In 2011, Braves batters struck out 1260 times, which topped the previous franchise record by nearly 100. Last year's team did them one better, racking up 1289 Ks.
Based on that trend alone, you'd think that the 2013 Braves would be pretty likely to set yet another franchise K record. Those chances only increase when you consider that the Braves have lost the two regulars with the lowest K-rates from last year (Chipper Jones & Martin Prado).
Given that the team's three most important additions (Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Chris Johnson) range from average to extreme strikeout guys, the 2013 Braves may well blow past last year's record. This team's strikeout potential is so high, in fact, that a number of Braves fans have speculated that the MLB record (1529 by the 2010 Diamondbacks) may be in jeopardy.
Because of this record-setting potential, Talking Chop has decided to have a little fun with what might otherwise be a dispiriting trend to watch. Accordingly, we'll be updating you throughout the season on the Braves' progress relative to the franchise- and MLB record-setting teams.
Here's a little taste of what to expect from the Strikeout Tracker, using some imaginary but realistic numbers for the first 20 games of the season (click for embiggening):
I'm planning on updating the tracker every 10 games so that the TC community can better compare the Braves' strikeout numbers against their historical peers--the 2012 franchise-record-holding Braves and the 2010 MLB-record-setting Diamondbacks. Hopefully, that context will be a bit more helpful (and more fun) than the standard "UGH THEY'RE STRIKING OUT TOO MUCH" complaints.
As far as what to expect from the Braves' strikeout totals, let's look at some projections. For the table below, I added up the projected strikeout totals for each of the Braves' top 12 hitters (the 7 starters, the third-base platoon, plus the main reserves Gerald Laird, Paul Janish, and Reed Johnson) and then added in 30 strikeouts for the last bench spot and 144 for the pitching staff (the 2012 team's total). These are obviously very rough estimates, but it's the best we have.
I used 3 projection systems (all available at FanGraphs) to compile these estimates: Bill James, Oliver, and ZiPS. Here are the totals I came up with (for some perspective, the A's led MLB in Ks last year with 1387):
|Projection||Estimated Team Strikeouts|
By extrapolating from any of these 3 projection systems, we can see that the 2013 Braves are very likely to break the franchise strikeout record. Keep in mind, though, that all of these systems make certain playing-time assumptions that can be drastically thrown off by an injury or trade. And that's not even considering improvements, declines, and random fluctuations.
Still, it says something about the team's potential for striking out that even these middle-of-the-road projections think the team will set a new franchise record. If all goes "right," there's no doubt that a total in the 1400s is very possible (though I'd say the MLB record is likely safe). Variation is just as possible on the low end, too, so a new franchise record is definitely not certain.
Regardless, let's keep in mind that this is mostly just a fun exercise. Hitter strikeout records don't mean much at all, especially on the team level. As long as the Braves' hitters perform up to expectations in other areas (like on-base and slugging), we shouldn't mind if they also perform up to our expectations by striking out a ton.
It's a long season, and it can seem even longer when the offense is in a K-heavy funk. The Braves Strikeout Tracker will be here to give us something a bit lighter to take our minds off our troubles in those dog days.