- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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A quick final note related to our Greatest Season Ever bracket.
Babe Ruth struck out 81 times in 693 plate appearances in 1921, an 11.7 percent strikeout rate. That's pretty impressive in 2011 terms -- akin to Dustin Pedroia, who fanned in 11.6 percent of his plate appearances.
However, compared to the typical 1921 hitter, Ruth's strikeout rate was pretty astronomical. The average American League hitter in 1921 (including pitchers) fanned in 7.4 percent of his plate appearances. We don't have exact totals for position players, but if we remove No. 9 hitters from the totals, position players struck out in 6.3 percent of their plate appearances. Which means Ruth fanned 85.7 percent more often than the average 1921 hitter.
In 2011, the average AL hitter struck out in 17.9 percent of his plate appearances. So if Ruth fanned 85.7 percent more often than average, that translates to a 2011 strikeout rate of 33.3 percent. That's not Mark Reynolds territory -- that's beyond Reynolds territory (he fanned in 31.6 percent of his PAs in 2011). Over the 693 PAs Ruth had in 1921, that equates to 231 strikeouts.
OK, OK, I know ... no, I'm not really comparing Babe Ruth to Mark Reynolds. But there is an important lesson to learn here: Ruth's approach worked in 1921 precisely because he could still generate mammoth power totals, but not do it at the expense of the ridiculous strikeout totals we see now. Reynolds hit 37 home runs in 2011, but it came at the expense of a .221 average and 196 strikeouts.
For his time, Ruth did strike out a lot, comparable to Reynolds in our own time. If we did the whole time machine thing, Ruth would certainly adjust to the more skilled pitching of 2011, but at what end? Would his power totals drop? How much would his batting average decline if his strikeouts increased? Just some food for thought as we consider how the game has changed in the past 90 years.