There has long been a belief in baseball that players who mash monster home run totals but strike out so much even Nolan Ryan would feel the strikeout was cheapened are worth the cost as long as they continue smacking bombs. Names like Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, and Carlos Pena come to mind. Yet, when production numbers are actually analyzed, teams would be better off spending money on a contact hitter who gets on base.
Let’s take a look at some of the career numbers for these strikeout “kings.” The numbers below are through 2010.
Mark Reynolds: 767 strikeouts in 1,982 at-bats (strikeout ratio of .387), career batting average of .240.
Adam Dunn: 1,632 strikeouts in 4,975 at-bats (strikeout ratio of .328), career batting average of .246.
Ryan Howard: 1,035 strikeouts in 3,237 at-bats (strikeout ratio of .320), career batting average of .275.
Carlos Pena: 1,131 strikeouts in 3,620 at-bats (strikeout ratio of .312), career batting average of .239.
B.J. Upton: 690 strikeouts in 2,435 at-bats (strikeout ratio of .283), career batting average of .256.
Rickie Weeks: 648 strikeouts in 2,413 at-bats (strikeout ratio of .268), career batting average of .256.
When your strikeout average is higher than your batting average, things can’t be going too well right? Well considering the contracts some of these players have signed, maybe things are going just fine. Below is what each player has made in his career through 2010.
Adam Dunn: $56,695,000
Ryan Howard: $42,255,000
Carlos Pena: $28,342,000
Rickie Weeks: $8,796,000
B.J. Upton: $4,234,000
Mark Reynold: $1,652,333
Based on these career earnings and career at-bats, we will next look at what each player made per at-bat through: 2010:
Ryan Howard: $ 13,054 per at-bat
Adam Dunn: $11,396 per at-bat
Carlos Pena: $7,829 per at-bat
Rickie Weeks: $3,645 per at-bat
B.J. Upton: $1,739 per at-bat
Mark Reynolds: $834 per at-bat
For our next analysis, we will only look at the top-three salaries per at-bat. Rickie Weeks, B.J. Upton, and Mark Reynolds have not yet been paid in the same realm as the top-three sluggers. While overly simplistic and probably unfair, let’s now look at what each of these top-three players made for unproductive strikeout outs in their careers through 2010.
Adam Dunn: $18,598,272
Ryan Howard: $13,510,890
Carlos Pena: $8,854,599
Maybe it’s just me, but that’s a lot to be paid for doing something any average Joe can do. So in fairness, let’s take a look at what each player was paid for productive at-bats (hits + walks + HBP + SF + SH).
Adam Dunn: $26,621,056
Ryan Howard: $18,667,220
Carlos Pena: $12,103,634
So there you have it, not much separation between what these power-hitters are being paid to strike out compared to what they are being paid for production. Historically, 33% of Adam Dunn’s contract, 32% of Ryan Howard’s contract, and 31% of Carlos Pena’s contract is wasted on strikeouts.
I already admitted this analysis is overly simplistic, but sometimes simple is all it takes. If I’m spending money on big name players, and each of these three players are big name, I’d like to get a little more production. But just to take the analysis a bit further, we’ll wrap up by looking at these players’ WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for their careers through 2010.
Ryan Howard: 20.8 (7 years, average WAR of 2.97)
Adam Dunn: 27.1 (11 years, average WAR of 2.46)
Carlos Pena: 13.1 (11 years, average WAR of 1.19)
Finally, I’ll leave you with this; an MVP season is estimated to be 8+ WAR, an All-Star season is estimated to be 5+ WAR, a starter should be 2+ WAR, and a substitute should be 0-2 WAR. Carlos Pena is getting paid $10 million in 2011 to produce the WAR that a substitute could produce. Adam Dunn is getting paid $14,000,000 with an average WAR that barely puts him at starter level. Ryan Howard is being paid $20,000,000 and if you believe the WAR estimates, fans were right in not voting him to the 2011 All-Star Game.