Athletics

Oakland's Khris Davis pacing MLB strikeout record

khris-davis.jpg
USATSI

Oakland's Khris Davis pacing MLB strikeout record

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is set to smash through a previously untouched barrier Sunday: Some batter likely will walk back to his dugout after becoming the 40,000 strikeout of the season.

There were 30,801 strikeouts in 2005. At the current rate, this year’s total will be about 40,060.

“It kills me. I can’t watch the game. It’s not baseball,” Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage said Thursday. “The only thing that’s the same in the game is the bases are 90 feet and the mound is 60 feet, 6 inches. That’s it.”

The strikeout record has been broken for 10 consecutive seasons, and this year’s total will be well above the 38,982 who whiffed in 2016. There were 39,334 through Thursday, with three full days remaining.

More batters are swinging for the fences, part of the computer revolution that transformed nearly every aspect of the game, from defensive shifts to shorter outings by starting pitchers, to more relief pitchers on each team’s roster. The season home run record of 5,694, which had stood since 2000 at the height of the Steroids Era, was shattered with nearly two weeks left. Cleveland’s Roberto Perez hit No. 6,000 on Thursday as the total rose to 6,022.

“If you’re striking out, you’re not hitting into a lot of double plays. It was like 10 years ago when I think the analytical people started saying that strikeouts aren’t really that bad,” Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost said. “They would much rather have one out than the chance for two.”

Boston’s Chris Sale has 308 strikeouts, the most by a big league pitcher since Arizona’s Randy Johnson had 334 in 2002 and Diamondbacks teammate Curt Schilling fanned 316. Indians pitchers have reached double digits in strikeouts 90 times, the most since at least 1913.

In earlier eras, strikeouts were a smear on a slugger’s baseball card. Babe Ruth never struck out more than 93 times in a season. Joe DiMaggio fanned 369 times in his career, to go along with 361 home runs.

The Yankees’ Aaron Judge may have set a big league rookie record for home runs with 51 through Thursday, but he’s also fanned 205 times. Oakland’s Khris Davis was at 194 and Texas’ Joey Gallo at 193.

[RELATED: Khris Davis on The A's Insider Podcast]

“They have determined the importance of hitting the ball in the air, the importance of hitting home runs, and I think players have bought into it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I think you can be extremely productive striking out 150 times a year. If you can drive 100 and you can score 100, there’s a lot of things that you can do. So I think the game has shifted gears a little bit.”

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff are concerned about the decrease in action, especially in an era that had professional sports competing with screen time for the attention of youth.

Teams averaged 3 strikeouts per game when the Yankees’ Murderer’s Row ruled baseball in 1927. The average didn’t top 4 until 1952, 5 until 1959 and 6 until 1994. It passed 7 in 2010 and 8 last year.

“Everybody digs the long ball. If you struck out that many times back in the day, your (butt) would be back in the minor leagues,” said Gossage, who advocates small ball as a way of defeating both power pitchers and infield shifts. “I think these computers got these kids — they’re all like robots. You’re telling me that a guy, a professional hitter, can’t hit a ball the whole left or right side of an infield that’s gone? How about laying down five or six or 10 bunts, like Boog Powell would have done?”

 

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

A's trade former 2B prospect Joey Wendle, who never got a chance to blossom

The A’s swung a trade on the first day of the Winter Meetings, but it wasn’t the type of swap that’s been anticipated.

Oakland dealt second baseman Joey Wendle to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday for a player to be named later or cash considerations. The storyline for the rest of the week is whether the A’s complete a deal for their biggest target— a right-handed hitting corner outfielder.

They weren’t involved in heavy dialogue Monday as the four-day Winter Meetings opened at the Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla. But they’re on the lookout for an outfielder that will allow them to shift Khris Davis from left field to designated hitter.

Billy Beane, the A’s head of baseball operations, reiterated to reporters that the team ideally wants to acquire an outfielder who’s under team control for multiple years. The Cardinals’ Stephen Piscotty fits that bill and is known to be a primary target, but the A’s have been linked to others too, including Miami’s Marcell Ozuna.

If a trade doesn’t pan out, Beane didn’t rule out the possibility of signing a free agent outfielder, but the focus is trading for one who’s signed to an affordable contract. Beyond that, the A’s seek a left-handed reliever to continue fortifying a bullpen they’ve already added to this offseason.

“We were pretty specific with who and what we want, whether it be a free agent or a trade,” Beane said of the team’s approach to the meetings. “There’s a few free agents we have interest in, a trade here and there. And if we don’t get them, we’ll just wait for the offseason” to continue.

Wendle, who saw slices of big league time in 2016 and 2017, was originally acquired from Cleveland for Brandon Moss during the 2014 Winter Meetings. He drew some comparisons to Mark Ellis for both his style of play and work ethic but found himself blocked at second base despite an impressive big league debut in September 2016.

He hit .260 that month in 28 games, and though that average doesn’t stand out, he impressed defensively and proved to be a spark plug hitting leadoff, drawing praise from manager Bob Melvin. But a shoulder injury cost the 27-year-old Wendle valuable time in spring training last season and extended into the regular season. It didn’t help his cause that Chad Pinder emerged as a second base option and valuable utility man, and that Franklin Barreto — the A’s top-rated prospect — also arrived on the big league scene for stretches.

In addition, the A’s think highly of another up-and-coming second base prospect, Max Schrock. Acquired from Washington for reliever Marc Rzepczynski in August 2016, the 23-year-old Schrock opened the eyes of Melvin’s staff last spring and hit .321 for Double-A Midland in 2017.

Jed Lowrie, of course, is the A’s veteran incumbent at second base but is a logical trade candidate at any point given Barreto’s inevitable full-time arrival in the majors.

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

chapman-olson-athletics-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Despite stadium uncertainty, Beane stands by long-term plan for A's youngsters

The deterioration of ballpark talks at the Peralta site won’t affect the A’s grand plan on the baseball side of things.

At least that’s what vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told reporters Monday as the Winter Meetings opened in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The A’s promoted a number of highly regarded minor leaguers last season who showed promise that they could be future foundation pieces. Along those lines, Beane and his staff planned to target some of those youngsters for long-term contract extensions, with an eye toward generating momentum as a new ballpark was built near downtown Oakland.

The A’s will still look to lock up some of those players, Beane said, even after last week’s news that the Peralta Community College District board halted negotiations for the team to build a new ballpark on land that sits near Laney College.

“I think it’s still a strategy we try to embark on,” Beane said of signing young players.

Consider third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, who both entrenched themselves last season as rookies, as two obvious candidates for long-term deals at some point. But they aren’t the only two.

When could the first deals come?

“Realistically, the sooner the better,” Beane said. “Certainly we’ve got between now and spring training to introduce the idea. But probably more sooner than later.”

It’s an uncertain time for this franchise. Will the A’s look elsewhere to build in Oakland? They don’t seem thrilled with the idea of revisiting the current Coliseum site or Howard Terminal as possible locations. Could majority owner John Fisher consider selling? And if so, does that open the door to the franchise leaving the Bay Area? It doesn’t seem any scenario should be counted out right now.

No one representing the club, including team president Dave Kaval, has spoken publicly about ballpark plans since the Peralta talks abruptly ended Wednesday.

As far as baseball operations go, it only makes sense to continue down the path that they recently committed to. The only bad course of action for the A’s is not to take any action at all.

Beane and general manager David Forst need to stay the course and continue their commitment to young players, crossing their fingers that the business side of the operation can pivot and find a new direction for building a ballpark.