November 23, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
56°F
test

K’s mounting for Tribe, but it’s OK with Wedge

If the Indians were playing at home in recent days, Jacobs Field would have been the coolest place in town. I’m saying cool as in temperature, not as in trendy, because the Indians’ bats would have air-conditioned the place. They certainly generate a breeze.
This team can strike out like nothing we’ve ever seen. At this rate, the Indians will have six players with 100 or more strikeouts by the end of the season.
Manager Eric Wedge explains that it’s not an accident, it’s strategy. They wear out the opposing pitchers by working them deep into the count. That’s good, I guess.
It just shows how baseball strategy has changed over the decades.
As a comparison, let’s use 1948, the last year the Indians won the World Series.
The Indians already have more strikeouts than in the entire 1948 season. The Indians are striking out almost twice for every time they walk — 655 strikeouts vs. 333 walks. The only hitter anywhere near an even ratio is Travis Hafner, 65 walks,
64 strikeouts.
In the entire 1948 season the Indians as a team struck out 575 times and they led the league in that department. They walked 646 times, fourth best in the league. So, over almost 40 years the walks have remained the same and the strikeouts have doubled.
In those days, every at-bat seemed to be precious and nobody was harder to strike out than Lou Boudreau, the Indians shortstop and player-manager. He won the Most Valuable Player award in 1948 when he batted .355 with
18 home runs and 106 runs batted in. He walked 98 times and struck out only nine times. NINE STRIKEOUTS!
Leadoff hitter Dale Mitchell, who batted .336 in 1948, struck out only 17 times, with 45 walks and 204 hits, most of them singles. Even the big sluggers, Joe Gordon
(32 homers) and Ken Keltner (31 homers) had walk-strikeout ratios on the positive side.
Nobody on that 1948 Indians team came remotely close to 100 strikeouts. Only two regulars had more strikeouts than walks, catcher Jim Hegan and second-year outfielder Larry Doby.
Look at the Indians lineup today. Even the leadoff hitter, Grady Sizemore, is challenging the American League single-season strikeout record.
We think of big swingers as strikeout kings, but Al Rosen, the Indians’ home run leader of the 1950s, never struck out more often than he walked in his seven seasons as a regular. He led the league in home runs twice and in RBIs twice.
Andre Thornton, who was the Indians’ premier slugger for a decade starting in 1977, had a positive walk-strikeout ratio for his career. He never struck out 100 times.
I recall a sign in a major league player’s locker many years ago. It said, “Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times.” It was a reassuring reminder that even the Babe failed spectacularly.
The sign neglected to point out that the Babe also walked 2,056 times, had 2,873 hits, including 714 home runs, and 2,211 RBIs.
Add up Ted Williams’ hits and walks and you get 4,673 — almost seven times his 709 strikeouts.
Baseball goes in cycles and trends. Eddie Stanky loved the squeeze play and the hit-and-run. Earl Weaver loved the three-run homer. Eric Wedge loves the full count.
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for TV-8. Contact him at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.