A recent article at FanGraphs took a look at the differences in strikeout rates and walk rates for major league offenses in an attempt to find out how well they correlated with run production. Of interest to me was that while the Rangers, Red Sox, and Yankees all have very good offenses (in the top three by wRC+), there were significant differences in their approaches.
Case in point: the Yankees and Red Sox lead the majors in walk rate, while the Rangers rank 24th. However, the Rangers have the lowest strikeout rate in the majors at 14.9 percent, with nobody else below 15.7 percent. The Red Sox and Yankees are 9th and 10th, respectively. This suggests that the Rangers are putting many more balls in play than the Red Sox and Yankees, likely reflecting a very different philosophy on how to approach hitting. It is interesting to see that it is quite possible to have a significant amount of success with this approach, even if it isn’t necessarily the approach most beloved by the current advanced stats crowd:
[Graph courtesy of Bradley Woodrum and FanGraphs.]
This led me to think about one of the frequent criticisms leveled at the Rangers offense -- that this is an offense that relies on the long ball, and that while it can score runs by the many, many, many, too often the bats go silent for prolonged periods. It results in people questioning if this truly is a great offense. Hopefully faithful readers of Matches and BBTiA realize how impressive this offense is, but I understand how easy it is to question whenever the Rangers get shut out. The FanGraphs article leads me to wonder if the Rangers' aggressive, ball-in-play approach lends itself to greater variance than the more patient approaches of the Red Sox and Yankees that are less dependent on luck dragons and BABIP:
This shows the frequency of each team scoring at least x runs. It quickly becomes apparent that there is virtually no difference in run distribution between these very good, yet very different offenses. If anything, Boston and New York have more outings of eight-plus runs, though this is probably a reflection of their offenses being slightly better. However, all three get shut out about five percent of the time, score at least two runs around 88 percent of the time, and score at least four runs around two-thirds of the time.
How many runs should a team be trying to score? Using the same approach as above, I charted the frequency of teams allowing x or fewer runs:
Half of the time, all three teams give up three runs or less. 75-80 percent of the time, they give up five runs or less. While these percentages would vary significantly for teams that are not as good as the AL elite, it is comforting to see that not only do the Rangers measure out similarly to the two AL East teams based on counting stats or yearly averages, but also in their runs scored and runs allowed distributions as well.
As fans whose emotional states often mirror the Rangers' success, I know it’s easy after a bad performance to question if this Rangers offense really is as good as it often proclaimed to be. It’s a frustrating experience to watch offensive ineptitude for nine innings, especially if a good pitching performance goes to waste because of it. Hopefully, this provides some hope that all good offenses, even if constructed via an approach that could be more SABR-friendly, have bad days.