Jordan Danks has had success throughout his minor league career despite striking out at an alarming rate. Can he achieve an acceptable level of success in the Majors like this or will he need to cut down on the strikeouts?
In three years at Texas, Danks had 122 K in 705 plate appearances (17.3%). For comparison (and to scare you), in three years at another Big 12 school, Oklahoma State, Josh Fields struck out 113 times in 666 PA (17.0%). Of course, to compare the two based on college strikeout rates is absurd, but strikeouts have been part of Fields' downfall. My point is that Fields was a power hitter striking out like a power hitter while Danks is #2 hole type hitter striking out like a power hitter.
Danks posted a small sample size K rate of 31.1% in Kannapolis in 2008 after getting drafted. Last year he struck out in 23.1% of his PA at Winston-Salem and 22.1% with Birmingham. Obviously, that's not going to cut it for a hitter who's offensive value mostly comes from his ability to hit for average and get on base.
Through Monday, Danks has good numbers almost all across the board this season. He has a slash line of .298/.400/.596. Obviously a .996 OPS is great, his walk rate (7 in 54 PA) is good as usual and his .298 ISO could be a sign that his long talked about power could be finally developing. The power won't last at this rate, even in the bandbox Charlotte plays in. Obviously it's early, but looking at those numbers you would think Jordan is off to a great start to the year. Is that accurate though?
Danks has struck out in 14 of 54 PA (25.9%). This number is pretty much in line with his minor league K rate of 23.2% going into the year. Strikeouts were mentioned as our number one concern for him entering the season and despite great numbers everywhere else, it still remains the number one concern. If we were fans of the Charlotte Knights, we couldn't care less because he is producing despite the strikeouts. Since we are fans of the Chicago White Sox, it's pertinent to ask, "Can Jordan Danks succeed in the Majors striking out like this?"
The first way to figure this out is to find players who put up numbers similar to Danks in the Majors (<30 HR, K in around 20% of their PA). This first table shows MLB career numbers for some supposedly comparable players as well as Danks' minor league numbers (stats from Baseball Reference).
You could argue that this is Danks' offensive upside. He falls mostly in line with this group. Granderson and Sizemore have been frequently used as comps for Jordan and you can see why from these numbers. The problem is that only Werth has a higher K rate than Danks. Werth probably doesn't even belong on this list because he has shown more power than the rest, but since he hasn't racked up much regular playing time he is harder to judge. The rest all have notably lower K rates so if Danks is going to match this production in the Majors, he's almost certainly going to have to improve his power or his contact rate.
Now for the important part: what did these players do in the minors? You would expect a statistical drop off when making it to the Majors, so how far is Danks really from these players? The second table takes the same players, but now the numbers are their Minor League averages.
It becomes clearer that Danks is behind the curve, but there is hope. His K rate is the worst by a solid margin, his OBP is the lowest (albeit barely) and his average is second lowest, but his OPS sits third in the group. Each of the five Major Leaguers struck out more in the Majors than the minors. That's not a novel concept, but worth mentioning considering Danks is already striking out too much. At this point Danks either has to cut down on the K's to become Cuddyer or Bradley or improve his power to become Werth. Sizemore and Granderson seem too far ahead of Danks at this point to think of them as realistic comparisons for Danks. Sizemore was only 21 when he made the Majors so it's not surprising he developed power later and his contact rate in the minors was far better.
Basically, this is a really wordy way to say Danks needs to improve his game. He is striking out too much to be compared to the players he has been compared to. His supposed upside of Sizemore or Granderson seems unrealistic, but that doesn't mean he can't be a useful offensive player. Solid, but not impossible improvement could make him productive.
The stats and the scouts argue about his defense, but having seen him a few times when he was at Texas I'm going to go with the scouts on this one. Assuming Jordan plays good or plus defense in centerfield he doesn't have to be a great hitter to be valuable as explained here.