Yankees: The Devaluation of pitcher’s strikeout and win totals

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The Yankees are striking out a lot, but their pitchers are also striking opposing batters out a lot. Somehow though, the value placed on pitchers with a high rate of strikeouts hasn’t been adjusted to the hitter’s high rate of strikeouts.

In 2010, a mere seven seasons ago, no Yankees pitcher finished in the Top Ten in strikeouts or strikeouts-per-nine innings. On the staff that year was CC Sabathia, who at the time was still firing up 95 mph fastballs, and Phil Hughes, another Yankee with a reputation for getting it up there.

The major league leader in strikeouts per nine innings was Tim Lincecum with a rate of 9.791. In tenth place, was Cole Hamels, then of the Phillies, with a rate of 9.101. Jared Weaver had the most strikeouts with 233, and Clayton Kershaw rounded out the bottom with 212.

Tim Lincecum (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

In 2017, with the season about two-thirds through, the strikeouts per nine innings stat sheet looks drastically different. For instance, you have to go all the way down to number fourteen where you’ll find Trevor Bauer at 9.8 to equal the mark set by Lincecum.

More astonishing, there are eleven pitchers averaging ten or more strikeouts every nine innings and two more averaging 9.9. Chris Sale leads all pitchers with a rate of 12.7 and followed by Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer, both of whom average twelve or more.

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Robbie Ray, from the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Chris Archer from the Rays are averaging more than eleven strikeouts per nine innings.

Of note, Luis Severino (Number 10) averages 10.4 and Masahiro Tanaka (Number 18) averages 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings for the Yankees.

Sale, Archer, Scherzer, and Kluber, barring injuries are all a cinch to better Weaver’s mark of 233 strikeouts in 2010, and Jacob deGrom has an easy shot at joining them.

The Case Of The Skewed Stat

It’s no secret, of course, as to why we are seeing this radical rise in pitchers strikeout rates. Hitters are swinging for the fences from the moment they step out of the dugout, making them easy prey for pitchers who know how to pitch, and not just throw.

Almost all major league hitters have no difficulty catching up with a 100 mph fastball. Instead, it’s the well-placed 87 mph one that gets them. Or the changeup that gets them swinging from their heels as it dives in the dirt just as it reaches the plate.

As long as salaries are equated to home runs, and Joey Gallo can hit .205 for the Texas Rangers while connecting for 29 home runs that drive in only 55 runs, and be paid handsomely for that kind of production, hitters are going for the fences, the glory, and the money.

Yankees right fielder, Aaron Judge did it all for the first half of the season, even winning the Home Run Derby, hitting well over .330 and smashing Joe DiMaggio‘s record for home runs by a rookie before the season was half over.

Now, the good pitchers in the league have caught up to him, and his strikeout rate has risen back up 40 percent, bringing back memories of last season when it reached fifty percent. At the same time, however, none of the pressure on him to blast home runs and carry the Yankees has been relieved.

Pedro Martinez (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images) /

Now, Judge is being chided by daily reports on every game in which he strikes out at least once a game because that’s another Yankees record he’s broken and continues to add to.

To put it another way, I would bet a year’s pay that either Pedro Martinez, David Cone, or Tom Seaver would have no trouble striking out 450-500 batters in a single healthy season if they were pitching today.

And those stats would be just as skewed as the ones we see today for pitchers. Striking out ten in a game is a common occurrence, and to get a headline a pitcher has to strike out at least fourteen as Tanaka did a couple of starts ago.

The Case Of Another Skewed Stat

Wins versus losses is another matter, but they fall in the same category of being skewed by circumstances stats. In 2010, there were three twenty game winners, led by the Yankees CC Sabathia. Two more pitchers finished with nineteen wins.

In 2017, Clayton Kershaw is the only likely candidate to win twenty or more, and even that’s jeopardized by his penchant for back injuries and the DL where he resides now. Four other pitchers have 13 wins, but the likelihood of winning seven more is negligible.

And again, there’s no mystery to this development, and it traces to the emergence of a team’s reliance on their bullpen and a manager’s tendency to remove his starter with a quick hook when trouble arises.

The Yankees figure most prominently in this development and Joe Girardi, in particular, is leading the way to a strategy employing his Bullpen By Committee.

Changing Horses In Mid-Stream

In a sport that treats numbers like the Holy Grail and a Modern Era that now stretches beyond a half-century, baseball has and always will struggle with how to address numbers, and especially the records that accompany them.

But in sum, baseball needs to find better ways to evaluate pitchers that take into account these and other ways the game is changing. Especially when pitchers have been paid, and are still mostly paid by the number of wins they generate for their team.

I’ve always believed that a pitcher’s Earned Run Average is the best and most reliable evaluation stat, only because it’s the great equalizer that has nothing to do with the scoreboard that announces the speed of every pitch, as well as other variables.

Next: Will the Yankees eliminate starting pitchers altogether?

In a future column, I’ll explain more in detail.

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