Strikeout Milestones and Related Musings

Following up on a post by birtelcom concerning the continually increasing trend to more strikeouts in the game, I noticed that there is likely to be a lot of action on the strikeout milestone list this year. After the break, I’ll take a look at today’s career strikeout kings and their predecessors.

First, the milestones:

2500 – Earlier this season, Jim Thome became the second member of the 2500 strikeout club, the first in 26 years to join inaugural club member Reggie Jackson, who reached that total with his final strikeout of the 1986 season. Thome, if he plays again next year, has a shot at displacing Jackson as the all-time leader, though Adam Dunn, at his current pace, may have the better chance.

2000 – Later this season, Alex Rodriguez and Adam Dunn will likely become the 5th and 6th members of the 2000 strikeout club. Prior to the last week of the 2003 season, only Jackson was at this total, which he reached 20 years previously, in 1983.

1500 – Further down the list, Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano and possibly Carlos Pena are poised to join the 1500 club later this season, which would then number 54 members. Mickey Mantle was the first to reach this total, in 1966, and fewer than 20 players had done so as recently as the start of the 1995 season.

Despite this explosion of new names on the upper reaches of the career strikeout list, only 5 players in the past 100 years have held the top spot. Jimmy Sheckard succeeded Tom Brown (one of only two players to hail from Liverpool, England) in 1912, then was passed by Babe Ruth with the Bambino’s 850th whiff in 1928. Ruth retired with 1330 Ks, a mark not passed until Mantle in 1964. Willie Stargell passed Mantle’s 1710 total in 1978, and Stargell was passed by Jackson in the 1982 season while Pops was still active. Reggie’s 30 years and counting in the top spot are approaching the Babe’s tenure of 36 years.

Following from a recent post on achievements by teammates, these are the players (unless I’ve missed some) to accumulate 2000 or more combined strikeouts as teammates. The ones in red are the pairs who had achieved this mark when Reggie Jackson became the career strikeout leader in 1982.

With the explosion in strikeouts in the past 30 hours has come an explosion in home runs. Here are the members of the strikeout and home run clubs in the past 50 years.

StrikeoutsHome Runs
1000150020002500300400500
196060001864
19702110030149
1980521200431912
1990951711632214
20001532911873216
201023950411294725

 

So, there are now more players in the 500 HR club than were in the 300 HR club in 1960. Similarly, by the end of this season, there will likely be as many players in the 2000 strikeout club as were in the 1000 strikeout club in 1960.

But, are the extra home runs worth all the extra strikeouts? I don’t know, but maybe the serious sabermetricians out there can tackle that one. FWIW, here are the extremes – the players with the best and worst career ratios between home runs and strikeouts.

K LevelBest HR RatioWorst HR Ratio
1-500Joe DiMaggio 0.98Jerry Reuss 0.002
500-999Ted Williams 0.73George McBride 0.01
1000-1499Hank Aaron 0.55Willie Wilson 0.04
1500-1999Barry Bonds 0.50Lou Brock 0.09
2000+Sammy Sosa 0.26Andres Galarraga 0.20
HR LevelBest K RatioWorst K Ratio
1-99Tommy Holmes 1.39Jerry Reuss 433.00
100-199Lefty O'Doul 1.08Royce Clayton 12.86
200-299Ted Kluszewski 1.31Devon White 7.34
300-399Joe DiMaggio 1.02Bobby Bonds 5.29
400-499Stan Musial 1.47Jose Canseco 4.20
500-599Ted Williams 1.36Reggie Jackson 4.61
600+Hank Aaron 1.83Jim Thome 4.12

 

Some other little tidbits.

  • The most career home runs by a player to never strike out is … one, by 4 players (excl. 2 in the Federal League). This was accomplished most recently by pitchers Mark Worrell and Esteban Yao, both in very limited PAs. The other two were Mike Ulicny (19 PA in 1945) and Abie Hood (23 PA in 1925), both with the Braves.
  • The most career strikeouts by a player never to hit a home run is …  420, by Dean Chance. The most for a non-pitcher is 231 by Tim Thompson, an infielder with the Brewers and Blue Jays in the 1970s.
  • For the past two seasons, the Yankees have had three 1500 strikeout players (Jeter, A-Rod and Andruw) on their roster, the only team with this distinction.
  • The only pair of teammates with 4000 combined career strikeouts were Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers, with a mark of 4061 at the end of the 2009 season.
  • The first game with two players with a combined 3000 career strikeouts was Yankees vs Tigers on Sep 25, 1967, with Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews. This was also the first AL game featuring two players each with 500 career home runs.
  • The first game with two players with a combined 4000 career strikeouts was Athletics vs Angels on Apr 11, 1986, with Reggie Jackson and Dave Kingman.
  • The first game with two players each with 2000 career strikeouts was Rangers vs White Sox on Aug 28, 2007, with Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome. At the end of the Aug 30 game of the same series, their combined total was 4316. This series was the only time two 2000 strikeout players have faced each other. Other pairs of such players (A-Rod/Dunn, A-Rod/Thome and Dunn/Thome) may connect later this season.
  • With a combined total of 4361, Jim Thome and A-Rod have the most strikeouts of any two players to appear together in the same game, when the Twins faced the Yankees on Aug 21, 2011. This was also the first (and, so far, the only) AL game with two players each with 600 career home runs. Now that Thome is back in the AL, both these marks may be extended.

 


Comments

Strikeout Milestones and Related Musings — 40 Comments

  1. The question of whether the extra home runs worth all the extra strikeouts seems to be answered by the results-batters go deeper in the count and they swing harder because management, consciously or not, encourages it. Part of the reason they do that is because the players are larger and stronger (steroids or not) and the stadiums are more homer-favorable, so the greater possibility of hitting one out is more attractive than small ball. Part of it is just the way we approach modern baseball. There’s a little vignette in The Summer of ’49 where, in the final, decisive game of the season, the Yankee’s Tommy Henrich choked up and “with the softest swing imaginable” grounds one to second to score Rizzuto from third. Henrich could hit (lifetime OPS+ of 132) and hit for power, but, in that day and age, the situation called for getting the run in, even if it took the bat out of his hands.

    • Interesting thoughts, Mike L.

      Creating an environment that encourages and rewards swinging for the fences and, sure enough, that’s what you get. But does it help teams win? If two lineups with the same OPS, pitching and defense played each other, which would win, the team heavy on the BA and OBP, or the team heavy on the Ks and the slugging?

      Maybe some folks familiar with simulations can help answer that?

      • High K rates do not necessarily make for low OBP. Reggie Jackson did not have low OBP. There are guys that get strikeouts because they can’t hit well, and then there are guys that get strikeouts because they are waiting for pitches to hit. If they are really good, a lot of those passes will be balls and walks.

        Most of the career strikeout kings don’t just have power, they also have well above average OBP, not just power, because they walk a ton. Certainly Reggie Jackson, Jim Thome and Arod do not have weak on base percentages. Even Adam Dunn doesn’t have a really bad OBP. Except for his hideous 2011, he has been average to above average.

        • I still remember the days the Reds batted Dunn leadoff… and I bet his career OBP is better than a lot of current #1 hitters. Granted it only lasted a little while but I found it interesting.

          Another thing to note is that the leaders in any category (in any sport) are going to at least be above-average players because otherwise they wouldn’t keep getting the chances to strike out 200 times per year, in this example.

          In my opinion I think it’s fine for mashers like Dunn and Thome to strike out a bunch; the issue is that it seems a lot of 10-20 HR power guys are striking out 150 times and the trade-off isn’t worth it. I think the stigma of the strikeout needs to return a bit and coaches need to teach guys how to make contact.

          Sometimes it’s OK to move a runner from 2nd to 3rd… now that shouldn’t be the goal of the PA but it beats the runner still sitting on 2nd. Except it seems most teams no longer ascribe to that theory.

          • The Red Sox in 1985-86 frequently had Dwight Evans lead off, even with Wade Boggs and his .450+ OBA available.

            He hit the very first pitch of the 1986 MLB season for a HR in Tiger Stadium.

  2. Doug:

    The 1987 A’s had Reggie, Jose, and Mark—just for one year, but they all clocked out at over 1500 SOs.

    The question of more home runs being worth the excessive strikeouts ought to have a resounding NO as its answer, if for no other reason than the perpetual complaint of the short-attention-span crowd that nothing happens for such long stretches in a baseball game. But it is this same crowd, paradoxically, who go starry-eyed when a long pop fly makes it past a short fence. Anyone with a feel for the nuances of the game has to dislike the strikeouts, since they minimize the opportunities for the excitement of good fielding and base-running and make the game less multidimensional. They are one of the factors, I think, in the evolution of pitching roles, too. I’m fairly certain the drop-off in complete games corresponds fairly closely to the recent phenomena of the de-stigmatized K.

    • Thanks for the comment, nsb.

      I tend to agree with you about a relationship between strikeouts and complete games. To put it simply, more strikeouts = more pitches = fewer complete games. As to the attraction of a game with excessive strikeouts, I agree again. Personally, I prefer to see some variety in the players involved in the game, rather than just the pitcher and catcher. And, related again to your first point, more strikeouts, more pitches and more pitchers tend to make for games that can be not only less interesting, but also painfully longer in the bargain.

      Regarding 3 teammates at 1500 K, I was referring to players who are already at that level when they’re teammates :) . I may be wrong but I think Jeter, A-Rod and Andruw are the first time three have been on the same team at the same time. But, happy to be proven wrong.

      • Just an impressionistic comment on general values: Given a choice between nothing-but-smallball or nothing-but-HR/SO/BBs, I’d choose the former in terms of engagement in the game. But for me the best baseball aesthetically is variety and balance – I’d be happy to enjoy the somewhat static tension of Adam Dunn’s PAs as long as they came only one PA in nine. Dunn after Dunn is just dull.

        But Dunn currently has a 130 OPS+. If talent could be found, a team of (ok fielding) Dunns would be unbeatable; to the degree that other teams recognized this they would try to emulate the formula. (This would be the implication of demonstrating statistically that one type of offensive model is superior to others in generating runs – the market for talent swings dramatically towards a single skill set.) Having only optimal players would not be good for baseball – curling would look exciting by comparison.

        Fortunately, the availablilty of Dunn-like talents is limited. But if over time high schools and colleges were to train more and more kids towards the high OBP+power mix and the trend that Doug’s post highlights continued and accelerated because high OBP+power beats high BIP+speed, I expect baseball would eventually reconfigure the talent market by making changes in rules, fence distances, baseball specs, etc. (unless it turns out that what fans really value is actually added opportunities to go get a beer).

    • I apologize for this being off topic, but I was wondering if anyone could answer this question for me.

      Yesterday Derek Jeter appeared in his 1500 game in which his team was victorious. Is there someplace on Baseball Reference where you can find the list of all time leaders in this category? My first though is Pete Rose of course, since he played in more than 3500 games for mostly above average teams.

      Thanks in advance

      • Found it… by looking at “Career Splits”

        Rose is first with 1972 games played on a winning team
        Aaron I believe is second with 1735 games.

        Yaz 1718
        The Man 1653
        Willie 1643
        Fat Head 1606
        Rickey 1585

        • Here are some more guys with more than 1500 wins:
          Reggie Jackson….1579
          Brooks Robinson…1636
          Hank Aaron……….1735 (confirms post 6)
          Omar Vizquel…….1525
          Cal Ripken……….1501
          Derek Jeter………1500 and counting
          Tony Perez………..1503
          Babe Ruth had 1405 from 1918 to 1935. I haven’t the time now to check his prior years.

      • The first player I thought of here was Yogi Berra, since he played on the most championship teams, but upon checking, I found he only played in 2120 games—at a .603 winning %, though: 1276 wins, 839 loses, 5 ties. I don’t have the incentive to check piecemeal, but maybe some of you stats guys can find a shortcut to finding out who played at the highest winning level.

          • Richard Chester:
            Wow! .620 = 100-62 W – L record. Is there any way of checking that compared to the traditional “winners” or is this a timely spread sheet scenario?

          • I have a book that lists highest winning percentage for the years 1957-2006 only. Blair had the highest percentage for all players who appeared in at least 1000 games. If you feel like checking, other names on the list are Jeter, Geronimo, Kubek, Chipper Jones, Belanger, Andruw Jones, Posada, Bernie Williams, Lemke, Gerald Williams, Eric Chavez, Richardson and Justice. The list is missing some names.

          • Thanks, Richard, I’d just spent the last 30 minutes looking for Big Red Machiners and Posada, Bernie, etc. Saved me some time.

          • Part of Blair’s “success” is due to the fact that he was often used as a late inning defensive replacement, and team’s generally only use defensive subs when they’re already ahead. Blair’s teams won “only” .578 percent of the games he started whereas they won .745 percent of the games he was used as a sub.

  3. If the increase in strikeouts also corresponded to a decrease in run scoring, then we can say it’s counter productive. Yet outside of the recent down tick in scoring, the trend showed the opposite. Hitting was increasing as strikeouts were rising.

    While strikeouts means nothing can happen to advance a runner, it also means the hitter is not going to produce a doubleplay. Beyond that, I don’t care if a hitter is making an out by popping up to short or striking out. I take that back. I’m actually more annoyed at the pop up to short!

    The aggressive approach of not sacrificing an AB by turning defensive once a hitter gets two strikes is much more interesting from my perspective.

    • “While strikeouts mean nothing can happen to advance a runner” they also mean the batter doesn’t get to first base by way of a hit—or the occasional error (unless the catcher drops the ball).

      Anytime this subject arises here there seems to be an outbreak of Twinkillingophobia, as if the inevitable result of a hit baseball with runners on base is a double play. I have no statistics, as usual, to back up this statement, but I doubt seriously that double plays happen with nearly the frequency of hits when there are men on base and fewer than two outs.

      Wait a minute—I’ll give it whack: This year’s White Sox: with men on first and less than two outs the team has had 56 GIDP. They’ve had 137 hits, only 23 being HRs. So for the Pale Hose, it’s been better than two to one for putting the ball in play. I doubt they’re unique in this respect.

      • the major league average for GIDP is about 11% of opportunities (man on first, less than 2 outs).

        That’s a lot, and it includes all PAs not just balls put in play. So there is always a pretty good chance of grounding into a DP when you put the ball in play with men on. You will hit more often, but the point here is that the DP changes the relative merits. Nobody will *never* put the ball in play. The patient hitters, will take *marginal* pitches. Pitches they didn’t really like, or thought were probably balls. And some of those pitches will turn into walks.

        That’s the biggest value these guys put out, so many walks, that even with low BAs, their OBPs are excellent.

        If you have a player who takes a ton of pitches and SOs and *doesn’t* walk a lot, then they probably just stink. If they get lots of SOs but also lots of walks, they may be doing something right, even if their power is mediocre. Reggie Jackson, Harmon Killebrew and Jim Thome aren’t just OK players, they are two HOFers and a guy who belongs their when he’s eligible. Even if they didn’t have great power, they might not be HOFers but they would still be good players!

        • I’m not sure how your response addresses my rather narrow complaint about some posters here having an irrational fear of the double play. Incidentally, in their careers in potential GIDP situations, Reggie had 572 H, 202 W, 183 GIDP; Lead Foot had 447 H, 226 W, 243 GIDP; Thome had 533 H, 275 W, 161 GIDP. Subtracting for home runs, even Killebrew had 87 more hits than GIDP.

          I’m a great believer in both putting the ball in play and in taking a walk when the situation arises. I’m not fond of the home run, walk, or strikeout mentality.

          • Would it be fair to say that when Harmon was at the plate in potential GIDP situations, there was reason for a degree of…wait for it now…
            “Twintwinkillingophobia”. And if he did that twice in a game, we would have…oh never mind

            :)

          • “I’m a great believer in both putting the ball in play and in taking a walk when the situation arises. I’m not fond of the home run, walk, or strikeout mentality.”

            I’m with you 100%. Give me 9 Ichiros over 9 Reggie Jacksons any day.

          • Interestingly, b-ref gives Reggie 44.5 oWAR for his seasons 27 through 37 and gives Ichiro 44.2 oWAR for his seasons 27 through 37. Essentially identical value estimates as offensive players, for the eleven full age-years they have in common. Different styles, comparable values.

          • What posters have demonstrated an irrational fear of the double play?

            The person you are replying to?

            I don’t think so. It’s not irrational to treat the possibility of a GIDP as a downside. It would be irrational to propose that one *never* swing in potential DP situations, but who the heck has ever suggested such a ridiculous thing?

            All I’ve ever done, or seen saber-inclined people do is justify the preferences of certain top-level major league hitters, who put the ball in play plenty, but *somewhat less* than the average MLB hitter, and thus collect a lot of SOs (along with a lot of walks, and with the exception of lead foot, generally somewhat fewer GIDPs).

            Saying that strikeouts are terrible, or that those who think these hitters approaches are justifiable have an irrational fear of the double play, suggests that you think these hitters could be even more valuable by changing their strategy.

            Given that we are talking about all-star and HoF level hitters and given how few free swinging hitters have put up comparable value (Vlad and Ichiro are the only recent players who come to mind), I think that suggestion is *highly* dubious.

  4. Considering the rapid rise in strikeouts, and that Reggie Jackson retired twenty-five years ago, I am surprised no player has yet to pass him. There are certainly many players who strikeout at a higher percentage, but to own that record a player needs to record a high number of strikeouts, yet also be so good that he can player for twenty-plus years. Based on that, a player like A-Rod might be more likely to pass Reggie than others if he can maintain his health. Ultimately, though, even A-Rod probably won’t have the chance. He has five years left on his contract after 2012, but it’s likely that in the latter years he’ll be playing less. Adam Dunn? He certainly is striking out at a spectacular rate, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Dunn is finished as a regular player within a couple years.

    Jim Thome is the most likely candidate now that he’s back in the AL. He has already indicated he would be open to playing again in 2013, so Jackson’s record has a good chance of falling next season.

    • Jim THOME – 87 SO away, but he’s 42, so even at DH now he’s probably not an everyday player. But if he can continue to pop the occasional HR and draw some walks, he’ll justify giving him enough PA (150 the rest of the year?) to close that gap considerably.

      If he plays in 2013, he’d have a decent chance of passing Reggie’s 2597.

      A-ROD – 611 SO away, with 5 1/2 years left on his contract. His K rate this year would be about 140 over a full season,so at first glance it looks like he’s got a shot at the record. HOWEVER, as he ages, he’ll probably miss more games, as in 2009 or 2011, so I think he’ll fall short of 2500 K’s.

      Adam DUNN – He’s about the same # of K’s away as A-Rod (662), but four years younger, and most importantly hitting very well while K’ing at a totally ridiculous rate (projected over 250 K’s this year).

      I do think he’ll continue to hit well enough to play 3/4 more full years, and at anything close to his K rate now, he’ll break the record in 2015.

  5. As long as Adam Dunn doesn’t get injured, we are going to be talking about both his 2011 and 2012 season’s for a long time.

    My thoughts are that tons of players developed this swing for the fences approach when steroids were abundant and balls were clearing the fences. The steroids went away, and the pitchers adjusted, and now there are guys striking out 130+ times a year who aren’t even hitting for much power.

  6. #28/Jim Bouldin –
    Ichiro! vs. Reggie!: In his Oakland A’s days Reggie Jackson was a good defensive rightfielder, capable of playing CF (188 career games), and also a fine baserunner and base stealer; he was nowhere near the one-dimensional slugger many people remember him from his later Yankees/ Angels days.

    While many people will prefer Ichiro! aesthetically, I’ll take Reggie!, because of his better peak value.

    As #29/birtelcom says, “Different styles, comparable values.”.

    • Actually I was thinking the same thing–Reggie swiped some bags when he was younger, and had a terrific arm. And of course it’s always fun to watch someone vaporize a baseball every now and then, or hit one off of a light tower on a stadium roof–in an All Star game. Seriously, could anybody hit a baseball farther than that guy?

      • “could anybody hit a baseball farther than that guy?”

        A) For starters/ ALL-TIME (in rough order, esp. Top-5):
        -Babe Ruth (clear #1)
        -Mickey Mantle
        -Jimmy Foxx
        (Mantle and Foxx are about equal, but Mantle wins because he could do it from both sides of the plate)
        -Mark McGwire
        -Josh Gibson

        -Frank Howard (esp. in JFK Stadium)
        -Ted Williams
        -Willie Stargell
        -Dave Kingmen
        -Dick Allen

        Honorable Mention: Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Junior Griffey

        B) Other contemporaries of Reggie:
        -Harmon Killebrew
        -Jim Rice
        -Boog Powell
        -Yaz
        -Frank Robinson
        -Mike Schmidt
        -Willie Mays or the other Willie (“Stretch”)

        Tell me whom I left out…

        • I’m not convinced that any of those guys could hit the ball farther than Reggie could, and definitely not that Ruth was the clear #1. Maybe Kingman or Howard.

          • Sorry, I didn’t mean to literally state that everyone on my list had indeed hit longer HRs than Reggie Jackson. I was just putting together a quick list of the sluggers who hit the longest HRs.

            I _do_ think that Ruth (by far), Mantle and Foxx consistently hit longer HRs than Reggie. There’s ample newspaper reports to confirm that The Babe hit the ball further than anyone else in MLB history.

            And yes, I AM AWARE of Reggie’s monumental HR in Detriot in the 1971 AS game. I’m looking at the whole career, not just one extraordinary moment.

  7. Good post, Doug, and a very interesting topic. Sorry I’m late to the discussion.

    Some people have asserted that “more strikeouts = more pitches.” I think this is a false assumption that ignores the positive correlation (for pitchers) between strikeouts and success rate, and thus to lasting deep into games.

    I just ran a little study on pitcher starts in 2012. I gathered all 254 starts facing at least 30 batters, copied them into Excel, and sorted them according to the percentage of batters they struck out.

    I then formed two groups at the extremes — the top and bottom SO%, each containing 53 games:
    – The high-SO group all fanned at least 24% of batters, averaging 30.8%.
    – The low-SO group all fanned 10% or less, averaging 7.2%.

    Bear in mind that the entire data set is biased towards successful outings, since you don’t get to face 30 batters when you’re getting rocked.

    Then I calculated some averages:

    (1) Pitches per batter: 3.60 for the high-SO group, 3.35 for the low-SO group.

    Reserve your judgment.

    (2) Pitches per 27 outs: 123.8 for the high-SO group, 128.8 for the low-SO group.

    The strikeout pitchers were more efficient in pitches per 27 outs, even though they used more pitches per batter, because of the high inverse correlation between strikeouts and batting average.

    This is just a small sample, but I’m convinced that it’s meaningful. It correlates loosely with the proven fact that, contrary to a belief that was popular before Bill James (and still hasn’t died out), high-SO pitchers have substantially longer careers than low-SO pitchers. What they “lose” in pitches per batter, they more than make up in opponents’ batting average.

    I’m not sure if there’s a corresponding relationship for batters.

    • Thanks John,

      Interesting result. I’m guessing the intuituve more strikeouts = more pitches relationship might have been more common in past seasons, before the standard batting approach changed from “get a good pitch and hit it hard” to “work the count (if you can), then get a good pitch and hit it hard”. Presumably today’s high strikeout pitchers are economizing on pitches per out by having a higher outs per PA average – if players are striking out a lot in a game, not likely they’re also reaching base a great deal.

      I recall birtelcom did a recent post highlighting how efficient in pitches Greg Maddux was (almost a pitch per inning better than anyone else, if I recall correctly). In Maddux case, his control was so precise that he could afford to just let the hitters hit his pitches, usually ineffectually.

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