Kirk Nieuwenhuis has two Ks in his first name. Unfortunately, more often than we'd like, he's also had that many Ks on his daily stat sheet.
Nieuwenhuis has seen action in every game the Mets have played since he was called up to the big leagues following the season opener, starting 43 games and coming off the bench in the other 11. In those 54 games, the Mets' rookie outfielder has struck out 58 times in 177 at-bats, an average of approximately one strikeout every three at-bats.
One whiff every third at-bat is quite high, don't you think? But it's worse than Ike Davis' strikeout rate (53 K in 171 AB, an average of one K every 3.2 at-bats). It's also much worse than the strikeout rate posted by David Wright in 2010 when he set the team record for most strikeouts in a season (161 Ks in 587 AB, an average of one K every 3.6 at-bats).
Ike Davis has been booed quite a bit at Citi Field this year, just as David Wright was by a smattering of fans in 2010. But Kirk Nieuwenhuis hasn't received the boo treatment from fans at all. Why is that? A quick look at the numbers will explain it all.
Two years ago, David Wright batted a then-career-low .283, after hitting over .300 in the five campaigns prior to 2010. Despite driving in 103 runs that season, Wright could have done much more, as shown below:
- Batting average with men on base: .261 (79 strikeouts in 264 at-bats)
- Batting average with the bases loaded: .250 (6 strikeouts in 12 at-bats)
- Batting average with a runner on third, 2 outs: .211 (8 strikeouts in 19 at-bats)
In all three scenarios listed above, Wright hit far below his seasonal average, while striking out at a more prolific pace than he did in other, less pressure-packed situations. It can be understood why fans booed Wright in 2010, especially since he didn't come through as much as he could and should have. Ike Davis' woes in 2012 are far worse (see below):
- Batting average with men on base: .181 (29 strikeouts in 94 at-bats)
- Batting average with the bases loaded: .000 (2 strikeouts in 6 at-bats)
- Batting average with a runner on third, 2 outs: .158 (8 strikeouts in 19 at-bats)
That brings us to Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Yes, he's struck out at a higher rate than David Wright in 2010 and Ike Davis this year. But when we look at the same numbers we considered for Wright and Davis above, you'll see exactly why his strikeouts are being overlooked.
- Batting average with men on base: .323 (16 strikeouts in 65 at-bats)
- Batting average with the bases loaded: .600 (no strikeouts in 5 at-bats)
- Batting average with a runner on third, 2 outs: .385 (4 strikeouts in 13 at-bats)
In addition to Nieuwenhuis' exceptional numbers in the three scenarios listed above, he is hitting .345 with a .400 on-base percentage when leading off an inning, thereby setting the table for the players behind him. He's even better in "late and close" situations (baseball-reference.com defines "late and close" as plate appearances in the 7th inning or later in a tie game, one-run game, or with the tying run on deck), batting a whopping .474 and reaching base at a .560 clip.
David Wright heard a few boos in 2010 after every strikeout, just as Ike Davis is hearing now. But Kirk Nieuwenhuis hasn't heard a negative peep from fans at Citi Field despite having a higher strikeout rate than both Wright and Davis. And why should he? Wright and Davis seemed to whiff almost every time the Mets needed them to contribute. It's been the exact opposite for Nieuwenhuis, as he's made better contact when the stakes have been raised. Of course, it hasn't hurt that he's also been spectacular defensively.
Its not how often Kirk Nieuwenhuis strikes out; it's when he's doing it. Or more appropriately, it's when he's NOT doing it. David Wright and Ike Davis heard boos because they were producing empty outs when the situation didn't call for it. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is just producing. Period. And as long as he does, he will not hear a boo directed toward him at Citi Field.