I'm as much of a “Moneyballing Stat-Head” has the next guy, but for all the reasons the strikeout has recently been deemed a useless statistical metric (and there are many), here are six reasons a high strikeout rate makes for an attractive pitcher.
Why GMs want pitchers with high strikeout rates
1. Striking someone out means that the pitcher threw well enough, not only to get the batter out, but to make him miss the ball completely (in most cases). With a pitcher that throws lots of strikeouts comes a guy with pretty good stuff - or at least one who knows how to use his stuff effectively.
2. Strikeouts are like batting average. Just as there are better statistical metrics for a batter's offensive ability (OBP,SLG,etc...), there exist more accurate measures of a hurler's pitching ability (WHIP, HRs allowed, OOBP, etc...).
However, a high strikeout rate is akin to a high batting average in that it's a sign that a ballplayer will probably age well. Batters with a high OBP but a low average early in their career tend to have a drop off in production much earlier in their career (Jeremy Giambi) than someone with a high batting average to complement the high OBP (Jason Giambi).
Similarly, pitchers with high strikeout rates as compared to bases on balls (K/BB) (Greg Maddux) will most likely age better than a pitcher with a low K/BB ratio (Barry Zito).
It’s no guarantee, but it does give a pretty good indication.
3. Sure, groundouts and flyouts are great, but when there’s a man on third and less than two outs, nothing short of a pop out, line drive, or strikeout will do. Seeing that nobody wants to pitch for a line drive, hoping an infielder or shallow outfielder will catch it, the next best thing is to go for that strikeout. Without the strikeout ability, close games can easily be won on sacrifice flies, ground outs, base hits, or walks. 4. It’s demoralizing. Simple, but true, nonetheless. As a batter, what feels worse than lining out with the bases loaded or going 0-for-4 with four flyouts? Striking out with the bases loaded or going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts! How many times have you seen Joe “Big Game” Pitcher strike out that last guy to retire the side? Next time, instead of pumping your fist or listening to the roar of the crowd, watch the batter: the dejection is palpable.
5. It is a decent measurement of a relief pitcher. K/BB is considered one of the better metrics for a relief pitcher, given the anti-statistical environment in which they operate (short time frames, different lengths, certain types of batters, etc…). Other than “inherited runners stranded,” which is criticized for the lack of compensation for which base the runner(s) was actually on before the reliever came in, K/BB is probably the most widely used measurement not called WHIP, ERA or BAA.
6. Perhaps the most important of all, strikeouts are exciting. While the GM may not relish in the excitement the fans certainly do, and they’re the ones that pay to watch the game. Think about it, who would you rather watch: Clay Condrey or Kerry Wood (ERAs: 3.26, apiece)?
For that matter who does Condrey even play for?
If playing for the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies doesn’t give him the same exposure as a Kerry Wood, I wonder what makes Wood so much more popular and electrifying...
Perhaps it has something to do with Condrey’s relatively mundane 4.43 K/9 compared to Wood’s superhuman 11.40 K/9?
Whether you’re a fan of the K or not, you must admit: it plays an important role in the game and how it’s played and analyzed.