Cy Seymour was arguably one of the best pitchers turned hitters that baseball has seen, yet he remains almost forgotten. Before he was a centerfielder, the 1905 NL batting champ started his career as pitcher in 1896. Seymour pitched 3 full seasons and had the league leading strikeout rate in all three. Even though Seymour’s career strikeout rate does not look impressive, when strikeouts are normalized, his rate is the best baseball has ever seen (1871-2011 min. 1000 IP). (For a biography and analysis of Seymour’s career, see this wonderful piece by Bill Kirwin.)

Andy’s recent posts on normalizing strikeouts piqued my interest and I thought that it might be interesting to normalize the strikeouts for every pitcher in major league history. This was done by using the Lahman Database and applying the following method:

  • For each league in each season I calculated the league rate of SO/IP.
  • Each player in that league was assigned an expected number of strikeouts based on his IP  that season.
  • Each player’s season-by-season expected strikeouts were added up for his career and compared it to his actual career totals.

Using this method provides us with the following leaders in ratio of SO:Expected SO (min. 1000 IP)  since 1871.

Rank

Name

IP

SO

Expected

SO:EXP

1

Cy Seymour

1029.00

584

268

2.180

2

Dazzy Vance

2966.67

2045

959

2.132

3

Rube Waddell

2961.33

2316

1200

1.929

4

Nolan Ryan

5386.00

5714

3178

1.798

5

Toad Ramsey

2100.67

1515

886

1.711

6

Randy Johnson

4135.33

4875

2912

1.674

7

Sandy Koufax

2324.33

2396

1437

1.667

8

Amos Rusie

3769.67

1934

1184

1.634

9

J.R. Richard

1606.00

1493

918

1.626

10

Doc McJames

1361.33

593

368

1.612

11

Dizzy Dean

1967.33

1163

725

1.603

12

Van Mungo

2113.00

1242

776

1.601

13

Bob Feller

3827.00

2581

1617

1.596

14

Lefty Grove 

3940.67

2266

1422

1.593

15

Johnny Vander Meer

2104.67

1294

834

1.552

16

Pat Malone

1915.00

1024

660

1.551

17

Pedro Martinez

2827.33

3154

2036

1.549

18

Sam McDowell

2492.33

2453

1586

1.546

19

Lefty Gomez

2503.00

1468

955

1.538

20

Tommy Bridges

2826.33

1674

1090

1.536

21

Lee Smith

1289.33

1251

819

1.528

22

Orval Overall

1535.33

935

612

1.527

23

Kerry Wood

1371.33

1576

1036

1.521

24

Jakie May

1562.33

765

503

1.521

25

Walter Johnson

5914.67

3509

2318

1.514

26

Joe Wood

1436.33

989

657

1.505

27

Sam Jones

1643.33

1376

920

1.496

28

Hank Johnson

1066.33

568

383

1.484

29

Ewell Blackwell

1321.00

839

566

1.481

30

Hal Newhouser

2993.00

1796

1228

1.462

Of course it is more impressive to pitch at a high rate over a long career than a short one. Using the numbers above and an all-time league average of 4.78 SO/9IP provides us with a new list of career SO leaders.

Rank

Name

Adjusted
SO

SO

SO
Rank

1

Nolan Ryan

5139

5714

1

2

Walter Johnson

4752

3509

9

3

Cy Young

4389

2803

20

4

Roger Clemens

3703

4672

3

5

Randy Johnson

3674

4875

2

6

Steve Carlton

3629

4136

4

7

Tim Keefe

3539

2562

27

8

Bert Blyleven

3370

3701

5

9

Dazzy Vance

3356

2045

60

10

Bobby Mathews

3351

1366

234

11

Lefty Grove

3332

2266

47

12

Christy Mathewson

3284

2502

30

13

Amos Rusie

3269

1934

77

14

Bob Feller

3241

2581

26

15

Tom Seaver

3212

3640

6

16

Pete Alexander

3200

2198

53

17

Kid Nichols

3178

1868

84

18

Gaylord Perry

3157

3534

8

19

Don Sutton

3154

3574

7

20

Rube Waddell

3032

2316

44

Ryan is still on top, but there is a lot of shuffling below him, as the older players move up with the adjustment.  Particularly impressive is the jump made by 19th century pitcher Bobby Mathews, if you’re willing to accept his leagues as full major leagues. Mathews was either first or second in his league in SO/9IP  in eight different seasons, so a jump like that would be logical.

 

 

 

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