Can’t ANYBODY Hit the Ball?

Tonight, the LA Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers, two teams each occupying first place in their respective National League divisions, played a robust 12 innings of baseball, 12 innings that saw three runs scored while 42 batters struck out. Before this season, the record for most strikeouts by a team in an extra inning game stood at 26, set by the then California Angels 46 years ago on July 9, 1971 against the Oakland Athletics. It took Angels’ pitchers 20 innings to strike out 26 batters. In this day and age of the Rule of the Strikeout, that record has been tied twice in less than one month. On May 7, in an 18 inning game between the Boston Red Sox and the new york yankees, 26 new york batters


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struck out at the hand of Red Sox pitchers. Then last night, Dodgers’ pitchers struck out 26 Brewers’ batters. The May 7 game between the yankees and Red Sox also set a record for most combined strikeouts by both teams, 48, while last night’s Dodgers-Brewers game that lasted “only” 12 innings fell a few short at a total of 42, with Brewers’ pitcher striking out 16. That 42 strikeout total is the new National League record. At the rate Dodgers’ pitchers were striking out Brewers’ batters last night – 26 K’s in 12 innings – had the game gone that additional six innings, the Dodgers’ pitchers’ strikeout total would have reached 39.

Can’t anybody hit the ball?

In 1986, pitching for the American League Red Sox, Roger Clemens set the single-game record for most strikeout by a pitcher in a nine-inning game, at 20. That season in the American League, pitchers averaged 5.9 strikeout per nine innings. Ten years later in 1996, Clemens tied that record by again striking out 20 batters in a nine-inning game, with 20 K’s against Detroit. In 1996, American League batters struck out 6.5 times per nine innings, an increase of 10% over the intervening ten years. That record of 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game has been tied three times since, by Kerry Wood in 1998, by Randy Johnson in 2001 and by Max Scherzer last season. In their respective leagues, the average number of strikeouts per nine innings in 1998 was 6.6, in 2001 it was 6.7 and by last season it had increased exponentially to 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

This season, National League batters are striking out at a rate of 8.21 times per nine innings and American League batters at a rate of 8.31 per nine innings, for an overall MLB rate of 8.26 strikeouts per nine. Cleveland Indians’ pitchers are AVERAGING 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings for the season.

Ten strikeouts in a game by a pitcher or by a team used to be semi-rare feat. Today, however, looking over daily box scores, one sees double figures, or VERY close to double figures, in strikeouts by the pitchers of almost every team for almost every game almost every day.

In tonight’s Dodgers’ game, Clayton Kershaw struck out 14 batters in seven innings, passing the 2,000 career strikeout mark, in 1,837-2/3 innings pitched and in so dong, became the third fastest to do so in major league baseball history (after Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson). Dodgers’ relievers then struck out an additional 12 Brewers’ hitters,

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over ONLY five innings. In striking out four betters in the final two innings without allowing a base on balls, Kenley Jansen set his own major league record by beginning the season having struck out 39 batters, in 22 innings pitched, without walking a single batter. For the season, Jansen, who picked up the victory, is now 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA and 0.64 WHIP, reinforcing the opinion I voiced here a few days ago that it is HE who is baseball’s best pitcher.

Once a figure that would have stood out as unique and amazing, Jansen’s 16 strikeouts per nine innings this season is far from that in today’s strikeout-crazy game. What is unique is his amazing 39 strikeouts as against ZERO bases on balls. Strikeouts are everywhere, but control is still difficult to master, and it sets apart the stars from all the others.

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