It is always fun to look at minor league numbers and try to project what a player can do. While most are trying to project how many home runs Kris Bryant will hit or how many Gold Gloves Francisco Lindor will win, I saw a number and wondered if Joey Gallo could set a record in futility at the plate.
Ever since I first saw him at the plate, I have been impressed by two things: his raw power and his incredible whiff rate. I wrote about it at the outlet I was writing for last spring, but even I couldn’t project numbers like he put up once the season started. The number that leaped out at me ever since the end of last season was Gallo’s 40% strikeout rate at Double-A Frisco, and I had to play with the numbers and see if he could become the first player in MLB history to put up 300 strikeouts.
In 2014, he hit an impressive 42 home runs, 21 each in High-A and Double-A, but his strikeout numbers began leaping off the page more than the incredible power numbers after his promotion to Frisco. By the end of the Texas League season, he had seen 291 plate appearances in 68 games, and struck out an incredible 116 times.
That got me wondering about the big league strikeout record, and if Gallo could set a new bar. So I looked at five players: Reggie Jackson, Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Chris Carter, and Mark Reynolds. These are not five random names chosen to make a point, but instead the player with the most career strikeouts (Jackson) then the single season record holders in the AL by a lefty (Dunn), NL by a lefty (Howard), AL by a righty (Carter), and NL by a righty (Reynolds).
I then took a look at their numbers in Double-A, their highest strikeout rate in MLB over a full season, and their career average. Of the five, I found the only player whose K rate did not increase significantly from Double-A to the big leagues was Ryan Howard, whose career average was about 2% below his Double-A rate and his single season worst was just 1% higher.
However, even when including the surprisingly consistent Ryan Howard, I averaged out the K rate for the five players to find their collective Double-A rate was 22%, while their MLB collective career rate was 29%. When pooling together their worst season, they struck out in a third of all trips to the plate, or 11% higher than their Double-A rate.
When applying the same “regression” to Joey Gallo, it is feasible to project a potential 51% strikeout rate. At that rate, it would take 590 plate appearances to tally 300 strikeouts in a single season. In 2014, there were 78 players who stepped to the plate at least 590 times.
There is certainly the argument that a player striking out more than half the times he steps to the plate will never remain in the lineup long enough to reach 590 plate appearances. But in an era that is increasingly more forgiving of the strikeout, especially when that player provides great power which is lacking in today’s game, it is far from an impossibility. Baseball Reference extrapolated Javier Baez’ numbers from 2014, and his 162 game average would have landed him at 296 strikeouts, and he struck out at just a 41% rate. So, that leaves just one question, can Joey Gallo become MLB’s first 300 “hitter”?