Nicholson-Smith: MLB strikeout trends

Baseball insider Ben Nicholson-Smith discusses the Jays strikeout issues, and the overall trend in the MLB, that Ks are increasing annually.

Control the strike zone and you control the game.

Strikeout pitchers overpower hitters, escape jams, and limit the possibility of defensive miscues. They’re drafted in the first round and paid handsomely as free agents.

Strikeout-prone batters, on the other hand, can be frustrating to watch when they’re struggling. It’s no surprise that some of the game’s top executives look for hitters capable of working the count.

“We want to control strike zone, be among the league leaders in on-base percentage every year,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said in a spring interview with Joe Posnanski. “That’s how we’re going to score runs by getting on base and not making outs, having eight guys with good approaches, who can work the count into their favor and drive the ball.”

MLB pitchers have already recorded well over 4,000 strikeouts in 2013. Here’s a detailed look at five noteworthy strikeout-related trends…

More strikeouts than ever

MLB batters are striking out in more than one fifth of their plate appearances this year. It’s an increase compared to last year’s numbers, and the eighth consecutive year that batters are striking out with increasing frequency.

Regardless of the cause of the increase — the pitchers, the batters or, as Dave Cameron suggested this month, the umpires — the result is clear: batters are striking out more frequently than ever before.

What to watch for: Get used to seeing batters strike out.

Blue Jays Ks

J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus are both striking out twice as frequently as the average MLB hitter. The duo has combined for 56 strikeouts, more than any pair of teammates in MLB.

Arencibia ranks second in MLB with 29 whiffs, while Rasmus is tied for fourth with 27. Rasmus and Arencibia both strike out approximately two times out of five.

Rasmus, a self-proclaimed fastball hitter, is seeing fewer first pitch fastballs in 2013, as Jeff Sullivan explained this week. The centre fielder continues to see more velocity than any qualified hitter in MLB, with pitchers throwing him 92.4 m.p.h. fastballs on average.

What to watch for: Led by Arencibia and Rasmus, the Blue Jays will strike out plenty in 2013.

Chapman rolling

Aroldis Chapman has faced 37 hitters this year, striking out 19 of them — an MLB-best 51.4%.

The Reds’ rotation is doing just fine without Chapman, having posted a 3.17 ERA through 20 games. While there were valid reasons for attempting to move Chapman to the rotation, he couldn’t have been much more dominant out of the bullpen.

What to watch for: Expect more dominance from Chapman.

No walks or whiffs in Minnesota

The Twins, off to a surprising 8-7 start, led MLB with just 37 walks allowed through Monday’s games. Their hitters are controlling the strike zone, too, with 64 walks (tied for seventh in MLB).

Yet Twins pitchers generate the fewest strikeouts in baseball. Three teams have doubled Minnesota’s paltry strikeout total of 87.

What to watch for: With pitchers such as Kevin Correia and Vance Worley in the starting rotation, the Twins will continue to be a low-strikeout team.

Cardinals starters

Adam Wainwright pitched well last year in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. He’s pitching even better in 2013, with 28 strikeouts and zero walks through four starts.

One of Wainwright’s teammates is on the other end of the spectrum. Jake Westbrook allowed his first earned runs of the season on Sunday. Yet Westbrook has far more walks (14) than strikeouts (8) through three starts.

No qualified starter has fewer strikeouts than Westbrook, who’s tied with Correia and Joe Blanton. If you don’t generate swings and misses it’s hard to strike batters out.

What to watch for: While Westbrook is off to an impressive start, count on Wainwright to finish the season with the better ERA.