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Do players strike out more early in the season?

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Is this normal?

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Indians are striking out a lot. That fact inspired Tyler to write something a few days ago, looking into players' current bat control metrics (swing rate, etc.) and compare those figures to the same players' previous levels. It's worth reading.

Reading Tyler's work, I was curious about whether strikeout rates are just higher in general early in the season. After all, the Indians' current rate of 24.7% wouldn't just be the highest in franchise history, it would be the second-highest by any team in MLB history. Yet, despite a seemingly historic rate, the Indians don't even have one of the five highest strikeout rates in baseball right now. Which is to say, the Indians are striking out a lot so far this season, but so are a lot of other teams.

(While it's not of great importance to this particular question, it's worth mentioning that strikeouts are almost always on the rise, league-wide.)

Perhaps teams normally strike out more frequently early on the season; it could be due to weather, or not being quite up to full speed. Or it might not be the case at all. I set out to find out.

Here is the MLB-wide strikeout rate for April in recent years, along with the MLB-wide rate for each full season:

  • MLB K%, April 2015: 20.1%, MLB K%, full 2015: 20.4%
  • MLB K%, April 2014: 20.8%; MLB K%, full 2014: 20.4%
  • MLB K%, April 2013: 20.2%; MLB K%, full 2013: 19.9%
  • MLB K%, April 2012: 19.3%; MLB K%, full 2012: 19.8%
  • MLB K%, April 2011: 18.6%; MLB K%, full 2011: 18.6%

The full-season rate was a very slight increase from April in two of the five seasons, a very slight decrease in two of the five seasons, and a dead heat in the fifth season. It never changed by more than half a percentage point. You could hardly have stronger evidence that league-wide strikeout rate isn't any different in April than for the rest of the season.

In case there's something specific to the Indians, I looked at the numbers for just them too:

  • Indians K%, April 2015: 17.7%; Indians K%, full 2015: 18.9%
  • Indians K%, April 2014: 18.9%; Indians K%, full 2014: 19.1%
  • Indians K%, April 2013: 21.3%; Indians K%, full 2013: 20.8%
  • Indians K%, April 2012: 17.7%; Indians K%, full 2012: 17.5%
  • Indians K%, April 2011: 19.0%; Indians K%, full 2011: 20.7%

There's somewhat more fluctuation there, which is to be expected when looking at the smaller sample of one team instead of 30, but same as for the full league, there really isn't much change.

Because a number of players are a bit above their career norms/2016 projections (and because someone other than Michael Brantley has gotten most of Michael Brantley's plate appearances, which is a sure way to inflate the team's strikeout rate), I expect the Tribe's strikeout rate will drop, but not because that's what normally happens after the first few weeks.

The current franchise record for strikeouts (by hitters) was set by the 2013 team, which had 1283 strikeouts (and a 20.8% strikeout rate, to give you some more context for how significantly the current edition is outpacing things). Given that the Tribe's biggest acquisition of the offseason (Mike Napoli) strikes out a ton, and given that strikeouts are pretty much always trending upwards, even while anticipating that the team's strikeout rate will fall over the rest of the season, I also expect Indians hitters this season will set a new franchise record for strikeouts.

Hooray for history!