If you know baseball, you know that hitters are striking out like never before. Striking out used to be one of the cardinal sins of hitting. In 1950, the league-wide strikeout rate was 9.9%. Even as recently as 2006, it was 16.8%. This year: 22.2%.
A combination of increased bullpen usage, an influx of power arms, and a more free-swinging philosophy has caused MLB hitters to set all-time K-rate records a staggering 11 years in a row. I mean, look:
That’s why I don’t feel as bad as I could about what’s happening to the Chicago White Sox right now, but history is about to be made, and not the kind we typically want. The Sox’s 1,551 strikeouts put them just 20 behind the all-time record — and there are still four games to go. Not setting the record would require showing more restraint than they have pretty much all year.
Now, the strikeout record was set just last year by the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that gave a full season of plate appearances to Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton and Eric Thames. But the Brewers weren’t bad by any means despite those K’s; they still managed a team 100 wRC+ among non-pitchers. The reality is that strikeouts are just a bigger part of the game now than ever before.
Of course, striking out in more than a quarter of your plate appearances as a team is a bit much. The Sox’s K-rate currently sits at 26.2%, well above the 2017 Brewers’ 25.6, comfortably above the record percentage-wise. Here the team’s cause is helped by having a bunch of bad hitters, which means fewer plate appearances overall and a lower number of PAs by which to divide.
Yoán Moncada also has an outside chance at Mark Reynolds’ single-season record of 223 strikeouts, set in 2009. He sits at 214, the fourth-highest number in MLB history ... and the second-highest in White Sox history. (Thanks, Adam Dunn.) You could say Moncada has been the one driving the K Train for most of this season, and if he hadn’t missed 10 days in May he would’ve easily taken the K crown already. To set the mark, Moncada will have to strike out 10 times or more in four games, which he’s already done several times this year.
The White Sox are truly leading the charge toward a more strikeout-heavy game of baseball. Setting the all-time record would be easier to stomach if they didn’t also have the lowest walk rate in baseball (7.0%). But put Moncada, Daniel Palka, Matt Davidson and Adam Engel in the same major league lineup, and this is what happens.
At the end of a long and disappointing season, this is just the cherry on top.