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Why the 2017 Texas Rangers are striking out more

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While there’s much discussion about the Rangers’ elevated K rate this season, there’s also a simple explanation

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2017 Texas Rangers struggling, out of the A.L. West race and in danger of being out of the playoff hunt, there’s been lots of areas that have been blamed. The bullpen has melted down! The starting pitching has been inconsistent! The hitters aren’t getting on base!

One area of particular focus, particularly of late, has been strikeouts -- namely, the Rangers strike out way too much. This is something that has been harped on by both fans and media, and identified, rightly or wrongly, as a significant factor in the offense’s poor performance this year.

And the Rangers’ strikeouts have gone up this season. The Rangers, as a team, are currently fanning in 23.9% of their plate appearances — 5th worst in the majors. Last year, the Rangers struck out in just 20.0% of their plate appearances -- 8th best (or 23rd worst) in the majors.

So what explains this dramatic shift?

If we look at the numbers on regulars who have returned from 2016, nothing appears out of the ordinary.

Nomar Mazara struck out 19.7% of the time in 2016. In 2017, it is 18.6%.

Shin-Soo Choo struck out 21.9% of the time in 2016. In 2017, it is 21.0%

Rougned Odor struck out 21.4% of the time in 2016. In 2017, it is 22.0%.

Elvis Andrus struck out 12.3% of the time in 2016. In 2017, it is 15.8%.

Jonathan Lucroy struck out 17.9% of the time in 2016. In 2017, it is 7.6%.

Nothing dramatic there.

We can blame Carlos Gomez (26.8% this year), but Gomez is basically replacing Ian Desmond, who had a 23.6% K rate (and besides, Gomez has been on the d.l. for a while).

Delino DeShields is playing more, and had a 26.6% K rate in 2016, compared to 28.4% in 2017.

Ryan Rua was striking out 28.3% of the time last year, and has a 35.6% rate this season, but he’s only had 101 plate appearances, so that doesn’t really explain it.

However, there are two positions that have seen changes in personnel so far in 2017, that also feature high-K batters.

Mike Napoli is striking out at a 32.0% rate this season. He’s effectively replaced Mitch Moreland, who fanned 23.5% of the time in 2016. That’s a big jump.

And then, of course, Adrian Beltre has been out most of 2017. Beltre only struck out 10.3% of the time in 2016. He’s been replaced by Joey Gallo, who has a 38.0% fan rate.

How much of a difference does replacing Moreland with Napoli, and replacing (for most of 2017) Beltre with Gallo make to the team strikeout rate?

If we simply take all of Gallo’s plate appearances, assume that Beltre batted instead, and apply Beltre’s K rate, and do the same with Napoli and Moreland, the 2017 Rangers’ strikeout rate would drop from 23.9% to 20.3%.

In other words, the difference between last year’s K rate and this year’s K rate is almost entirely due to Gallo and Napoli replacing Beltre and Moreland.

In particular, Beltre, who rarely strikeouts out, being replaced by Gallo, who has been very good (but who is a K machine), is responsible for the majority of the increase. If Beltre had been playing instead of Gallo (and striking out at Beltre’s 2016 rate), the Rangers as a team would be striking out 21.1% of the time. Gallo, alone, accounts for almost three-fourths of the increase in team strikeouts.

So what can be done about this? Unless you are willing to bench Gallo or Napoli, there’s probably not anything that can be done. Beltre will be in the lineup going forward, and that will help, but he’ll probably be taking at bats away from DeShields or Rua moreso than Gallo or Napoli. If Napoli continues to struggle, he could lose playing time, but that doesn’t change the Joey Gallo Factor.

Bottom line, the Rangers are striking out more this year because they added two guys to the every day lineup who strike out a ton, and someone who doesn’t strike out much has been on the d.l. most of the year. The Ks aren’t why the Rangers have struggled. The Rangers have struggled offensively because individual players — particularly Lucroy and Odor, but also Napoli — have struggled offensively this year.