Swimming against the strikeout tide

Never in the history of Major League Baseball has the strikeout been as prevalent as it is in today’s game. The rate has risen every year and 2014 stands to break another record as the average strikeout rate in baseball is 7.73 strikeouts per nine. Even so, there are a few throwbacks to a bygone era whose current strikeout rates would not have been league average unless they pitched way back in 1981.

There are currently six pitchers who have pitched at least 50 innings who have a strikeout per nine rate less than 5.0 per nine. They are: Paul Maholm (3.96), Nick Martinez (4.22), Kevin Correia and Chris Young (4.48), Bronson Arroyo (4.92) and Kyle Gibson (4.93). Two of those pitch for the Twins.

It gets worse for the Twins from there. There are eighteen pitchers who have logged twenty innings or more this season with less than five strikeouts per nine innings and five of them are Twins. And Matt Guerrier would be on the list too if he had two more innings pitched. Throw them strikes, boys, and let them hit the ball!

The K/9 rate might not actually be the best way to look at strikeouts and pitchers. There is also strikeout percentage, which is all about the percentage of strikeouts per plate appearance rather than by inning. It might be a truer picture.

There are 21 pitchers whose strikeout percentage is less than 15% and who have pitched at least 50 innings. There are 55 who have done the trick with 20 innings or more. Just to give you some perspective, 20.3% is the Major League average. So these guys really are swimming against the strikeout tide.

Only one pitcher is averaging less than 10% for a strikeout rate with 50 or more innings and that is Paul Maholm. If you go to twenty innings or more, there are four: Mike Pelfrey (8.4% [!]), LaTroy Hawkins–otherwise known as Methuselah–(9.8%), Scott Carroll and Maholm at 9.7%.

For those who are close to Maholm with more than 50 innings, there is Nick Martinez at 10.7% in 59+ innings whose home ballpark is in Texas–not a good combination. Kevin Correia comes in at 11.3% followed by Chris Young at 12.2% and then by Eric Stults at 12.5%. These guys are fighting the tide and only Chris Young is somewhat succeeding with his offerings.

Last year, there were only five qualified starters who finished with less than 15% for a strikeout rate. The bottom two were Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Correia. So far this year there are twelve. I don’t know if that means there are more exceptions to the rule this year than last or that injuries have forced teams to go with more pitchers who do not fit today’s pitching mold.

What I do know is that ten years ago (2005) there were 42 qualifying pitchers that finished with a strikeout percentage of less than 15%. While to this point, twelve is more than the two from last year, we can easily see that this is a dying breed.

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