The Zero K Club: Andrelton Simmons and Dioner Navarro

USA TODAY Sports

Early into the 2014 season only two qualified batters have gone without a strikeout in a league where the K is more common than ever.

For a game that has experienced relatively few significant rules changes over the years, the new challenge system excepted, baseball is evolving and transforming at surprising rate.

One of the specific changes that has raised the most eyebrows recently is the substantial rise of strikeouts. Although it is early in 2014, we are seeing the rise of K's continue this season. Over the last ten seasons the league-wide trend looks like this:

Season League-Wide K%
2005 16.4%
2006 16.8%
2007 17.1%
2008 17.5%
2009 18.0%
2010 18.5%
2011 18.6%
2012 19.8%
2013 19.9%
2014 20.8%

For every trend there are always going to be outliers that fight back against the tide. When talking about an early season small sample the phrase "fighting back against the tide" is probably too strong of a statement, far too strong of a statement in fact.

However, it is interesting to note which hitters have managed to avoid the K in an era where they are so prevalent. At this point in this season there are two qualified hitters who fit that description to a tee, in a sense that they have not struck out yet in 2014: Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro.

Which of the two players can survive the longest? Let's dig into the numbers a bit to find out. First we'll take a look at Andrelton Simmons.

Simmons has always been a strong contact hitter. In his minor league debut in 2010 he posted a miniscule 5.2% strikeout rate and the highest rate he's posted at any level is 11.5% in his MLB debut in 2012. The table below shows his career strikeout and contact rates:

Year K% Contact%
2012 11.5% 87.6%
2013 8.4% 87.5%
2014 0.0% 95.1%
Career 8.7% 87.8%

From this chart it's pretty clear why Simmons is one of the remaining survivors without a strikeout. He might not be Marco Scutaro, but he's fairly close.

The more mysterious character on the two man list of strikeout-less men is Jays catcher Dioner Navarro. Navarro has been competent with the bat at times, but overall he's been nothing to write home about at the plate with a 83 wRC+ for his career. He has been able to avoid the whiffs during his time in the league, but not to a special extent. His strikeout and contact numbers look like this (omitting his 2004 season where he had 7 plate appearances):

Year K% Contact%
2005 10.6% 86.0%
2006 16.9% 83.3%
2007 15.4% 83.8%
2008 10.4% 88.9%
2009 12.4% 87.3%
2010 14.1% 82.6%
2011 17.3% 83.2%
2012 16.4% 86.6%
2013 13.5% 80.0%
2014 0.0% 90.2%
Career 13.5% 85.2%

Navarro has been a solid contact hitter, but his current 90.2% contact rate reeks of unsustainability, especially coming off a season with a career-low contact percentage. His profile is very different than the profile of Andrelton Simmons. While he's not the last guy you'd expect to go without a strikeout for this long, he definitely isn't the first.

If you were a betting man or woman, your best bet would be on Simmons to be the last man standing here, but the fact that Navarro is here at all means that anything can happen. Ultimately, as the kids say, you can't predict ball. One or both of these men could strikeout tonight rendering this mini-race irrelevant, if it was ever relevant at all. For now, in the age of the strikeout there are but a pair of hitters who have been able to avoid the long walk back to the dugout less than 10 games into the season.

Hundreds of men have stepped up to the plate. Two are left standing.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs

Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.

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