In baseball the worst outcome for a batter is usually considered striking out, a result that nets no benefits for runners on base as they don’t have an opportunity to advance from the ball being put into play as well as the batter himself as he too has no chance to get on base (unless on a very rare dropped third strike). While this is a negative, striking out isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it usually results from a batter being overly aggressive from trying to hit the ball for extra bases rather than to put the ball in play.
In 2015 the leader in strikeouts was Orioles first basemen Chris Davis who struck out 208 times, which is good enough for 5th most in a single season as well as a rate of striking out in 31% of the time, an impressive amount of strikeouts for anyone, but while he struck out 31% of the time he also led the major leagues in homeruns with 47 and a whopping .300 ISO (only beaten by Bryce Harper in that category by .019). Chris Davis showed that a hitter’s willingness to risk a strikeout for extra bases can pay off. His 147 WRc+ (10th in the majors) showed that his devotion to hitting for extras pays off as he created 47% more runs than the average hitter.
Chris Davis though wasn’t the only hitter to have a high strikeout percentage, 16 players who qualified for the batting title put up 25% or greater K% rates. Among these players were such sluggers as Kris Bryant, JD Martinez, Nelson Cruz, and Joc Pederson. Of the 16, 12 hit 15 or more home runs, 8 posted a .200 or higher ISO, and 13 of the 16 posted a 90 or better WRc+. These high strikeout players also tend to put up very high hard contact rates, for example JD Martinez who struck out 27.1% of the time also made hard contact 42.8% of the time, best in the majors. This means that these hitter are making solid contact which is among the most effective ways to get a hit, especially for extra bases. These players also post above average line drive percentages which create an astonishing 1.26 runs per out compared to 0.13 per fly ball out and 0.05 runs per out for ground balls.
These numbers bring up the point that strikeouts can be a necessary evil for extra base hits and creating runs. The most important part of this is that hitters shouldn’t be afraid of striking out for the chance of putting the ball in play because the value of extra base hits far outweighs the small chance of a weak contact single. While batters shouldn’t put all their faith in swing for the fences they also shouldn’t be afraid to go for it either as it has proven that these high strikeout players put up exceptional numbers towards creating runs despite their low batting averages. The worse thing a hitter should do is try to make weak contact simply for the purpose of putting the ball in play. While high strikeout numbers are frustrating both to have and watch, the value of the good power numbers make up for this problem.