Through the first 5 games of the young 2019 season, the Cardinals have accomplished something no other baseball team has since at least 1908: their batters struck out 64 times in those five contests.
Hearing this through media outlets, I dismissed it as one of those overly qualified baseball "stats". SSS and all that. Why do we care about this tiny 5 game sample more than any other 5 game sample throughout the season which is also SSS? I guess it's fodder for discussing our beloved boys in red and gives the broadcast crew ammunition to avoid dead air.
BUT this wasn't the end. It seemed to keep popping up on VEB comment sections (at least to my possibly confirmation biased eye). And it got me wondering, how bad is it really? Is it just a product of the high strikeout environment in today's game? How does it correlate - if at all, and please GOBs don't let it be a correlation after all my SSS comments - with success over a full season? Let's check it out.
Quick note: I popped $2 in the Baseball Reference vending machine and it spit out all kinds of delicious data. This is my first time using their Play Index tool and it's amazing. Still, I had to manually copy/paste nearly 12,000 rows of CSV data. It could be my own ineptitude, but I didn't see an option to directly output the data. This is a roundabout kudos to baseball writers and analysts everywhere who manipulate these numbers so eloquently.
Surprise! Strikeouts are up. This data goes back to 1908. The red line is the number of strikeouts in the first 5 games of the season, while the navy line is a decadal rolling average of those strikeouts. From 1908-1988, Cardinal hitters struck out 30 or more times in the first five games of the season only 4 times. In the remaining 30 years from 1989-present, they've exceeded 30 Ks 19 times, 11 of those seasons breaking the 40 K mark.
How do these first five games set the table for the rest of the season? Surely it's not predic-
Welp, that trends pretty well together (R²=0.67), but we all know strikeouts have been on the rise so this makes some sense. Do the strikeouts in the First Five tell us anything about offensive production that season?
NO, IT DOESN'T. Thank GOBs. Just look at that line of dots at 101 wRC+, they represent seasons which started with 12-39 strikeouts in the First Five.
But the Cardinals broke the record this year, so they're the worst, right? Well, in this instance, yes they are. But they aren't out of line with the rest of MLB.
I used K% here to help control for expansion teams. In most years, the Cardinals are actually better than MLB. It's easier to see when graphed as a difference:
The positive bars are when the Cardinals struck out less than MLB that year in the first five games. Just don't look too hard at that last line.
What did we learn?
- When the Cardinals strike out a bunch it's no fun.
- They broke the record for striking out the most in the First Five games of any team, any season! That's also no fun.
- Who gives a shit? Everyone is striking out more, generally speaking.
- Most years they don't strike out as much as others.
- None of this changes the outlook for overall offensive production this year.
- #RoboUmps (which doesn't factor into this post, but I fully support nonetheless)
- This was fun to do. Thanks for reading!