Baseball people just love productive outs. You ever see a big league dugout after someone moves a runner to third on a routine ground ball to the right side? It's like Mardi Gras. High fives! Hugs! Confetti! Charles Lindbergh didn't get the welcome that a baseball player gets for hitting a timely dribbler to second base.
And there's more than just dancing in the dugout. Announcers sing hosannas to productive outs. Hardened newspapermen write lyric poems. Managers complain incessantly that the problem with baseball (the problem with the whole damned country) is that players are not selfless enough. General managers will pay millions—millions!—for men magnanimous enough to move a runner over and hearty enough to hit a sacrifice fly deep enough to score 'em from third.
Well, I don't want this to come out wrong, but ... a pox on the productive out. Give me Mark Reynolds.
Reynolds is the Diamondbacks third baseman who last season became the first player in big league history to strike out 200 times in a season. He struck out 204 times, to be exact, and as the old-timers will tell you (and tell you and tell you), 204 strikeouts is more than Joe DiMaggio had in the 1940s. The whole war-torn decade.
But Reynolds was unabashed. "It's the way I hit," he said shortly before setting the record, and he shrugged.
He came into this season still swinging away. On Sept. 22, against San Francisco, K-Mark tied his record by striking out against Matt Cain. Same game, he broke the record by swinging and missing against Madison Bumgarner. A couple of innings later, for good measure, he struck out against Brandon Medders. (With 211 strikeouts through Sunday, he has a real shot at 220 for the season.)
"So what?" was his testy response to the media after the Giants game.
So what? is exactly right. That night Reynolds also hit a run-scoring double (his 100th RBI of the season) and scored his 93rd run of 2009. Later in the week he hit his 44th home run—only Albert Pujols has hit more. With 24 steals, Reynolds is one of only three third basemen (Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones are the others) to have hit 40 homers and stolen 20 bases in a season. And he is in the National League's top 10 in slugging percentage, total bases and, the telling Bill James statistic, runs created.
How is it possible? Well, the dirty truth is that strikeouts get a bad rap. Of course they can bury players. The more times you strike out, the fewer balls you put in play. The fewer balls you put in play, the fewer chances you have to be a productive hitter.
But there is a new generation of hitters—Reynolds, Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Jack Cust, Carlos Peña and Jason Bay, to name a few—who draw so many walks and hit the ball so hard (when they hit the ball) that they are wildly productive even if they strike out 150 or 200 times in a season.