It’s silly to draw any conclusions from the first game of the baseball season. Worrying about your team losing on Opening Day is like worrying about missing the NFL playoffs after only returning the season’s opening kickoff to the 19-yard-line.
But one thing stuck out to me on Opening Day, and it was something I was concerned about entering the season (so I’m allowed to write about it now): strikeouts.
The Nationals struck out 1304 times last season, the most of any playoff team. The plurality of these strikeouts came from Ian Desmond, who’s been trending the wrong way since his breakout season in 2012. After fanning 113 times that season, he stuck out 145 times in 2013. Last season’s rise to 183 strikeouts (in fewer plate appearances than the year before) in part led to Desmond’s noticeable drop in on base percentage, from .331 in 2013 to .313 in 2014. Overall, Desmond struck out 28.24% of the time in 2014.
Bryce Harper, too, is trending in the wrong direction. After only 120 strikeouts in 139 games his rookie season, Harper had over one strikeout per game last season with 104 in 100. Overall, he struck out just over 26.3% of the time.
There are other troublesome spots in the Nats current lineup. Michael Taylor struck out 163 times last season between three levels of pro ball in only 127 games, at a rate of 28.6%. Opening Day second baseman, Dan Uggla, is king of strikeouts, averaging more than one per game over the course of his career. He struck out just under 29.3% of the time last season, which was better than 2013 when he struck out 31.84% of the time.
MLB players, as a whole, stuck out just under 20.36% of the last season.
Strikeouts can be overcome on offense if the team is still getting on base (last season, the Nats were 4th in the NL in OBP), hitting for power (4th in NL in HR), and generally scoring runs (3rd in the NL in runs per game). But a rise in strikeouts often leads to a drop in all those categories.
Yes, it’s too soon to draw conclusions, but if you’re looking for trends to watch, look at strikeouts.