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Monday, April 29, 2013
Tigers trio piling up a boatload of strikeouts


Strike One: Tigers TrifeKta

When was the last time any team had a threesome atop its rotation like the K Klub the Detroit Tigers run out there these days?

There's the Ace (Justin Verlander). He owns three strikeout titles just since the start of the 2009 season. He's also whiffed more hitters over the last seven seasons (1,356) than any pitcher alive.

Anibal Sanchez
Sanchez

Max Scherzer
Scherzer

Justin Verlander
Verlander

Then there's Max Scherzer. Last year he became the fourth qualifying starting pitcher in American League history to strike out more than 11 hitters per nine innings over a full season. Maybe you've heard of the others: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

So we start with those two -- the most prodigious 1-2 whiff-a-matic duo in baseball. Which leads to this momentous question:

What were the odds that a Tigers pitcher would go out this season and set an all-time franchise record for most strikeouts in one game -- and it WOULDN'T be Verlander or Scherzer?

Well, it happened Friday night, when Anibal Sanchez headed for the mound and punched out 17 Atlanta Braves in eight innings. Wow.

So what we have here is a rotation in which all three of those men are striking out more than a batter an inning this season:

Sanchez: 41 K's in 33.2 IP
Scherzer: 36 K's in 24 IP
Verlander: 33 K's in 32.1 IP

Amazing. But here's the most amazing part of all:

You know how many rotations in history have had three different starters pile up more than a strikeout an inning in a season in which all three qualified for the ERA title?

None. That's how many.

But wait. There's more. Other than last year's Tigers, no American League team in the entire division-play era has even had TWO qualifying starters who finished a season with more strikeouts than innings. Let alone three.

In fact, only two other AL teams in history have had two different starters who did that together in the same season:

1968 Indians: Sam McDowell (9.5 per 9 IP), Luis Tiant (9.2)
1965 Indians: Sam McDowell (10.7), Sonny Siebert (9.1)

Now obviously, there's a long, long way to go. But all three of these men have done this before. They just never had a chance to do it for the same team at the same time. And if they keep up this rate, we'll have some incredible strikeout history on our hands.

Unfortunately, for all the poor hitters out there.

Strike Two: Not So Special K's

Then there's the team that was on the other end of that 17-whiff masterpiece -- the Braves.

They keep telling us that strikeouts are overrated. And maybe they're right. We just know this:

Dan Uggla
Dan Uggla has struck out 31 times in 22 games so far this season.

They're on pace to strike out 1,512 times this year. While that wouldn't be a record -- thanks to the 2010 Diamondbacks, who punched out 1,529 times -- you should remember that no other team in history has ever struck out even 1,400 times.

But here's the other pace the Braves are on which WOULD be historic:

Projected strikeouts this season at this rate: 1,512
Projected hits this season at this rate: 1,316

That comes to an incredible 196 more strikeouts than hits. And no team in history has ever had a strikeout/hits ratio that was that out of whack. Here's that leaderboard:

163: 2010 Diamondbacks (1,529 K's, 1,366 hits)
89: 2012 Astros (1,365 K's, 1,276 hits)
72: 2012 A's (1,387 K's, 1,315 hits)
42: 2011 Padres (1,326 K's, 1,284 hits)
41: 2012 Pirates (1,354 K's, 1,313 hits)

Of course, if you peruse that list closely, you'll notice something. All of those teams have joined that More Strikeouts Than Hits Club just since 2010. And that's not an aberration. Of the nine teams in history that did more whiffing than hitting, only one (the 2001 Brewers) did it BEFORE 2010.

So strikeouts -- and lots of them -- are clearly a more prevalent, and accepted, part of the game than they've ever been. But only one team (last year's A's) has ever made the postseason in a year in which its hitters had more strikeouts than hits. And that 2010 Diamondbacks team at the top of that list lost 97 games.

It's very possible none of that past history applies to these Braves, who are clearly one of the most talented teams in the game and still lead the major leagues in home runs. But even if strikeouts are indeed overrated -- especially if you hit enough homers and score enough runs -- we don't know yet exactly how overrated they are.

But the 2013 Braves look like a team that could spend the next five months helping us figure it out.

Strike Three: In Other News …

• Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give the Tigers three starters who have all struck out at least 14 hitters in a game. The only other rotation in the big leagues that can make that claim: the Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels).

• But all three of those Tigers pitchers have whiffed at least 14 in a game more than once. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four rotations in the last 20 seasons had three starters who fit that description. And it had been 12 years since we'd seen any rotation like that -- since the 2001 Diamondbacks (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Bobby Witt) and 2001 Red Sox (Pedro Martinez, Hideo Nomo, David Cone).

• The Dodgers haven't struck out 17 times in a nine-inning game in the history of their franchise -- all 130 seasons worth. And three other teams -- the Royals, White Sox and Twins -- haven't struck out 17 times in any game in this millennium. But the Braves struck out 17 times in eight innings against Anibal Sanchez. And then added an 18th whiff in the ninth against reliever Bruce Rondon.

• Bryce Harper hit his ninth homer Saturday. He's the first player, 20 or younger, ever to hit nine home runs in April. If he makes a home run trot in any of the next two games, he'll become the fifth player in history to hit 10 home runs in any calendar month, at age 20 or younger. The others, according to Baseball-Reference.com's awesome Play Index: Willie Mays (10, in July 1951), Frank Robinson (11, in August 1956), Met Ott (11, in June 1929) and someone named Mike Trout (10, last July).

• Finally, we keep hearing that David Ortiz has a 20-game hitting streak going back to last season. What's much more notable is that he also has a 301-DAY hitting streak. Ortiz's streak dates all the way back to last July 2. And our favorite hit-streak guru, Trent McCotter, reports that, as best he can determine, that's the second-longest 20-game streak -- in days -- since 1900.

The longest: 323 days, by Nomar Garciaparra in 2000-01. He got a hit in his last 20 games in 2000, then needed wrist surgery the next spring and didn't get a chance to pick up his streak until the following July 29, when he extended it to 21 games in a row before it expired the next game.

Longest known hitting streak before 1900 (in days): 645 days, by Dick Higham from 1876 to '78. But the asterisk is that he spent all of 1877 with the Syracuse Stars of the International Association, which wasn't recognized as a "major" league. So technically, he had a 29-game hitting streak that was stretched out over nearly three years. Boy, it's always something, huh?