Posted by Andy on May 11, 2010
In my recent post about Jamie Moyer's complete game shutout, reader JeffW rocked my world by commenting that Moyer is now the active leader in career strikeouts. It makes perfect sense when you think about it, but nevertheless I would have never realized that on my own. I don't want to go too far off subject, but let's talk a bit more about Moyer before I get to the real meat of this post.
He has ranked in the top 10 in strikeouts in a season only once, when he was 10th in 1987. I wonder if any other pitcher who has at any time been the career strikeout leaders has ever failed to rank any higher than Moyer in any one season? I doubt it, but that's a good Reader's Research question. Moyer's longevity is well-demonstrated not only through being the active leader in K's but also the other categories that he leads: wins, losses, hits, HR, innings, putouts, and assists. At the moment, he trails Tim Wakefield in walks by 8.
I see he's also first in Range Factor per game. I wouldn't think longevity has anything to do with this, but the list of active leaders among pitchers is populated entirely by older players. Does anybody have an explanation for this?
Anyway, let me get to the point of this post. If you check out the Progressive Strikeout Leaders you get a lot of data. The first column is career leader (regardless of whether the player is active), the second column is the single-season record, and the fourth column is the leader for each season. It's the third column I'm interested in. This shows the current active leader.
Most years, the number of strikeouts for the career leader increases by a small amount as the active leader from one season adds to his total a little bit in the following year. Sometimes one active player is passed by another active player, such as in 1983 when Steve Carlton briefly passed Nolan Ryan. The year-to-year total still increase only a little bit since it's less than a season's worth of strikeouts that make the difference.
However, in some years, the total makes a big drop. This happens when the active leader retires and the next guy on the list has a much lower total.
Check out the following plot. This is the active leader's total divided by the total of the active leader from the previous year.
(click on the image for a larger version)
This graphs shows what I described above. Most years, the ratio is just a bit over 1. This happens when a guy adds to his career total a little bit or when one active player passes another. (It can also happen when the active leader retires and the #2 guy has just about the same total.)
But check out the big dips. These are years in which the active leader retires and the new guy has a much lower number. The biggest dip of all time occurred over the 1993-1994 seasons. Nolan retired with 5,714 strikeouts at the end of 1993 leaving Jack Morris as the active leader. Morris finished 1994 with 2,478 strikeouts, just 43% of Ryan's total from the previous season.
We see that Jamie Moyer has the second biggest dip, currently with 2,362 strikeouts as compared to Randy Johnson's total of 4,875 from last year (48%). Of course, Moyer will add to his total during the rest of 2010. If he adds another 100 strikeouts this year, his total at the end of 2010 will be 2,462 and he'll get back above the 50% point.