In Wednesday night’s dull drubbing in Los Angeles, we saw the platonic ideal of a Tyler Austin game. In the fourth inning, Austin hit an impressive home run to the opposite field. It prompted Kruk and Kuip to wonder if Austin could be the first right-handed hitter to reach McCovey Cove, and that doesn’t seem insane. Before Alex Dickerson hit a 456 foot homer on Friday night, Austin had the previous Giants record this season for longest home run.*
In Austin’s other three at-bats on Wednesday night, he also struck out three times. In 114 plate appearances this season, Austin has struck out 48 times. That’s a 42.1 percent strikeout rate. League average in 2019 is around 22 percent, so Austin has struck out nearly twice as often as the league-average hitter. To put another way, Will Smith has a 40.9 percent strikeout rate, so it’s been as if Austin has had to bat against one of the five most dominant relievers in baseball in every single one of his at-bats.
Austin currently sits below the Mendoza line, as he’s slashing .196/.281/.412. I generally don’t put too much importance on batting average, but not putting the ball in play is cutting into his on-base skills. If he dropped his strikeout rate by 10 percentage points, and put those balls in play instead, his batting average would rise to .235. Even with that gigantic drop, Austin would still post the highest strikeout rate by a Giant since Dave Kingman in 1973 (min. 200 PA).
The strikeouts are a problem, but Austin following Kingman’s footsteps wouldn’t be the worst thing. In ’73, Kingman struck out in 34.8 percent of his plate appearances. If Austin continues at this rate, he’ll obliterate Kingman’s record for strikeout rate in a season.
To be fair, Austin is batting in an era where strikeouts are at an all time high and Kingman played when the average player struck out about as often as Buster Posey. K%+ measures strikeout rate against league average for the season. 100 is league average and anything below 100 is better than average while anything above is worse than average. Kingman’s K%+ in 1973 was 270 or 170 percent worse than average. Austin’s is 189.
Even though Kingman grabbed his fair share of pine, he also hit 24 homers while posting a 111 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR. Kingman had the power to make up for his lack of contact, and the same could be said of Austin.
Austin has homered in 5.5 percent of his plate appearances this year. Over 600 plate appearances, that’s 33 home runs. I, for one, would be very into a Giant hitting 30 bombs. Austin will probably never get an opportunity to reach 600 plate appearances in a season given his platoon splits, but he can still be good as a lefty masher.
Austin’s all or nothing approach is a precarious line to walk. Currently, he too far on the nothing side, but if things balance out, he could slug his way to competency.