The umpires Monday night surprisingly didn’t receive a harsh greeting at O.co Coliseum, where fans were steamed last week by a blown home run call in Cleveland by a different crew that cost the Oakland A’s a chance at a victory.
The call, as Major League Baseball had to admit, was wrong.
But maybe big-league umps deserve a bit of a break. After all, they’ve been pretty busy calling Strike 3 this season.
Entering Monday, there had been 8,428 strikeouts in 552 games, a pace that would shatter the all-time record of 36,426 set way back in 2012.
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Batters whiffed 15.29 times per game in April. That rates as the highest average for any month in the game’s 100-plus-year history.
The K is no longer baseball’s scarlet letter, as strikeouts have been on the rise each of the seven seasons. But there isn’t one definitive reason why so many at-bats are ending in Strike 3, either swinging or looking.
In the year of the strikeout, though, the Texas Rangers have yet to give into peer pressure. They entered the opener of a three-game series against Oakland with the second-fewest strikeouts in the majors and the lowest per-game average.
There’s no mystery as why it has been so hard to strike out a Rangers batter. These guys are good, they say, and their approach reduces the chances of them going down on strikes.
“It think it’s a combination of the two,” hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “We made a conscious effort in spring training of preaching that we don’t want to be an all-or-nothing team.
“For the most part the guys are buying into it. We stray from it every once in a while. Just like any other team, we can throw away some at-bats. But the guys are taking a pretty good plan to the plate. When you do that, it’s easier to put the ball in play.”
Nelson Cruz was the team leader in strikeouts, with 33 of their 226 in 37 games, but his total ranked only tied for 44th in the majors. He was also the club leader in homers (nine) and RBIs (27), fitting the bill as the productive, strikeout prone slugger all teams have.
Cruz struck out 140 times last season as the Rangers finished with the fourth-fewest strikeouts in the American League despite also having Josh Hamilton (162) and Mike Napoli (125).
Hamilton and Napoli both rank in the top 10 so far this season with their new clubs.
“I’ll take a guy that strikes out 150 to 200 times year if he hits 30 to 40 home runs and drives in more than 100,” left fielder David Murphy said. “As long as your lineup is not filled with guys like that and you have some versatility, there’s reason to believe that guys like that can be productive.”
Second baseman Ian Kinsler said there’s no such thing as a no-strikeout approach, but a batter can learn how to cut down on his strikeouts with more discipline and better situational hitting.
That’s the type of hitter he sees up and down the Rangers’ lineup card.
“We’ve got a bunch of disciplined hitters who understand the strike zone,” said Kinsler, who has never had a 100-strikeout season. “We’re a bunch of guys that aren’t one-dimensional and aren’t going to give into an at-bat. We have a bunch of guys who battle.”
Lance Berkman has seven 100-strikeout seasons in his career, but he also has struck out only 81 more times than he has walked in his career. He’s the ultimate grinder at the plate, according to Magadan and his teammates, and is “angry” whenever he whiffs.
But he doesn’t think approach has as much to do with striking out less as his teammates do. Ultimately, it comes down to talent, and the Rangers are a talented offensive team.
“A lot is made out of approach, but the reality is nobody ever goes up there trying to strike out. Either guys put the ball in play consistently or they don’t. It has nothing to do with your mentality or your approach. We have a good lineup.”