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Strikeout rates can already tell us something about the Indians

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What can we learn from looking at the strikeout rate for Tribe hitters and pitchers?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Early on in the season, it's wise not to get carried away with players' statistics, because of the Small Sample Size™. On a certain level, this is obvious; if a player hits two home runs on Opening Day, people like to joke about how he's on pace to hit 324 of them, but no one thinks that's actually going to happen. At some point though, the samples are no longer so small that we can't draw some reasonable conclusions; if a player has 35 home runs after 135 games, putting him on pace for 40, it's not a stretch to think he'll get there.

At what point between do statistics become reliable? The answer varies, because it isn't the same for all statistics. Russell Carleton (who now writes for Baseball Prospectus) has done a lot of research on the subject; here are some of his findings:

  • 60 PA: Strikeout rate
  • 120 PA: Walk rate
  • 170 PA: HR rate
  • 240 PA: HBP rate
  • 160 AB: ISO
  • 320 AB: SLG
  • 460 PA: OBP
  • 910 AB: AVG
  • 80 BIP: GB rate
  • 80 BIP: FB rate
  • 600 BIP: LD rate
  • 820 BIP: BABIP
It's worth noting that some of those don't stabilize and become reliable until more than a full season's worth of playing time. With BABIP for example, we don't really get a sense of what a player's normal level is until roughly two seasons worth of balls in play. On the opposite end of the scale, strikeout rate is the first of these statistics to become meaningful, and with just 60 PA needed before we can stop writing things off as just a matter of sample size, a number of Indians have already hit the mark. There are seven players on the team with 60+ plate appearances so far. Here they are, with their strikeout rate so far this season:

Yan Gomes (62 PA) - 24.2%

Nick Swisher (86 PA) - 23.3%

Carlos Santana (79 PA) - 20.3%

Asdrubal Cabrera (77 PA) - 16.9%

Jason Kipnis (81 PA) - 14.8%

David Murphy (62 PA) - 11.3%

Michael Brantley (80 PA) - 7.5%

American League average is 19.7% right now, to give you some context. The Indians as a team are at 18.0%, fifth lowest in the AL.

Gomes' is striking out more than he did a year ago, though despite being the highest figure on the team right now, 24.2% is not an especially high strikeout rate in this day and age. Swisher and Santana are also both above their 2013 and career levels.

Cabrera is right at his career level, but his strikeout rate spiked to 20.3% last year, so a return to his lower career rate would be welcome.

Kipnis' career rate 19.1%, and he was at 21.7% last season. He's been the victim of a .245 BABIP so far (his career BABIP is .313), but everything else looks good, and when his luck evens out, his overall numbers should be great. He looks like he's headed for at least as good a season as he had last year, perhaps even better, and his contract extension looks like a great deal for the team.

Murphy's career rate is 15.4%, but he posted a career best 12.4% in 2013, so he's been able to cut down on his strikeouts during what should be the decline phase of his career, which should allow him to better maintain his value this year.

Finally there is Brantley, who continues to be an elite player when it comes to making contact and putting the ball in play. His 9.9% strikeout rate for 2012 to now is fifth-best in MLB, and his start this season is even better than that. Another reason for all of us to love Dr. Smooth, as if we needed one.