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Where have the Giants' strikeouts gone?

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We're talking about the pitchers, so don't make a joke about Brandon Belt hoarding them.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Giants are a game under .500. Considering that they had an eight-game losing streak mixed in there, that's almost impressive. They're returning to the land of the living in about the way you would expect, which is by hitting better than the average team, but they've also pitched well over the last two weeks. Aside from Ryan Vogelsong, who is somewhere allowing a home run right now, the Giants have made a couple successful trips through the rotation. All is well, all is well.

Except ...

The Giants have the lowest strikeout rate in the National League, and it isn't really close.

Team K/9
Dodgers 9.27
Cubs 8.91
Pirates 8.74
Padres 8.67
Reds 8.1
Nationals 7.92
Mets 7.85
Brewers 7.76
Cardinals 7.69
Phillies 7.32
Diamondbacks 7.06
Braves 7.03
Rockies 6.95
Marlins 6.87
Giants 6.42

You might not think this is a problem, that the Giants superior defense can make up for this deficiency. Perhaps! They were 13th in the NL last year, and they did okay.

Still, they're down in Twins territory, and the Twins are a franchise that has made an organizational strategy out of putting the ball in play, with hilarious results. The start of the Modern Giants Era was in 2009, according to me, and they led the world in strikeouts that season. Remember that? Good Timmy, Jonathan Sanchez, Randy Johnson ... that was a bat-missing bunch. Yet if this team were to finish with 6.42 strikeouts per nine innings, it would be the lowest mark for any team since 2011.

Let's look pitcher-by-pitcher and see if we can find those missing strikeouts.

Madison Bumgarner

K/9 in 2014: 9.1
K/9 in 2015: 7.5
Prognosis for more strikeouts: HE'S DOOMED. THE SEASON IS DOOMED. HELP. HELLLLLLLP.

Wait, no. The prognosis is good. Bumgarner looked the best we've seen him in his last start, and it would take just a couple more of those starts to really boost his strikeout rate. His velocity hasn't gone down, and he's still Madison Bumgarner.

Tim Hudson

K/9 in 2014: 5.7
K/9 in 2015: 4.3
Prognosis for more strikeouts: A few more wouldn't hurt him, I guess, but Hudson was built to make hitters beat baseballs into the ground, not strike them out.

Still, there have been four seasons since 2000 in which a Giants pitcher struck out fewer than four batters per nine innings. Those seasons belonged to Kirk Rueter, Kirk Rueter, Kirk Rueter, and Kirk Rueter. Hudson likes to pitch to contact, but that doesn't mean you feel comfortable when anyone is compared to Rueter with regards to strikeouts.

Tim Lincecum

K/9 in 2014: 7.7
K/9 in 2015: 6.0
Prognosis for more strikeouts: Okay, considering that batters swing and miss at Lincecum pitches at a higher rate than they do for David Price, Zack Greinke, and Chris Sale, and that his contract rate is only a little higher than normal.

The prognosis is poor if you want to focus on his velocity, though, which is two full mph slower than last year. His change, slider, and curve are all slower, too.

Chris Heston

K/9 in 2014: 6.5 (Triple-A)
K/9 in 2015: 7.0
Prognosis for more strikeouts: I don't know. I included him here because I like Chris Heston.

Ryan Vogelsong

K/9 in 2014: 7.4
K/9 in 2015: 7.9
Prognosis for more strikeouts: Poor, considering that his current rate would be a career high. Except we've also arrived at the problem for this particular stat. Vogelsong is striking out more batters per inning, sure, but that's probably because he's allowing 30 batters to reach every inning. If you use simple strikeout percentage, his strikeouts are down.

Percentage of plate appearances ending in a strikeout
2011: 18.5
2012: 20.1
2013: 14.4
2014: 19.4
2015: 17.4

He's probably going to whiff the same number of batters, give or take. So revise that prognosis to "holdin' steady."

Santiago Casilla

K/9 in 2014: 6.9
K/9 in 2015: 6.2
Prognosis for more strikeouts: Fair. But this business of having a closer who doesn't strike anyone out is making me nervous. It wasn't that long ago that Casilla was Jairo Garcia, and he was something of a sabermetric sensation because he was striking out almost 15 batters per nine innings.


Okay, I guess that was over a decade ago, so it really was that long ago. Still, all it would take is a good outing or three, and Casilla is back where we're used to.

Jean Machi

K/9 in 2014: 6.9
K/9 in 2015: 6.1
Prognosis for more strikeouts: Eh. I really think the league is getting used to the changeup. He might not get back to the nice K/9 that he had last year.

Jeremy Affeldt

K/9 in 2014: 6.7
K/9 in 2015: 2.8
Prognosis for more strikeouts: Good gravy, that's a drop. Of course, we're dealing with the smallest of small samples (6 innings!) and, like Hudson, Affeldt's game is more ground-pounding than bat-missing. His velocity is roughly the same, so I'd wager this is just a sample issue.

George Kontos

K/9 in 2014: 7.5
K/9 in 2015: 4.6
Prognosis for more strikeouts: Dammit, Kontos, stop Ruetering. Like the rest of the bullpen, this is a sample issue. But it still speaks to the larger strikeout malaise of the entire staff. Maybe it's a weather thing. Maybe it's three games in Coors out of 25.

(Kontos will probably be fine.)

Sergio Romo

K/9 in 2014: 9.2
K/9 in 2015: 14.0
Prognosis for more strikeouts: Ah, sweet Romo. While this rate isn't going to keep up, we can at least dream of a return to form and a repeat of his magical 2011. Remember that? Forty-eight innings, five walks, and 70 strikeouts. One of the walks was intentional. One of my favorite individual seasons ever.

Javier Lopez

K/9 in 2014: 5.3
K/9 in 2015: 1.6 (one strikeout, 5⅓ innings)
Prognosis for more strikeouts: More than 1.6 per nine, surely, but he's never going to be a high-strikeout pitcher again. His high-strikeout season in 2013 was more of an exception than a rule.

Yusmeiro Petit

K/9 in 2014:10.2
K/9 in 2015: 7.5
Prognosis for more strikeouts: Good, unless he's just very sad that he never gets to pitch in important situations with the game in doubt. I know I am.

Other than 8⅓ innings from Romo, the Giants' entire staff has misplaced their ability to strike hitters out. They weren't supposed to be that 2009 team again, but almost everyone is down across the roster.

The only saving grace might be this:

Team GB%
Pirates 51.4 %
Giants 50.6 %
Mets 49.6 %
Dodgers 48.4 %
Diamondbacks 48.3 %
Rockies 46.6 %
Cardinals 46.5 %
Phillies 46.1 %
Padres 45.9 %
Cubs 45.8 %
Nationals 45.8 %
Braves 45.1 %
Marlins 44.4 %
Reds 44.2 %
Brewers 44.0 %

The more grounders the better, generally, so it's not all bad news. The Giants have 75 percent of a great infield defense, so more balls in play doesn't have to be a death sentence.

Still, I'd love to have an answer as to why every non-Romo is striking fewer batters out.. I hope you weren't expecting one. All I know is that this probably isn't a good trend if it were to go on all season.