Not All Power Hitters Are Strikeout Kings

Updated on April 14, 2020
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Following a successful career as a journalist, graphic designer, and marketer, Gary Kauffman is now a freelance sports writer.

Joe DiMaggio in his final season, 1951.
Joe DiMaggio in his final season, 1951. | Source

In 2018 and 2019, Yoan Moncado of the White Sox struck out 371 times. That’s the most by anyone over that time, although not unusual since 17 others also struck out more than 300 times. During those two seasons he hit 42 homers.

Now consider Joe DiMaggio who struck out 369 times—in his entire career! He hit 361 homers in his career. So in two years Moncado struck out two more times than DiMaggio did in 13 seasons, while hitting 319 fewer homers.

No power hitter ever came closer to belting more home runs than strikeouts in his career than DiMaggio. He struck out 39 times in his rookie season, the most he ever had in a season, while hitting 29 homers. It wasn’t until Aug. 29 of his final season that he once again had more career strikeouts than homers.

In his first six seasons, Joltin’ Joe slammed 198 homers while fanning only 160 times, including 1941 when he struck out only 13 times in 622 plate appearances, with 30 homers, 43 doubles, and 11 triples. That sounds ridiculous these days when power hitters strike out 13 or more times in a week. DiMaggio also had a season with 30 homers and 20 strikeouts in 524 plate appearances.

Only a Few Hit for Power With Low K's

The last player to strike out only 13 times in more than 600 plate appearances was Dave Cash in 1976. He hit one homer that season. In fact, only 229 players in history have fanned 20 or fewer times in 600-plus plate appearances. The most homers hit was 32 by Lefty O’Doul in 1929; DiMaggio was the only other of those players to hit 30 homers. Only seven of those players hit 20 or more homers while striking out fewer than 20 times—O’Doul twice, DiMaggio, Yogi Berra twice, Frank McCormick, and Tommy Holmes.

600+ PA with 20+ HR & less than 20 K's

Year
Player
PA
HR
SO
1929
Lefty O'Doul
732
32
19
1941
Joe DiMaggio
622
30
13
1945
Tommy Holmes
714
28
9
1950
Yogi Berra
656
28
12
1955
Yogi Berra
615
27
20
1932
Lefty O'Doul
655
21
20
1944
Frank McCormick
645
20
17

Lefty O'Doul

O’Doul is one of the best forgotten hitters, in large part because his career was fairly short and he had great years at a time when a lot of players had great years. Like Babe Ruth, he started his career as a pitcher, kicking around with a few teams for a few games in the 1920s until chronic arm trouble forced him into the outfield.

He finally made it to the majors to stay in 1928 at age 31 with the New York Giants. He batted .319 with only eight strikeouts in 390 plate appearances. Then the next year he was traded to the Phillies and became a star, hitting .398 with 254 hits, 32 homers, 35 doubles, 122 RBIs, and just 19 strikeouts. Over the next three years he batted .383, .336 and .368, with a total of 101 doubles, 50 homers, and only 57 Ks. He played only two more seasons after that.

Yogi Berra's 1953 Bowman card.
Yogi Berra's 1953 Bowman card. | Source

Yogi Berra

Berra was known as a bad-ball hitter—he hated to see a pitch go by which, unlike many free swingers, didn’t result in a lot of strikeouts. In his 19-year career, he hit 358 homers and struck out just 414 times. He only walked 704 times, so he put the ball in play most of his plate appearances. He never struck out more than 38 times in a season, and only struck out more than 30 times three times. He had five seasons of hitting more homers than strikeouts, plus another year with the same homer and strikeout totals.

Although he won the MVP award three times, arguably his best season as a hitter was in 1950 when he finished third in the MVP voting behind shortstop Phil Rizzuto and second baseman Billy Goodman. That year he hit .322 with 30 doubles, six triples, 28 homers, scored 116 runs and drove in 124, while striking out a mere 12 times in 656 plate appearances. Berra also had 27 homers with 20 Ks in 594 plate appearances in 1951, a two-year total of 1,250 plate appearances with 32 strikeouts and 55 homers.

Frank McCormick and Tommy Holmes

McCormick hit a lot but now with much power. A first baseman for the Reds, he led the NL in hits for three straight years, 1938-40. But he didn’t strike out much. He had five seasons of more than 600 plate appearances with fewer than 20 strikeouts. In 1944, he had his best power season, belting 20 homers and 37 doubles while fanning just 17 times.

Only one player ever managed to hit more than 20 homers with single-digit strikeouts. In 1945 Tommy Holmes of the Dodger hit 28 roundtrippers while striking out just nine times. Holmes had a short career, only nine seasons where he played more than 100 games. He was a solid hitter, leading the league twice and he made great contact, never striking out more than 20 times in a season and fanning just 122 times in his career.

But he was not a power hitter. He had only two seasons with double-digit home run totals—13 in 1944 and 28 in 1945. 1945 was his year—he led the NL with 224 hits, 47 doubles, 28 homers, 367 total bases and a .577 slugging percentage. All of that while striking out just nine times in 714 plate appearances, including a stretch of 126 plate appearances without a K. He batted .352 with 117 RBIs and 125 runs scored. It wasn’t enough to get him the MVP award, though he finished second to Phil Cavaretta of the Cubs, who hit .355 but only had six homers, 97 RBIs and 94 runs scored.

600+ PA with less than 20 K's Last 50 years

Year
Player
PA
HR
SO
1970
Matty Alou
718
1
18
1976
Dave Cash
727
1
13
1980
Rich Dauer
618
2
18
1980
Bill Buckner
615
10
18
1993
Ozzie Smith
603
1
18

Low Strikeout Totals Are a Thing of the Past

In the last 50 years, only four players have struck out less than 20 times in more than 600 plate appearances—Matty Alou in 1970, 18 in 718; Dave Cash, 1976, 13 in 727; Bill Buckner, 1980, 18 in 615; Rich Dauer, 1980, 19 in 619; and Ozzie Smith, 18 in 603 in 1993. The only other player to strikeout less than 20 times in even 500 plate appearances since then was Tony Gwynn in 1998, 18 in 505.

In the past 20 years, only Mark Grace (28 in 621) in 2000, Juan Pierre (29 in 683) in 2001 and Jason Kendall (29 in 605) in 2002 struck out less than 30 times in more than 600 PA. In the past 10 years only 10 players have managed to strike out less than 50 times in more than 600 PA, including Pierre twice. Nori Aoki in 2013 (40 in 674) had the lowest of those totals. Victor Martinez put up the best power numbers to strikeouts in the past 10 years in 2014, when he hit 32 homers with 103 RBIs and only 42 strikeouts in 641 plate appearances. In 2019, the best anyone with more than 600 plate appearances did was David Fletcher, with 64 K’s in 653 PA.

600+ PA, Less than 50 K's, Last 10 years

Year
Player
PA
HR
SO
2010
Placido Polanco
602
6
47
2010
Juan Pierre
711
1
47
2010
Alberto Callaspo
601
10
42
2011
Juan Pierre
711
2
41
2012
Carlos Lee
615
9
49
2012
Marco Scutaro
683
7
49
2013
Nori Aoki
674
8
40
2014
Ben Revere
626
2
49
2014
Victor Martinez
641
32
42
2018
Andrelton Simmons
600
11
44

Pujols Has the Best Contact & Power Stats

The last power hitter to have more homers than strikeouts in a season was Barry Bonds in 2004 when he hit 45 homers and fanned 41 times. Albert Pujols came close in 2006 when he belted 49 homers while striking out just 50 times. Pujols is the closest we’ve seen in recent years to a power hitter who makes contact. He had 10 seasons with 34 or more homers with fewer than 80 strikeouts, including five years with 40-plus homers and 65 or fewer strikeouts.

But it’s unlikely anytime soon that we’ll see any players like DiMaggio and Berra, with great power numbers while seldom swinging and missing.

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