MLB: Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox

Yoan Moncada & The Strikeout Record

Yoan Moncada strikes out a lot. It’s bad, but it’s not the worst thing in the world; even leading the league, with 190 Ks as of this writing, he’s still hitting near-league average and a worthwhile everyday player as a 23 year-old second baseman, becoming a perfect example of how “bust” is a label that derives more from sky-high expectations rather than poor performance. (Usual caveats apply about defensive statistics.)

That said … 190 strikeouts with most of a month to play is really quite a lot of strikeouts. Mark Reynolds’s MLB record of 223 in 2009 has already withstood one challenge from a White Sox, with Adam Dunn totaling 222 in 2012. 33 strikeouts in the last 23 games seems like a lot for Moncada, but how (un)likely is it really? Let’s do some math and figure it out.

We can, for purposes of this exercise, treat each PA for Moncada like the flip of a weighted coin (with heads equating to a strikeout), making his total strikeouts for the rest of the season a binomial random variable. If those words don’t mean anything to you, just take away that it’s easy to the estimate the chances that Moncada strikes out 33 or more times if we know his “true talent” strikeout percentage and the number of PA he will have for the rest of the year.

I used a range of estimates for both of these parameters; for PA, I looked at every multiple of 5 from 75 to 105, which is about 3 PA per team game (a very low number) to 4.5 per team game (Moncada has averaged about 4.35 PA per appearance, so this is a high estimate). For K%, I used as the low number his ZiPS projection of 30.5% (from FanGraphs), which was the most optimistic projection I could find; for a mid-range estimate, his PECOTA estimate of 31.9%; for a high estimate, his season-to-date number, which is 33.7%. The two tables below show the different estimates of Moncada first tying or exceeding the record, then strictly exceeding. (Note that the chances of tying or breaking the MLB record are the same as the chances of breaking the Sox team record.)

Chances of Tying or Breaking K Record

PA Strikeout %
Low Medium High
75 0.5% 1.0% 2.4%
80 1.5% 3.0% 6.3%
85 3.9% 7.1% 13.3%
90 8.5% 14.0% 23.8%
95 15.7% 23.9% 37.0%
100 25.5% 36.1% 51.2%
105 37.3% 49.5% 64.8%


Chances of Breaking K Record 

PA Strikeout %
Low Medium High
75 0.2% 0.5% 1.3%
80 0.8% 1.7% 3.9%
85 2.4% 4.5% 9.1%
90 5.5% 9.7% 17.6%
95 11.0% 17.7% 29.2%
100 19.2% 28.6% 42.8%
105 29.7% 41.2% 56.8%

A glance at the tables shows there’s tremendous variation here, ranging from almost a zero % chance to an over 50% chance. My personal conclusion is that the most likely estimate is in the 5-10% range, since the White Sox are likely to hold him out of a game or two at the end of the year if he’s within striking range, as they did with Adam Dunn in 2012. I’d therefore expect his most likely PA remaining to be closer to 85, which gets us to the 5-10% range depending on how bullish you are on his K%.

With no Eloy Jimenez, there are fewer hitting prospect storylines this September than some of us were hoping for. Whether Moncada clocks in just above or below the record won’t change the overall value of his season, or alter what we expect from him going forward, but in a season that’s often felt like treading water at best, it’s at least some sort of narrative to look at.

Data from the mothership, FanGraphs, and baseball-reference. Code backing the analysis can be found here.

Lead Image Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

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