’s extremely underrated and is quite valuable to the teams that utilize his skills correctly.

    Since 1998, when Polanco made his major league debut, he has the seventh-lowest strikeout percentage in baseball at 6.8 percent. And he’s only one of three in the top seven with at least 1,000 games over that span.

    Year to year, Polanco has been ridiculous.

    In 1999, Polanco struck out exactly 10 percent of the time. He’s never had that rate grow since. In fact, he’s put together seven seasons in which his K rate was less than seven percent. Twice he’s registered a sub-five percent K rate. Not many regulars can say they’ve accomplished that.

Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Yadier Molina is a consistent hitter with unbelievable catching skills. Is he thought of as a batter who rarely strikes out? Not really, but it’s true: Molina doesn’t strike out very often at all.

    Since 2004, when Molina made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals, he’s been very good at the plate, striking out only 8.7 percent of the time. Over that span, Molina has the 16th-best K rate in baseball, just behind a couple of other players on this list.

    Molina’s best season, at least in terms of how often he struck out, came in 2008. Pitchers were able to sit him down by way of the K just six percent of the time that year. That was the third-best rate in 2008, and he sat less than one percentage point away from his brother, Bengie. 

Juan Pierre, Miami Marlins

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    Ever since Juan Pierre took his first step into a major league batter’s box, he’s been the most difficult hitter to strike out in baseball. Since 2000, Pierre has struck out just 5.7 percent of the time, the lowest of any other player.

    It’s crazy to think that Pierre swinging and missing on strike three or having the umpire book him happens so rarely. The most often Pierre has ever struck out was in 2002 with the Colorado Rockies, when his K rate reached 8.1 percent. Since then, he hasn't hit seven percent.

    Want to hear some more interesting strikeout facts about Pierre? He’s never struck out 35 times against any team in his career. Only one team, the San Francisco Giants, have hit 30 strikeouts.

    While Pierre’s career K rate is at 5.7 percent, his career walk rate is at 5.7 percent as well. Weird, isn’t it?