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Friday, March 12, 2010
Poll: Strikeout Central Alert

By Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Info

We have a routine that we go through at ESPN’s Stats and Information when a pitcher begins a game on a record-setting strikeout pace. When history is about to be made, we don’t want to mess around and head to SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight unprepared.

So any time one of the top pitchers in the AL Central takes the mound, we’ll be ready. That division could be renamed “Strikeout Central” for 2010, with a likely healthy Jake Peavy joining Royals Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and Tigers starter Justin Verlander for a full year’s worth of outings. Between the three, there are close to 100 instances in which we could be subject to a strikeout red-alert. So we ask the question:

Which pitcher will strike out the most hitters in a game during the 2010 season?

Our poll will include one other pitcher - Tim Lincecum - to broaden the mix, and you can pick the field too (Javier Vazquez and Johan Santana - both ex-AL Central pitchers - have experience with big whiff plateaus). But let me give you reasons to consider those in Strikeout Central.

Jake Peavy would seem to have the best chance of challenging Lincecum for the top spot, as he has an advantage that Greinke and Verlander don’t: The teams he will face most frequently have not seen him as often, since Peavy is coming from the National League West. Since 2004, Peavy has struck out 25.6 percent of the batters he’s faced. The only current starter who is better: Lincecum (27.6 percent).

Peavy has 30 games with 10 or more strikeouts, seven with at least a dozen and two with 15+. We’ll definitely be ready the first time Peavy faces the Tigers, as that lineup could include two rookies, along with Miguel Cabrera (2-for-22 with 10 strikeouts vs Peavy) and Brandon Inge (1-for-9, four strikeouts).

If Peavy is matched with Verlander, we may end up on double-alert status. Verlander had seven starts with 10 or more strikeouts in 2010, maxing out at 13. His issue, and one that plagues Peavy as well, is that high pitch counts may necessitate early exits.

Though only one of his last nine starts reached double digits, Verlander still racked up quantity. He was the first Tiger to lead the American League in strikeouts since Mickey Lolich in 1971.

A Royals starter has NEVER even led the AL in strikeouts (let alone the majors), but Zack Greinke has a good chance to be the first. The Royals had never had a pitcher strike out 15 in a game (double-figures was a major accomplishment) until Greinke did last season.

What Greinke has going for him is his “putaway rate” (the rate at which he strikes out hitters, once he gets to two strikes) of nearly 54 percent. That’s another mark in which the only pitcher in baseball better was Lincecum, and puts Greinke in a very reasonable position to challenge if he’s right for one night.