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Relationship Between Age and More Strikeouts in Baseball


The sharp increase in strikeouts in baseball over the last decade can’t be attributed to any single cause.  A variety of factors have all led to fewer balls being put in play, including an emphasis on taking pitches, an expanding strike zone (particularly at the bottom of the zone), the possible impact of the game being much cleaner from performance enhancing drugs (though this has never been definitely determined), and others.

The jump in whiffs from 2005 to 2014 has been consistent, as there has been an increase in every season going back to the mid-aughts:

Year

K/9

2005

6.3794

2006

6.5859

2007

6.6712

2008

6.8259

2009

6.9865

2010

7.1297

2011

7.1310

2012

7.5616

2013

7.5685

2014

7.7262

In short, strikeouts are up across the board and going back even further the increase in strikeouts have come from all positions. However, there’s another factor in the increase in strikeouts, and that is the age of players.

Over the last ten years, the strikeout rate for younger players has been consistently higher than older players, when defining younger players as those 28 and younger and older players as those 29 and older. Over the last ten years, their strikeout rates have been going up at close to the same rate, with the younger players’ strikeout rates going up even slightly faster:

Year

<29

29+

2004

17.2%

15.6%

2005

17.0%

15.1%

2006

17.3%

15.5%

2007

18.1%

15.2%

2008

18.0%

15.9%

2009

17.9%

17.0%

2010

18.5%

17.4%

2011

18.8%

17.4%

2012

20.0%

18.3%

2013

20.4%

18.2%

2014

20.9%

18.6%

(All statistics come from Baseball Reference, and strikeouts are attributed to a players “age” season.  For example, if a player turns 28 on or before June 30 that is considered their age 28 season and all strikeouts accumulated that season are considered to have taken place when they were 28 years old, even if they were 27 earlier in the year.)

Younger players’ strikeout rates went up 1.98% per year, and 21.6% total from 2004-14.  Older players’ strikeout rates went up 1.81% per year, and 19.6% from 2000-14.

This in itself isn’t terribly noteworthy, as this slight difference by itself doesn’t mean a whole lot.  But the way this has impacted strikeouts is what players are seeing more and more plate appearances.  Also from 2004 to 2014, the number of plate appearances given to younger players overall increased.  Across all of baseball, the graph below shows the percentage of plate appearances given to younger players (still 28 and under) compared to older players (29 and older):

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Over the course of a decade, we’ve seen a jump in younger players getting more playing time.  The jump hasn’t been consistent every year but over the course of a decade it’s been pretty significant, with younger players going from getting 44.6% of playing time in 2005 to 54.7% in 2014, a jump of over ten percentage points in less than a decade.

Are younger players pre-disposed to strikeouts more than older players?  Are older players less likely to strike out because they’ve established themselves in the league, at least in part because they’re semi-successful hitters and have learned to strike out less?  These questions are beyond the scope of this examination, but this confluence of factors is just yet another reason that fielders are finding themselves with less and less work to do every game.



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