Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tracking the career strikeout record throughout history

Strikeouts are at an all-time high. In fact, they have been at an all-time high since 2008, with the height of that high continually getting higher and higher. In 2008 there were a record 6.83 strikeouts per 9 innings across MLB. That record has fallen each year, with the figure climbing all the way to 7.73 last season. Recent seasons have included huge strikeout rates for many different starting pitchers (which could be its own post), though in terms of raw counting, the lower number of innings starters now throw each year has kept anyone from posting an historic total.

For hitters it has been a different story. Until 2004 no one had ever struck out more than 189 times in a season, but in eleven season since then it has happened 17 times, with the record climbing all the way to 223, done by Mark Reynolds in 2009. Despite that though, no one has been able to reach the career total of the straw who stirred the drink, Reggie Jackson.

Here is a history of the career strikeout record, with the name of every man to hold the crown in bold:

The 1871 season of the National Association is often considered the start of organized league baseball. That season Reinder Albertus Wolters, a Dutch pitcher for the New York Mutuals, led the league with 283.0 innings pitched and with 31 complete games (in a 33-game season!). He also led all batters by striking out a whopping 8 times. So, that'd make him the original record holder, if you wanted to go back that far.

The career strikeout record for hitters went up every season from there, as players added to what are now recognized as their career totals. Denny Mack took the lead for a couple seasons, then Candy Cummings for a pair. In 1876 (the year the National League was formed), Johnny Ryan took control, followed by Herman Dehlman the following year, and then Lew Brown, who grabbed the lead in 1878 and became the first player to reach 100 career strikeouts at some point during the 1879 season. He was passed the next year by Charley Jones.

Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin took the lead in 1881, and eventually became the first ever to reach 200, 300, and 400 career strikeouts as a batter. For a time Galvin also reached as high as #2 on the list for most career strikeouts by a pitcher. (We'll never see a player in the top 1,000 on both sides again, much less the top two.) Galvin was was the first player to hold the record for an extended period of time, for five years until John Morrill passed him in 1886. Galvin remains the record holder for most career strikeouts as a batter by a pitcher, with 631. (The only pitchers in the top 50 who played during the last twenty years are the famed trio of Braves Cy Young winner, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine.) Morrill became the first batter to reach 500 and 600, and held the record until 1895, when Tom Brown passed him.

A digression to mention a couple things some of you are probably already be thinking:
1) Baseball was a different game during the 1800s. For a time pitchers were supposed to give batters a good pitch to hit, the mound wasn't always 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate... Comparisons between that era and today is somewhat silly, but I wanted to present as full a history of the strikeout record as I could. 
2) It is almost certain that no one had any idea what the strikeout record was at any point during the 1800s, and I don't know that anyone would have cared, even if they had known.

Brown became the first player to reach 700 K's. He retired at the end of the 1898 season, but challengers were slow to rise to his level, and it wasn't until 1912 that Jimmy Sheckard passed Brown and became the first player to reach 800. Sheckard retired at the end of 1913, but held the record for almost as long as Brown had.

Throughout the 1920s though, there was a player steadily gaining on the mark, and in 1928 that player, none other than Babe Ruth, broke the strikeout record. Ruth was the first player to reach 900, and early during the 1930 season he became the first player to reach 1,000. Few would argue today that Ruth was not the best hitter of his era, or any era to that point, but in his day those strikeouts were a major reason many considered him a lesser batsman than Ty Cobb, among others.

Ruth retired in 1935 with 1,330 strikeouts. It would be a while before anyone broke that mark.

It wasn't until 1939 that Jimmie Foxx became the second player ever to reach 1,000 career strikeouts. Foxx would come close to Ruth career total, but not quite reach it. By the end of 1958 Ruth had held the record for 30 years, and he and Foxx were still the only two players ever to reach 1,000. They were about to receive some company though, first at a trickle, but eventually in a torrent. Gil Hodges and Larry Doby both passed the 1,000-strikeout mark in 1959; others followed.

On August 30, 1964, one Yankees icon passed another, as Mickey Mantle broke Ruth's strikeout record, which had stood for 36 years. By the end of the 1960s Mantle had retired with 1,710 strikeouts, and a total of 17 players had reached 1,000.

Harmon Killebrew retired after the 1975 season, ending his career just 11 strikeouts shy of the record. In 1978 though, Willie Stargell broke the record, and by the end of the 1970s there were 50 different players who'd reached 1,000, including Dave Kingman, who'd reached the mark at the age of just 30 and with fewer than 3,200 career at bats when he reached the mark, meaning he'd struck out in more than 30% of his careers ABs.

The same year Stargell retired, 1982, the mark was broken again, this time by Reggie Jackson. The following May Jackson became the first player to reach 2,000, and from there he just kept going, ending his career in 1987 with 2,597 strikeouts, almost double Ruth's total. Ruth had been knocked down to #27 on the list by that point and 80 players had reached 1,000. By the end of the decade that total had risen to 89.

By the end of the 1990s, the club had 145 members, but the top five remained identical to what it had been a decade earlier, with Jackson and Stargell at the top, followed by Mike Schmidt, Tony Perez, and Dave Kingman.

In 2001 Jose Canseco moved into second place. In 2003 Andres Galarraga took over second place and became the second player to reach 2,000. In 2004 Sammy Sosa also reached 2,000 and quickly took over second place. He was only 35 years old and had just hit 35+ home runs for the tenth consecutive season, so it seemed there was a good chance Sosa would reach Jackson's mark. During the first week of that same season, Alex Rodriguez became the (then) youngest player to reach 1,000 K's, getting there at the age of 28 years, 8 months.

By the end of that decade, Sosa had retired almost 300 strikeouts short of Jackson, but a new player had taken over second place: Jim Thome, who was 284 K's away. Rodriguez, now 33, was in 17th place with 1,738 career strikeouts, more than Mantle had finished with. Ruth was all the way down in 93rd place, and there were 228 players with at least 1,000 whiffs.

In 2010 Thome closed to within 202 strikeouts of Jackson; Rodriguez moved up to 11th on the list.

In 2011 Thome pulled to within 110 strikeouts of Jackson; Rodriguez moved up to 7th on the list.

In 2012 Thome pulled to within just 49 strikeouts of Jackson, perhaps only a year away from breaking the record. He hoped to continue playing, but didn't get the opportunity, and so he remained in second place.

Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez crossed the 2,000-strikeout line and moved into 4th place, and right behind him was the hard-charging Adam Dunn, who avoided the single-season home run record by sitting out the final game of the year, but still blew by 1,900, 2,000, and 2,100 career K's that season, climbing all the way to 5th on the list.

In 2013 Dunn passed Rodriguez, and in 2014 he passed Sosa. He was still only 34 years old, and only 218 strikeouts away from reaching Reggie. Tragically, Dunn chose to reitre following the season. Given regular at bats, he'd have broken the record in 2016, but unless someone can talk him back into playing, that's not going to happen.

Injuries and a long suspension have kept Rodriguez from striking out much the last couple years; at the age of 39 and still more than 500 strikeouts shy of the record, he's almost certainly not going to get there.

Incredibly, despite the last 20 years featuring a dramatic (and almost constant) rise in strikeouts, Jackson's record has survived another generation of ballplayers. He's now held the record for nearly 33 years and in 2018 he'll have held the mark longer than Ruth did.

Speaking of Babe, he's now 108th on the list, which currently includes 272 players with 1,000+. Of those 272 players, nearly 30 are still active, but none seem especially likely to challenge the record. Players like Rodriguez, Torii Hunter, Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, and Carlos Beltran (those are the active top five) don't have enough years left to get there. Others, like Mark Reynolds and Melvin (formerly B.J.) Upton are young enough, but not good enough to keep playing that long. If I had to pick a contender, I'd go with Melvin's brother, Justin Upton, who last year became the youngest player to reach 1,000, at the age of 26 years, 11 months. He's not even 40% of the way to the record though.

If strikeout rates continue to rise, it seems inevitable that someone will break the record someday, but it may be a while. For now, Reggie Jackson will continue to stir this particular drink.






1 comment:

  1. Tracking the career strikeout career information thanbking you regards sarkari naukri

    ReplyDelete