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2010: Year of the Strikeout

Posted by Andy on January 24, 2011

(Thanks to reader Kahuna Tuna who pointed out the central stat used in this post.)

Strikeouts are more prevalent now than at any time in MLB history. Last year we looked at this, showing how strikeouts per inning pitched are now at 7 per 9 innings while walks remain between 3 and 4 per 9 innings, where they've been for 40 years. The data is available in raw form on the MLB Pitching Encyclopedia page, where you can see that the final K/9 number for 2010 was a staggering 7.1.

As league-wide strikeout rates have gone up, the rates for individual pitchers have gone up as well. It used to be that a pitcher with 1 K/inning was a rare feat. Check out who did it 25 years ago (minimum 30 IP):

Rk Player Year SO/9 IP G GS SV H BB SO ERA+
1 Tom Henke 1986 11.63 91.1 63 0 27 63 32 118 128
2 Ron Robinson 1986 9.03 116.2 70 0 14 110 43 117 120
3 Nolan Ryan 1986 9.81 178.0 30 30 0 119 82 194 107
4 Mike Scott 1986 10.00 275.1 37 37 0 182 72 306 161
5 Mark Langston 1986 9.21 239.1 37 36 0 234 123 245 87
6 Mark Eichhorn 1986 9.52 157.0 69 0 10 105 45 166 249
7 Mark Davis 1986 9.60 84.1 67 2 4 63 34 90 119
8 Mark Clear 1986 10.38 73.2 59 0 16 53 36 85 199
9 Lee Smith 1986 9.27 90.1 66 0 31 69 42 93 131
10 Ken Howell 1986 9.58 97.2 62 0 12 86 63 104 90
11 Calvin Schiraldi 1986 9.71 51.0 25 0 9 36 15 55 299
12 Bobby Witt 1986 9.93 157.2 31 31 0 130 143 174 79
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/20/2011.

But now check out the teams with the most such pitchers (>1 K/IP, minimum 30 IP) in 2010:

Rk Year Lg Tm #Matching
1 2010 NL San Diego Padres 7 Mike Adams / Heath Bell / Ernesto Frieri / Luke Gregerson / Mat Latos / Edward Mujica / Joe Thatcher
2 2010 NL San Francisco Giants 7 Denny Bautista / Santiago Casilla / Tim Lincecum / Sergio Romo / Dan Runzler / Jonathan Sanchez / Brian Wilson
3 2010 AL Chicago White Sox 5 Edwin Jackson / Bobby Jenks / J.J. Putz / Sergio Santos / Matt Thornton
4 2010 NL Los Angeles Dodgers 5 Jonathan Broxton / Charlie Haeger / Clayton Kershaw / Hong-Chih Kuo / Ted Lilly
5 2010 NL Milwaukee Brewers 5 John Axford / Zach Braddock / Yovani Gallardo / Manny Parra / Carlos Villanueva
6 2010 NL Atlanta Braves 4 Mike Minor / Takashi Saito / Jonny Venters / Billy Wagner
7 2010 NL Florida Marlins 4 Clay Hensley / Josh Johnson / Leo Nunez / Jose Veras
8 2010 NL Philadelphia Phillies 4 Jose Contreras / Cole Hamels / Brad Lidge / Ryan Madson
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/20/2011.

Yeah, two teams had 7 pitchers on their own staffs, as compared to 12 total players from all teams doing it in 1985. In total, in 2010, 78 pitchers achieved the feat (out of 411 with at least 30 IP, or 19.0%).

By comparison, in 1986, it was 12 pitchers out of 302 with at least 30 IP (4.0%).

None of this is all that surprising. It just means that the arbitrary number of 1K/IP for a pitcher, while still above average, is not as impressive at it used to be.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 24th, 2011 at 7:25 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

60 Responses to “2010: Year of the Strikeout”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by きらら☆あすとろ365, Baseball Reference. Baseball Reference said: B-R Blog: 2010: Year of the Strikeout http://bit.ly/g2ewQz [...]

  2. Detroit Michael Says:

    Seven out of the eight teams listed are in the NL, suggesting that it's harder to cross the 1K/IP threshold in the DH league.

  3. Average K/9 in 2010 was 7.4 in the NL, 6.8 in the AL. Pitchers as batters K a lot.

  4. Ron Robinson? Wow.

    As Brewer fan his name amazes me on the 1986 list. I had to look up his Brewer stats. In 188 innings as a Brewer he struck out a grand total of 69 batters but managed a 3.54 ERA.

  5. @4, Doug B -- As you implied, that Ron Robinson '86 season was completely out of character with the rest of his MLB career. His K rate for all other seasons combined was 4.5 K/9, exactly half of his '86 rate.

    Now, if we only knew how the heck that happened....

  6. Apparently if your name was Mark in 1986 you had a good chance of striking out more than 1 per inning.

    Just looked at the Padres. What a bullpen! 5 players with 30+ innings and ERA under 2. If only they had some more offense!

  7. Snark David Chapman Says:

    @5 Roids, obviously. It's the only way a player can have a outlier season.

  8. I know I'm in the minority on this, but the 27% increase in K rate since 1992 makes the game a little less enjoyable to me -- especially in the late innings, with the reliever K rate at just under 8 last year. Relief pitchers fanned 1 out of every 5 batters faced last year (20.3%).

  9. On the 1986 list, 4 guys in a row were named Mark!

  10. Speaking of strikeouts, Andy ... will there be a blog post on Gus Zernial, who passed away last Thursday at the age of 87?

    Zernial set the White Sox season HR record at 29 in 1950, his 2nd year in the majors. The mark lasted for 20 years, until Bill Melton became the first 30-HR White Sox in 1970.

    He hit 138 HRs in his first 5 seasons, which is tied for #23 in MLB history (with Miguel Cabrera and Bob Horner).

    The White Sox used Zernial as trade bait to steal Minnie Minoso from Cleveland in a 3-way trade that may have cost the Indians a couple of pennants in the '50s.

  11. I meant to put that list in alphabetical order by last name, but instead it's by first name, which is why all the Marks got bunched.

  12. JA, wasn't planning on it--seems like you have some good info there. I will try to put it into its own post if I have time!

  13. I think it is also a function of how relievers are used. All the relievers from 1986 on that list averaged over an inning an appearance. How many of the guys in 2010 can say that?

  14. I would think how pitchers are used today compared to 1986 would also play into the higher amount of pitchers averaging 9k/9 innings. Also On-Base percentage and walking is more encouraged than it was in '86 so I would guess that batters are seeing more pitches per plate appearance and therefore striking out more.

    Starting pitchers pitch less innings so that factors into the k/9 ratio. 30 inning minimum doesn't seem very high. Relief pitchers are used in shorter stints today, sometimes only to face one batter where the objective is to get a strike-out.

  15. George Crowe passed on January 18th.

    While he didn't have the "name" recognition of Mr. Zernial, I think if you do a little "Google-ing" you may think otherwise.

    Crowe was the first winner of the Indiana "Mr Basketball" Award, is a member of the State of Indiana Hall of Fame, played professional basketball in addition to baseball, was an All Star during his time in the Negro Leagues, and despite not playing his first ML game until age 31, managed to have himself a pretty decent nine year career.

    He also played Winter Ball in Puerto Rico with the Santurce Crabbers, which included Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.

    Maybe not worthy of it's own post, but certainly worthy of mention.

  16. John DiFool Says:

    [SpockMode]Captain, there is a danger...[/SM]

    Now that steroids appear to have been chased out of the league, there has been a concomitant drop in offensive levels (yes correlation =/= causation and all that). Is it possible that we could be heading towards another low-scoring era like the Sixties? These kinds of things have a way of sneaking up on you without much warning (chaos theory et al.: the way in which the various offensive factors interact is complex).

    A quick and dirty comparison, 1966 vs. 2010 (no adjustment for the DH, which would of course move 2010 closer to 1966):

    Runs/game: 3.99 vs. 4.38
    BABIP: .276 vs. .297
    HR/team: 137/154
    2B/team: 206/283
    K/team: 940/1144
    BB/team: 467/526

    3 things have been preventing the high K rates from dragging offense all the way back to 60's levels: extra base hits (2B more than HR-anyone have a theory for all the extra doubles?), walks, and a higher BABIP. If any or all of those slip some more, then we could end up back into another dead-ball era (even if there isn't any actual "dead ball").

  17. Morten Jonsson Says:

    Re Ron Robinson: He was usually a starter; 1986 was the only season when he was used only in relief. That's one likely reason he had a higher strikeout rate that year. It's also possible that he lost some velocity after that season--70 games and 116 2/3 innings is a pretty heavy workload.

  18. Increasing K-rate means boring to me. The added focus on working the pitch count and going for walks... game times of 4 hours with 1/3 of the outs not requiring any defense... boring.

    I wonder if anyone has ever considered making the ball 10% larger. More contact, a little less distance on the hit, less movement on the pitch. The players are bigger than they were 75 years ago but the ball is the same size.

    Yes, I realize like the metric system people will say you can't implement this because it will be the ruination of a whole generation who learned one way. And yes, I realize some pitches could not be thrown as well by some players (which is kind of the point... to increase contact rate).

    OK, now slam me as an old nut who harkens back to the time of depression era baseball when 3 K's was a high total for a pitcher. :)

  19. In a vacuum, I'd say that more Ks is boring, except that players seem to be more offensively skilled now than ever---it seems like skill level on both sides of the ball is at an an all-time high, and I don't find that boring.

  20. @15, Chuck -- Thanks for the note on George Crowe's passing. Indeed, he had a fine career in the majors. And he really had to persevere to have that career. He got his first call-up at 31 after 3 huge years in the minors -- but after producing decent numbers as a part-timer for BSN/MIL, he got sent back to AAA for all of 1954 (age 33). So he had another huge year -- 5th in BA, 2nd in OPS and HRs, 1st in RBI & Total Bases, and finally earned his way to the big leagues for keeps.

    R.I.P., Mr. Crowe.

  21. If strikeouts have changed so dramatically over the time period, does that also mean that the metric for defense cannot be the same during this time- since the number of defensive chances have changed so dramatically?

  22. oops, that was barkie

  23. @ 16

    Interestingly enough, if you look at the K rates of the dead-ball era, they were ridiculously low. However, so were walks and home runs; it has been these things fueling modern offense. Again, walks are underrated.

  24. Andy @#19,

    The opposite is true, thanks to specialization.

    I don't believe the game is played better today than it was 40 years ago, especially from a pitching standpoint.

  25. Chuck, we might be talking about different things. I truly believe that skill levels are at an all-time high. How players are used, how interesting the game is, how versatile players are, etc--these are all different issues that are not necessarily at their peaks as well.

  26. Wow, look at Bobby Witt's walks. 143 BB in 157 2/3 innings in 1986, and then 140 BB in 143 IP in 1987 for an 8.8 BB/9 IP! His WHIP in both of those years was over 1.7. Seems hard to believe he had such a long career after being so wild.

  27. "Chuck, we might be talking about different things. I truly believe that skill levels are at an all-time high. "

    No, we're talking about the same thing, and I disagree.

  28. I disagree with Andy's specialization point too.

    I see fewer hitters that can bunt, hit behind a runner, lift a fly ball on purpose. I just see a whole lotta people like my hometown's Brandon Inge- guys who just swing as hard as they can and hope for the best.

    I find it more than a little tiresome.

    Isn't someone going to comment on my #21?

  29. Johnny Twisto Says:

    If strikeouts have changed so dramatically over the time period, does that also mean that the metric for defense cannot be the same during this time- since the number of defensive chances have changed so dramatically?

    I'm not 100% sure if I understand what you are asking but I'll give it a go.

    Intuitively it makes sense that if there are fewer defensive chances available, there is less opportunity for defenders to separate themselves from each other. So if in 1980, the established performance of the best and worst shortstops was 20 runs above and below average, respectively, perhaps in 2010 they would be only be +/- 15 (numbers for illustration only). I don't know if the actual data bear this out.

    However, it's also possible that because fielding has become slightly less important, teams consider fielding less than they did in making roster/PT decisions. So if the average fielding performance is lower when there are fewer balls in play, the best defenders can still establish themselves as 20 runs above average. This is mostly conjecture and I'm not aware of actual studies on it.

    If that's not answering your question, can you rephrase?

  30. Gus Zernial had that great baseball card in the 1952 set with the balls stuck to the bat:

    http://evan.lonesomeriver.com/1952%20Topps%20-%20Gus%20Zernial%20%20-%202.jpg

  31. Since K/9 is hard to compare across eras, I'd love to see an normalized strikeout rate relative to the season's base rate. Like a player with 7.1 K/9 in 2010 would have a K9+ of 100. So for instance, the average strikeout rate in 1986 was 5.9 K/9, so Tom Henke's 11.63 would translate to 197. So a player would have to K around 14 per 9 innings in 2010 to be comparable. Believe it or not, Carlos Marmol did it, with a 16/7.1 = 225! I suppose that there may be park effects and whatnot as well but I think this would be interesting to see even in this simple form.

  32. 1952 Topps Gus Zernial:

    http://www.checkoutmycards.com/Cards/Baseball/1952/Topps/31A/Gus_Zernial_Black

    I presume the 6 balls attached to his bat are to commemorate the 6 HR he hit in 3 games.

  33. OK Johnny;

    First of all, this is barkfart- the high BAC/late night version of Barkie. Ruder and less subtle. I apologize in advance.

    First of all, you hit exactly what I was getting at. Strikeouts and defensive metrics (especially BABip- as many of you properly schooled me on earlier) are intricately linked. If there are more strikeouts, then there are fewer opportunities for the defenders to make a significant impact on the game.

    My thinking was (as a gut guy) is that it points to a fragile spot in WAR for pitchers- when viewed over time. I'm not looking to destroy pitcher's WAR- just poke a hole.

    Your response, as I see it, was to dismiss the challenge to pitcher's WAR, and instead point to perceived personnel decisions by GMs, as regards the value of defensive players.

    I want desperately to be swayed by the WAR-heads (no insult intended, I swear), but your argument pains me. PLEASE, do not try to side-step my meager challenge to WAR by pointing to the decisions by GMs- they do not appear in the WAR metric anywhere.

    Instead, please answer my question squarely. Doesn't Andy's post, while trying to bring up another point, also point to a problem with the defensive component of a pitcher's WAR? More specifically, can the defensive weight of dWAR in 1985 be considered to be the same as dWAR in the 2010s when we see that there are so many fewer defensive chances in the current game?

    Remember, Barkie is much more respectful (and willing to be swayed) by the posts of people like you, Johnny Twisto, than Barkfart and his bluster ever was.

    P.S. I'm still pouring over the DIPS articles you guys sent me to.

    Damn, Barkfart is a blowhard, ain't he? This is a LONG post

  34. Re: @16 and a new dead-ball era, not sure. The advent and now the decline of PEDs are clearly evident in runs per game since 1986. AL runs-per-game have declined steadily since 2006 (from 4.87 down to 4.42 last year), after being above 4.8 rpg (peaking at 5.39 in 1996) every year from 1994 to 2004.

    4.42 rpg actually looks like a very normal number for the DH period. Wouldn't look out of place anytime from 1973 thru 1993 (except 1987). So, with PEDs apparently behind us, will be interesting to watch if the rpg decline continues or the rate starts to stabilize.

    Re: More strikeouts. Seems this is simply more pitchers being used for shorter outings. Presumably, a tired pitcher, or one who's already been through the lineup 3 times, will be less likely to have the same strikeout efficiency as someone replacing him. But is it true?

    Consider that the number of AL pitchers used in 1986 was 230. In 2010, it was 297 and that is actually a low number - the number was higher in 8 of the 11 seasons back to 1999, peaking in 2009 at 327 pitchers, 42% higher than 1986. Complete games, on the other hand, have gone from 16% of games in 1986 down to only 4% in 2010. Not causal proof that shorter outings lead to more efficient strikeout performance, but certainly consistent with such a hypothesis.

  35. "Increasing K-rate means boring to me. The added focus on working the pitch count and going for walks... game times of 4 hours with 1/3 of the outs not requiring any defense... boring."

    At some point, I wish someone nationally known would dis-spell this myth. Games are NOT even close to 4 hours. The only ones that are are Red Sox/Yankees on ESPN, and that's because A) those two teams actually do take a while and B) longer commercial breaks cause ESPN knows lots of people are watching.

    Just looking at the Phillies since they're my favorite team, they played 100 regular season games that took less than three hours.

  36. I meant to add "in 2010"

  37. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Barkfart, I like the thoughtful questions. I assure you I was not trying to sidestep anything, just trying to answer the question as best I understood it. I have some more thoughts in response to your latest post. In re high-BAC latenight versions of ourselves, I'm at an intermediate phase right now which seems to inhibit my ability to express myself. I will return to this either after I've got another couple in me, or when the system is cleaned out tomorrow.

  38. then it shall be, Johnny Twisto, another day!

  39. Oh man, multiple personalities talking about baseball statistics while drinking! I think I've found my internet heaven...

  40. strikeouts are overrated

  41. John DiFool Says:

    "Re: @16 and a new dead-ball era, not sure. The advent and now the decline of PEDs are clearly evident in runs per game since 1986. AL runs-per-game have declined steadily since 2006 (from 4.87 down to 4.42 last year), after being above 4.8 rpg (peaking at 5.39 in 1996) every year from 1994 to 2004."

    My overall point I guess is that the game may not have much "play" left in it-i.e. room for even more strikeouts without it drastically altering the overall baseball landscape. Here are the K rates per plate appearance for the last 20 seasons, 2010 at the top:

    18.5
    18.0
    17.5
    17.1
    16.8
    16.4
    16.9
    16.4
    16.8
    17.3
    16.5
    16.4
    16.9
    17.1
    16.5
    16.2
    15.9
    15.1
    14.7
    15.1

    It started jumping in 1994, and seemed to reach an equilibrium from that year until 2008, at which point it has been increasing at a steady rate of 0.5% a season. At some point if that doesn't level off, there won't be any way for extra doubles and higher BABIP's to offset the decline in balls-in-play in the first place. And if any of those counteracting factors start to decline as well, then things could get pretty bad very quickly. BABIP apparently (by just checking a smattering of seasons across the decades) rose in the 20's and 30's from a typical dead ball figure of .275 to over .300 (1930 was at .312!), and started to decline until the 1970's at which point it slowly increased (c. .280's) until the steroid era came along (.290's).

    If this comes to pass, I'm not sure what to do-smaller gloves would increase BABIP, but wouldn't do anything about K's in the first place-I'm not sure I like the larger ball idea. In the 60's, it was obvious that the tall mound and the big strike zone were mainly to blame-here the whys and wherefores are quite subtle and hard to tease out (tho people of course have their theories). Maybe once they realize that they can't muscle the balls out of the park as often as they used to, that the batters themselves will make adjustments with 2 strikes to avoid K'ing so much.

  42. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Alright, let me give this a shot.

    First of all, of course GM decisions are not directly measured by WAR. But indirectly they certainly can be. WAR is an attempt to measure relative value. If, for whatever reasons, MLB teams start employing tons of Greg Luzinski types, the one guy in the league able to run the bases fast and well will rate better in baserunning compared to the average player. The one guy in the league able to range all over the field will rate better on defense compared to the average player.

    Now, how much does the increase in strikeouts affect individual defensive players? Perhaps not as much as you might think. 1980 MLB averaged 4.8 K/9, and 2010 averaged 7.1 That's a 48% increase in K, a huge amount. But conversely (assuming 27 outs per game), it's only about a 10% reduction in outs made by the fielders, which are of course distributed among all of the fielders.

    I didn't read your original question as concerning pitcher WAR, so I wasn't trying to avoid it, but I will give it a shot now. (First of all, allow me to digress and say sabermetricians are still trying to work out how to properly divide pitching from fielding. B-R WAR does it one way, Fangraphs WAR does it another way, other people do it other ways, and I doubt any of them are satisfied with their conclusions.) B-R WAR looks at the number of innings a pitcher threw, and estimates his defensive support based on a prorated count of his team's total fielding WAR as well as how many balls he actually allowed in play. So presumably an average strikeout pitcher in front of a great defense in 1980 would receive more help from his defense than an avg strikeout pitcher with a great defense in 2010. And indeed, WAR shows Brian Kingman (4.9 K/9) pitching 211 IP in 1980 and his defensive support being worth 14 runs (5th most in MLB). And Matt Cain (7.1 K/9) pitching 223 IP in 2010 and his defense being worth 6 runs (4th most in MLB). Essentially, fielding support is still important to pitchers' runs allowed, but it is a smaller percentage than it was. How does this affect pitcher WAR? It depends on the pitcher. The average pitcher is unaffected. The low-strikeout pitcher with a very good or very bad defense will be less affected than a similar pitcher was when strikeout rates were lower.

    Hopefully that answers some of your questions?

  43. @30 DavidRF / @32 Andy, re: Gus Zernial "6 baseballs" card --

    If you like baseball, baseball cards, and laughter -- and you don't already own "The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book" -- you're really missing something. It's kind of like Josh Wilker's "Cardboard Gods," but less philosophical.

    http://www.amazon.com/American-Baseball-Flipping-Trading-Bubble/dp/0395586682

  44. Hey Andy

    If I have a topic you may be interested in where can I contact you (or others for the site). I don't see a "contact us" feature

    I don't want to just throw it out there in a thread that has nothing to do with my idea.

    Thanks

  45. Regarding the defensive chances issue, I don't think the difference is that big. So last year there were 7 Ks per game and in the past there were say, 4 K's per game. That's 75% more K's, yes, but look at the number of defensive chances.

    If a team fields for 9 innings, that's 27 outs. So subtracting the strikeouts, the fielders still record 20 outs vs. 23 in the past. Looking at it that way, fielders only record 15 % less chances. I don't see that as a very big difference, do you?

  46. dukeofflatbush Says:

    On this thread there have been some very good points made, but I don't think anyone has addressed the batters' role in the swelling SO rates.
    In nature, there is something called a fault line, a physical barrier in which adaptation becomes stuck against, and masses begin to mount on one side of this LINE, till something breaks the fault line, creating a push to the other side, where the newly arrived beings rapidly adapt to the otherside of the fault line. Which in sports I like to call the Bannister effect. I am talking about Roger Bannister, the first man to break the 4 minute mile. For years, people had tried in vain to break the 4 minute mile, but to no avail. But once Bannister did it, it began to fall all the time. Years of futility, and Bannister breaks the faultline, and the rest stumble through to this OTHERSIDE, which just before, was inconceivable. I think his record only lasted months.
    Although the strikeout is not an achievement in the same sense as the 4 minute mile, but I feel it follows some of the same patterns.
    I think as saber-metrics changed how the SO was viewed (not so negatively) players began to care less about it and how they were associated with it, as long as they produced in other areas.. But prior to a lot of thought being put into whether a SO was more detrimental to any other out, players were simply scared of the SO too much, regardless of production.
    Bobby Bonds' 189 SO became the 4 minute mile, the fault line. Almost like a dam. No one wanted to be the ONE to break it. I remember Jose Hernandez sitting out games in two separate seasons just to avoid the DREADED 189. But once 189 was broken, or fixed and simultaneously. Adam Dunn broke the 4 minute mile. What stood for 34 years, would now fall 9 times in 6 years.
    In fact 177 players have SOut 150 times, none before 1963. So thats 47 years of 150 SO and 7 years from '63 to Bonds' 189 in 1970.
    Of the 177 Players with 150 ks, 83 have done so since 2001.
    If you change the limit to 170 Ks the years don't change, '63-10; 52 individual players. But 32 of them have played since '00. 37 Since 1997, and I suspect the strike year skewed the results a bit.
    I feel Mark Reynolds perceived success in '09, has given rise to players like Jack Cust and Carlos Pena. Guys I don't think would have jobs 25 years ago simply because the fault line.
    BTW last year set a record for players with 140 SOs with 20.
    The record before that, 2009 with 19.
    No other season had more than 14.
    I think Mark Reynolds is the Roger Bannister of the SO.

  47. @44: you can email me at andy followed by the at sign baseball-reference.com

  48. dukeofflatbush Says:

    I think what I was trying to say last night...
    is that individuals have done as much, if not more, to skew the SO total, than the reliever/situational pitching.

  49. #42 Johnny Twisto

    sorry to be so late getting back here, hope you read this.

    That was VERY insightful, very clever. I'll let that one roll around the noggin a bit and thank you for taking the time.

  50. @46, Dukeofflatbush: "as saber-metrics changed how the SO was viewed (not so negatively) players began to care less about it and how they were associated with it, as long as they produced in other areas."

    Duke, I do think this plays a part in the continued rise in K rates. However, the biggest one-decade increase -- BY FAR -- occurred in the 1950s, as K/9 climbed from 3.9 in 1950 to 5.2 in 1960, an increase of 1.3 K/9 in raw numbers and about 33% in relative terms. By comparison, the increase from 2000-2010 is just 0.6 K/9 and less than 10% (6.5 to 7.1), and even the growth since 1990 is less than 25%.

    And whereas the HR and K rates do track similarly over long periods of time, HR rates over the course of the '50s rose less than 2%. (B-R shows the HR/9 as 0.8 and 0.9, but rounding to one decimal point exaggerates the difference; the numbers are more like 0.849 and 0.863.)

    Even if we move the cutoff to 1957, to remove the park effects of the Dodgers and Giants moving west, there was still a 32% increase in K/9 over the 10 years from 1947-57.

    I do think something must have been working in that decade to reduce the stigma of striking out, but it wasn't sabermetrics.

  51. dukeofflatbush Says:

    As usual, John you really did your homework.
    I was only eyeballing.
    But I wonder how much of the SOs (%-wise) come from the top 15-20 batters each year. If I was guessing, I'd say the top ten SO leaders in each league represents a greater percentage of overall SOs than they did 30 years ago.
    So the 5 or 6 top guys affect the curve more than ever.

  52. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Interesting John. I noticed a while ago that HR rates really increased around 1950. Perhaps this was just an earlier occurrence of batters starting to swing for the fences. And/or pitchers making more effort to avoid bats, because too many balls were going over the fences.

  53. Johnny Twisto Says:

    f I was guessing, I'd say the top ten SO leaders in each league represents a greater percentage of overall SOs than they did 30 years ago.

    I'm not so sure. So now we have some guys striking out 200 times a year, but the average full-time player strikes out over 100 times himself. Would be interested to see the numbers though. I don't have time to look right now but maybe later if no one else does.

  54. Johnny -- It's true that 1950 saw a big HR spike, reaching a new high of 0.84 HR/G (up from 0.69 in 1949). But it went up and down for the rest of the decade, with a low of 0.69 in 1952 (with no change in team locations yet), and a high of 0.93 in '56.

    By 1960, it was back to 0.86 HR/G, almost the same as in 1950. However, all other batting events declined significantly from 1950-60: BA down 11 points, OBP by 24 points (walks went down about 18%); scoring went down by 0.54 R/G.

    Of course, 5 of the 16 franchises moved between 1953 and '58, so it's hard to untangle the park effects from possible changes in batting & pitching strategy.

  55. dukeofflatbush Says:

    JT & JA,

    I'm going to give the top ten in SOs in a few random years a look as compared to the average of the league.
    One thing that sticks out in my mind, is Mantle was considered the SO KING. He even passed Ruth and held the SO title for many years, until Stargell passed him. But if you take a look at Jeter, he averaging almost the same SO per 162 as Mantle and he never comes close to leading the league and will pass Mantle handily.

  56. Johnny Twisto Says:

    John, there was a lot of bouncing. But it seems to me the 1950s saw new HR levels which were consistently above anything done prior to then, and which remained the new normal (subject to variation of course) until 1993.

    WWII complicates things. Between the lost talent and the balata ball, maybe it interrupts a steady upward climb in HR. Prior to 1934, there had been just three seasons with at least 0.5 HR/G, and one of 0.6. Then from '34-'41 HR/G were at least 0.53 every season. Post-war, '47 to '49 were all at least 0.63. Then 1950 was the first season to hit 0.7 (in fact, the first to hit 0.8), and after that HR/G never fell back below 0.7 except for 1968 and a couple seasons in the '70s. It also never went above 0.95 until 1993, except for '87.

    HR and K have a connection, but there are a lot of other factors involved. It's hard to say exactly what might drives particular increases over short periods of years.

  57. Click my name for a graph of HR/G since 1919, except with 1942-1945 removed.

    Really I guess you could say that 1947 established the new power era. There were a lot of HR over the next 20 years -- when the 500-HR club was cheapened by the likes of Aaron, Mays, Mantle etc etc running up their numbers. The numbers became much more erratic 1968-1992. Despite everyone overjoyed that those awful steroids are out of the game, HR/G are still at historically high levels.

  58. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I'm going to give the top ten in SOs in a few random years a look as compared to the average of the league.

    One potential problem with doing it that way is that in 1960, the top 10 represent 13% of the league's regulars (assuming every team used 8 regulars, which of course they didn't). And today, that would be just 8%, so even if strikeouts are not more "top-heavy," it will appear that way when looking at a smaller fraction of the top.

    Maybe look at the top X, where X is the number of teams in the league?

  59. @57, JT -- I'll agree that the '50s established a new norm for HR/G, as long as we treat the idea of "norm" pretty loosely. For instance, the average from 1967-81 -- a 15-year period -- was 0.73 HR/G, which is lower than any single season from 1950-66 save '52. And recently as 1992, the average was just 0.72 HR/G.

    And while you're right that our "back-to-sanity!" 2010 season still saw a historically high 0.95 HR/G, that's also the same as the rate in 1961.

    Taking a very long view, HRs have been rising steadily ever since 1920. But outside of the consistently low rates of the dead-ball era and the consistently astronomical rates of 1994-2009, it's really hard to say what a norm is for any given 10-year period in the live-ball era. (Although applying some sort of "deflation" factor to expansion years would make the graph look a bit smoother.)

    P.S. Any theories on the 1925 spike? 1924-25-26 went 0.36, 0.48, 0.35. (And that was a year when Ruth hit just 25 -- barely half his annual average in all other years from 1920-31. If Ruth had hit his average 49 HRs, the rate would have gone from 0.476 to 0.486.)

  60. [...] 2010: Year of the Strikeout (Baseball-Reference). I kinda sorta examined this issue once upon a time. [...]