Saturday, November 29, 2008

Strikeouts in Relief

If you look at the list of strikeouts per nine innings by pitchers throwing 50 or more innings in 2008, relievers occupy the top nine spots. Only three full-time starters show up in the top thirty. Relievers these days usually only have to pitch an inning in an outing so it's easier for them to try and blow away hitters, plus only seeing a batter once per game means the hitter has no time to adjust to what the reliever is throwing.

Whatever the reason for all the whiffing, Carlos Marmol led all MLB relievers last season with 114 strikeouts. Joel Hanrahan was second with 93, while Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and J.P. Howell rounded out the top five with 92. Marmol's season total is definitely impressive, not only because he outpaced everyone by twenty, but also because it's the most relief strikeouts since 2004. His total isn't anywhere near the record for most strikeouts in relief, however.

A pitcher has reached 120 strikeouts in relief in a single season thirty-six times. Some of those pitchers, like Mike Marshall or Goose Gossage, got there by throwing a ton of innings in relief. Some pitchers, like Billy Wagner, got there by striking out a ton of batters per nine innings. The rest were obviously a healthy mix of those two extremes. Whatever method got them there, the list of pitchers is below:

Most Strikeouts as a Reliever in a Season
  1. Dick Radatz, 1964 Red Sox, 181
  2. Mark Eichhorn, 1986 Blue Jays, 166
  3. Dick Radatz, 1963 Red Sox, 162
  4. Brad Lidge, 2004 Astros, 157
  5. Dick Selma, 1970 Phillies, 153
  6. Goose Gossage, 1977 Pirates, 151
  7. Dick Radatz, 1962 Red Sox, 144
  8. Mike Marshall, 1974 Dodgers, 143
  9. Rob Dibble, 1989 Reds, 141
  10. Eric Gagne, 2003 Dodgers, 137
  11. Jim Kern, 1979 Rangers, 136
  12. Rob Dibble, 1990 Reds, 136
  13. John Hiller, 1974 Tigers, 136
  14. Duane Ward, 1991 Blue Jays, 132
  15. Goose Gossage, 1975 White Sox, 130
  16. Mariano Rivera, 1996 Yankees, 130
  17. Bruce Sutter, 1977 Cubs, 129
  18. Mark Davis, 1985 Giants, 128
  19. Tom Henke, 1987 Blue Jays, 128
  20. Armando Benitez, 1999 Mets, 128
  21. Octavio Dotel, 2001 Astros, 128
  22. Scott Garrelts, 1987 Giants, 127
  23. Lance McCullers, 1987 Padres, 126
  24. John Hiller, 1973 Tigers, 124
  25. Mike Marshall, 1973 Expos, 124
  26. Rob Dibble, 1991 Reds, 124
  27. Billy Wagner, 1999 Astros, 124
  28. Mitch Williams, 1987 Rangers, 123
  29. Keith Foulke, 1999 White Sox, 123
  30. Francisco Rodriguez, 2004 Angels, 123
  31. Goose Gossage, 1978 Yankees, 122
  32. Duane Ward, 1989 Blue Jays, 122
  33. Octavio Dotel, 2004 Astros/A's, 122
  34. B.J. Ryan, 2004 Orioles, 122
  35. Dick Radatz, 1965 Red Sox, 121
  36. Mark Littell, 1978 Cardinals, 120
Octavio Dotel in 2001 also made 4 starts, Mark Littell made 2 starts in 1978, and Mark Davis and Mitch Williams each made one start in their seasons. The strikeouts they recorded in those starts were not included when making the list.

Students of baseball history may recognize the significance of the season behind Mike Marshall's highest appearance on the list. That was the year he pitched 208 1/3 innings over a major league record 106 games. He only struck out six batters per nine innings, but the sheer number of innings pitched allowed him to rack up K's. Meanwhile, Eric Gagne, Billy Wagner, and Brad Lidge made up for pitching fewer innings by striking out just under fifteen batters per nine innings.

And now for something completely different: students of ridiculous baseball videos may recognize Mark Littell, also known as the guy who enjoys proving athletic supporters work.

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