Astros Sabermetrics: Springer's MLB K and BB Rates

J. Meric

Talking about George Springer's Strikeout and Walk rates and how they might translate to the major leagues.

Mid-season last year, I penned an article titled "Springer's K-Rate Not the Whole Story", in which I explored data provided by Chris St.John at Beyond the Box Score related to minor league strikeout and walk rates and how they translate to the major leagues.

The thrust of my article intended to allevaiate fears by fans that Springer's high strikeout rate (close to 30% in Double-A at the time of publication) need not forebode struggles in the Major Leagues. My words, and particularly my charts that showed an improving trend as Springer adjusted to each level of the Minor Leagues, proved nostradomic when Springer finished 2013 with a strikeout rate of just 24.4% in Triple-A over 131 Plate Appearances. Yes, I am aware that is a small sample from which to draw conclusions. Yet, we plow on.

Since St. John's original article, he has expanded on his research by going more in-depth into level-specific strikeout and walk rates. Today, he published his data for the Triple-A level. Please read it, as I have no wish to reduce BTB's web hit count by rehashing his methods.

The post caught my notice because the author chose to adorn the article's crown with a photograph of George Springer taking batting practice, tacitly implying that Springer is just the type of player for which his research intended to provide some context.

Taking the hint, I shall now apply St. John's data to Springer, with the important caveat that Springer's rates are based on a sample size of plate appearances that have not had time to statistically find their level. So take the below "projections" (note: NOT predictions!) with a grain of salt, or maybe with an entire salt mine, or even the Bonneville salt flats.

During his tenure at AAA, Springer posted a 15.4% walk rate and a 24.4% strikeout rate. These are noted improvements over those stats at every level of his development so far, and I would be remiss if I did not point that out.

For the pool of twenty nine 23-year-old AAA players with walk rates higher than 13% in this sample, 21% of them failed to reach 500 plate appearances in the major leagues. If you look at St. John's tables, you'll see that 21% is actually an excellent number, and one of the lower "bust rates" (for lack of a better term) for players who played in AAA at an age older than 20 years.

For those 23-year-olds in the sample who reached the 500+ plate appearance threshold, 18 (62%) of them had Major League walk rates higher than 10%. That bodes extremely well for Springer's walk-drawing ability to translate to the highest level and provide a strong foundation for his On-Base Percentage.

For 23-year-olds who posted strikeout rates between 20% to 25%, almost half of the 41 players in that sample failed to reach 500 plate appearances in the majors. However, only 4 of the 21 successful players posted a strikeout rate higher than 25% in the major leagues. The numbers do not change too alarmingly if the sample of 25% K-Rate AAA players is used instead of 20%-25%.

Playing "what-if" now, If Springer reaches 500 Plate Appearances in the major leagues (which seems likely, barring something unforeseen, such as Grant Desme's decision to enter the priesthood) and follows the highest-percentage likelihood for performance, he could be projected to produce a strikeout rate between 20% and 25%, with a walk rate well over 10%.

Here is the entire list of qualified Major League batters who had strikeout and walk rates in these ranges during the 2013 Season:

That's a pretty impressive list, filled with All-Stars, rising stars, and Justin Smoak. The combined slash line for those players was .259/.357/.447, with an average WAR of 3.6. Astros fans would be pretty pleased with such a batting line for Springer, particularly because in his case, it would be accompanied by base-running and defensive skills at a premium position not shared by anybody else on that list.
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