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All-time Progressive Strikeout Leaders

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.

21 Responses to “All-time Progressive Strikeout Leaders”

  1. dquinn Says:

    "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?"

    500 games fielding is the qualification level

  2. Micke Says:

    Pitchers who have been active leaders in strikeouts without leading the league in K's: Gayloard Perry, Kid Nichols, Jim McCormick, who all were runners-up ut least once, Jamie Moyer, as per above.

    It was fairly obvious (to me) that Jamie Moyer would be an extreme outlier in this case. But has there ever been anyone else who has been an active leader in a category without being even top five in a year in that category? It sounds hard to believe, but there is always the odd outlier...

  3. John Tierney Says:

    Ken Griffey JR was briefly the active leader in hits and was never higher than 5th in any one season I believe.

  4. Ellis Says:

    I know this is random, but I need to thank you for writing "Anyway, let me get to the point of this post" instead of the all-too-common, pretentious "But I digress."

  5. JR Says:

    I have one question regarding all time strikeout leaders. Did in fact Steve Carlton pass Nolan Ryan for about a week as the all time K leader until Ryan blew right past him and never looked back?

  6. Jim Says:

    How about Matt Kilroy getting 513 K's in a season!? I never knew that I know a lot of trivial baseball knowledge. Talk about a record a that will NEVER be broken

  7. Jim Says:

    JR- Carlton ended the '83 season with the then all time record (3709) with Ryan right on his tail (3677). The two went back and forth in 1984 and Ryan finished the season with 3874 K's, just 2 more than Carlton. Unfortunately for lefty, '84 was the last time he was anything close to an effective pitcher while Ryan would continue to have success for another 8-9 years.

  8. Jerry Says:

    Of course, Moyer's status as the active leader is a fleeting thing, given that he's about 800 strikeouts behind Pedro Martinez, who is likely to once again be active at some point this season.

  9. Spartan Bill Says:

    Speculation on the range factor. Perhaps someone can do a year by year study on P range factors to prove or disprove this, but it seems I am seeing less 3-1 groundouts and more 3-U groundouts these days.

  10. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Good job Dquinn, I was trying to figure out why there were so few pitchers on the active fielding list, since I was thinking it was based on 1000 IP. That is a problem which should be brought to Sean's attention. You can't have a fielding leaders list made up of relievers who have thrown maybe 400-800 IP, and exclude starters who have thrown 2000, 3000 IP, but fewer than 500 games.

    But the other reason that the all-time range list is made up of older pitchers is because there was a lot more bunting. Pitchers were simply involved in a lot more plays than they are now.

    Spartan Bill, that's an interesting theory, but I think that difference would be minimal as far as changing the number of plays pitchers are involved in.

  11. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Spartan Bill's observation intrigues me, though as I said I think its effect on suppressing modern pitcher range factors is marginal at best. On the league fielding pages we can compare the number of unassisted plays made by first basemen to the number of assists they get throwing to first. These may include a few unusual types of plays, but I think it should give a pretty good idea of how often the first baseman takes it himself vs throwing to the pitcher.

    This year that ratio is 719 unassisted to 445 assists, 1.62
    In 2000 it was 1.74
    In 1990 it was 1.69
    In 1980 it was 2.00
    In 1970 it was 1.76
    In 1960 it was 1.70

    So I don't see much pattern, but it appears that this season is at the low end, meaning there are actually slightly _more_ assists to first base than unassisted plays.

  12. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I want to check the ratios for Steve Garvey, who was notorious for trying to make every play unassisted because he couldn't throw, and Bill Buckner, who threw everything because he couldn't move:

    Garvey is 2.51
    Buckner is 1.30

    Fascinating stuff. (To me at least.)

    I've noticed Mark Teixeira seems to prefer taking most plays himself, even though he can throw. He will sprint 30 feet to beat the runner to the bag rather than tossing it. His career ratio is 2.50, and as a Yankee (when I've been watching him) it's 5.86!

    Don't trust those assist totals as a measure of first base defensive ability.

  13. SJBlonger Says:

    I love this graph. Good job, Andy.

  14. JeffW Says:

    Maybe Moyer's ranking in range factor is simply part of his total Old School package: pure, unadulterated work ethic.

    He prepares for his "day at the office" like few others.

    Remember that great play in the 2008 Series he made? Coming on the heels (maybe even still in late throes) of that horrendous illness he had, he still went out and pitched a doozy in the biggest start of his career.

  15. Andy Says:

    Wow, two compliments in one post, and one for MY WRITING!!! If that's not a sign of the apocalypse, I don't know what is.

    Seriously, thanks 🙂

  16. JeffW Says:

    I'll gladly add another, along with thanks for the great conversations here.

  17. mccombe35 Says:

    um, the RF/G requires 500 games at that position. there are only 28 active pitchers that have appeared in 500+ games. sorry to the "work ethic" guy

  18. Nkentsmith Says:

    I found Omar Vizquel is 1st in active At Bats and Games Played, but his best years were 10th in the AL in 2000 and 7th in the AL in 1993, respectively. He's also the active leader in plate appearances, with a 3rd in 2000. Those are the only years in those categories when he was in the top 10. He's the leader in a few other hitter categories, but he's been in the top 10 in multiple years.

  19. Gerry Says:

    In 1987, Reggie Jackson was the active leader in at-bats. His best single seaon placing was 8th. In 1952-3, Bob Elliott was the active leader in at-bats; he was never in the top 10 in any season.

  20. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Wow, who would have ever guessed Bob Elliott was once the active leader in AB. He didn't have a particularly long career. That's gotta be an artifact of WWII (which Elliott played through).

  21. Baseball-Reference Blog » Blog Archive » All-time Progressive Hits Leaders Says:

    [...] plot shows the year-to-year ratios of the active career hits leaders. Please take a look at my recent similar post for strikeout leaders to understand how it's done. Basically, I take the number of hits for the active leader at the end [...]