223. That is the single season strikeout record set by Mark Reynolds from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009. Adam Dunn came oh so close in 2012 fanning an astounding 222 times. A year after Reynolds set the record, he struck out 211 times making him the first MLB History to strike out 200 times in 3 seasons. He also struck out 204 times in 2008 and in 2011 he fanned 196 times with the Orioles. If he keeps this pace he definitely will set the MLB Career strikeout record easily.
Another modern star, Ryan Howard has struck out an amazing 157 times in 2010, 172 times in 2011, 186 times in 2009, and 199 times in both 2007 and 2008. 199 to me is just the same as 200. One short. Anyway, rounding out the list of 200 strikeout victims is Drew Stubbs of the Cincinnati Reds, who struck out 205 times in 2011.
Reggie Jackson is still the all time leader in punch outs at this point with an embarrassing 2,597 career strikeouts. Jim Thome, who has bounced all over the American and National League could break this record this season as he has 2,548. Sammy Sosa comes in third with 2,036 followed by Alex Rodriguez with 2,032 and Adam Dunn with 2,031. At this point when it is all said and done…Dunn will probably have the dubious credit of striking out a major league number of times.
Why does this topic have so much relevance in the decline of the game. Lets take a look at Rob Deer in the eighties. Rob Deer has some dubious statistics that will blow the average fan’s mind. First of all, in 1991 he officially had the worst average at .179, while still qualifying for a batting title. He is also the only player since 1910 to hit less than .220 in 4 seasons with 450 or more at bats. Deer had the American League single season record of 186 Punch Outs until he was past by Jack Kust. Most notably, Deer had seven seasons of 140 or more strikeouts.
The bottom line is that a record number of players are striking out a record number of times each year and if it continues these records will all follow. Strikeouts have become just as important and hassling at the same time. When all of these players strike out its just giving a bad first impression. The old time players did not strike out 100 times often, if they did they still had 200 Hits 30 Home Runs 100 RBI Etc. The On Base Percentages were also much more higher.
Ok…the other side of the argument is that we are now unfortunately living in the “pitch count era.” Complete Games are few and far between these days. Managers and Pitching Coaches are so routine that it may actually be ruining the sanctity of the game. Instead of letting the “ace” or “horse” go the distance…these pitchers are removed regardless of how well they are pitching and often they will leave the game on the winning side and when the game is over the team has lost.
What this phenomenon does not try to prove is that bullpens are not important and should be eradicated. Instead, one would argue that bullpens are still a very important part of the team concept and having a good bullpen can take a team far into the playoffs and ultimately a championship. However, at what cost are we taking starting pitchers out of the game way too early.
I can think of a few examples already in this fresh new 2013 season. Last Week, New York Met’s prospect Matt Harvey had a stellar first start. Harvey had went 7 Innings, while striking out ten batters and only walking two and giving up one measly hit. At this point he had only thrown less than ninety pitches and was on a pace for 110-112. Ok, one would argue, it’s early in the season and why risk “pushing a pitcher past their limit.” I say, bullshit. However, the Mets coaches stuck to the game plan and removed Harvey after 7 Innings. By the time was over, the bullpen had surrendered 2 Runs and Five Hits. This is a very frustrating concept.
Pre 1900, it was not uncommon for pitchers to throw as many complete games as starts. During this era, the average for complete games was 30. Pitchers were expected to complete games that they had started. Unfortunately, in the Twentieth Century the “Complete Game” is almost non existent. Today a good modern pitcher, staff ace, CY Young candidate may have an average of two complete games with five being unheard of.
For example, in 2012 only 2.6 percent of all Games included a complete game. To put this in perspective, as recently as the 1980’s, it was not uncommon to see good starters toss 10-15 complete games a season. In fact, in 1980, Oakland A’s Star Rick Langford threw 22 Consecutive Complete Games! Robin Roberts, a former Phillies ace threw 28 consecutive complete games in the 1950’s.
Not too long ago, Nolan Ryan threw 200 pitches in one game. That will probably never be done again. The new philosophy adheres to strict pitch counts and the evidence points to the fact that arm injuries increase after 100 pitches have been thrown. CY Young holds the current record of 749 Complete Games, a feat that will never be broken.
James Shields, the Tampa Devil Ray’s ace threw 11 complete games in 2011, the most since CC Sabathia’s 10 in 2008. The last pitcher to reach 15 Complete Games was the Phillies Curt Schilling who threw 15 Complete Games in 1998. Fernando Valenzuela was the last pitcher to throw 20 Complete games in 1980. Catfish Hunter had 30 in 1975. So the trend is very significant as you can see.
To put this theory in better perspective, the active leader in Complete Games is Roy Halladay with 66 in his entire career, with a career high of nine in 2010 for the Phillies. During that season, Halladay threw 251 Innings, went 19-10 and had a career high 230 K’s while only walking 30. He became the first Pitcher to amass 250 innings and only have 30 Walks since Grover Cleveland in 1923.
It’s obvious that Complete Games are becoming a thing of the past. Hitters are striking out in record numbers while starting pitchers are throwing less innings and getting less wins. These trends are really hurting the sanctity of Major League Baseball. My good friend Aaron has been researching these trends a lot and has very good insight on the problem. Stay tuned to Aaron for his vision, his ideas, and a solution to the problem.