Friday, April 3, 2009

# 95 & 96 -- Strikeout Leaders

NL Strikeout Leaders

Tom Seaver 289
Fergie Jenkins 263
Bill Stoneman 251

There's Tom Seaver again. He's the only player in either league to appear on all 3 League Leader cards. Jenkins, Blue, Wood and Lolich were all on 2 of the 3. Joe Torre, Willie Stargell and Hank Aaron made 2 of the 3 hitting cards. Nobody in the AL made even 2 of the 3 League Leader cards.

I've also written about Jenkins and want to leave something for his regular card. He was as solid and steady as they came in that era. Once again, the names down the Top Ten on the NL card read like a Hall of Fame invitation list -- Sutton, Niekro, Marichal, Carlton, Gibson. And then Clay Kirby shows up again.

So does Bill Stoneman. If a Montreal Expo falls in the woods with no one around does it make a sound? If you pitch 2 no-hitters for the team in Parc Jarry, did it happen? Bill was pretty well unknown until he helped build a winner in Orange County. Other than 1971-72, Bill was a pretty lackluster pitcher, with a career ERA of 4.08. Most of his career highs in good categories came in 1971. It was by far his highest strikeout total, win total and his only season above .500 (barely) at 17-16. Although he had his flash here, he was a better executive than pitcher.

AL Strikeout Leaders

Mickey Lolich 308
Vida Blue 301
Joe Coleman 236

Quite a gap here between 2nd and 3rd. What you don't see are the 4 20-game winners for the Orioles, with Dobson and Palmer showing up on down the line. Just goes to show when you have an outstanding defense, you don't have to strike everyone out.

If Blue hadn't slowed down the stretch, he'd have likely won the strikeout race. I remember Lolich as a big guy and when he retired he had over 2800 strikeouts, which was a lot, considering Walter Johnson held the record then at 3,509. When he retired for good at the end of the 1979 season, he was #7 on the all-time strikeout list, but was #5 entering 1979, with a couple of guys named Seaver and Ryan passing him that year. Pretty good career.

Joe Coleman ends up on this card. He and Lolich were the Tigers pitching rotation in 1971-72. Coleman was a little less a workhorse than Lolich, only getting to the 280 innings mark. He only topped 200 strikeouts from 1971-1973 and then tailed off.

I'm in the camp of those who think we baby pitchers too much these days. However, I also look at guys like Coleman and Stoneman and see something to support the current mindset. Both of those guys had high water marks in innings and then fell off the table dramatically. I can't remember if they had arm trouble, but I know back then guys were afraid to say they hurt. I would suspect there were a lot of guys that tried to gut it out and pitch through it, but needed some rest or medical attention, didn't seek it and were never the same. I also think some of the problem today (in addition to pitchers not having the arm strength) is that I recall guys like Gibson, Seaver, Catfish Hunter, Jenkins, etc. threw a lot of fastballs, but didn't rely on the sliders and splitters that are used more frequently now. Some of that may be that with the balls, bats, ballparks and batters being juiced today, the pitchers can't get by with just fast balls, but those other pitches put more stress on the nerves and tendons in the joints. I don't know the answers, but I wish we could get back to the days when pitchers could start 38-40 games a year and were wusses if they only went into the 7th inning.


  1. This was my first set of cards I even bought.

    Stoneman was even better in 1972. Don't use records at all, especially when analyzing a team like Montreal. Heck, ERA is even misleading because their defense was awful too, so a lot of outs were played into hits.

    But Stoneman is a great case. He piled up a lot of innings, but walked a lot of people, so I bet his pitch counts were always pretty high. He crashed and burned in 1973 after two great seasons where I am sure people thought he was going to be one of the best pitchers of the decade.

    The reason we don't have those iron men anymore is several fold:

    1. The strike zone shrunk - so pitchers throw more pitches.
    2. The game is more offensive. You no longer have millstones like a Roger Metzger in the lineup.
    3. People remember the outliers - Lolich, Jenkins, and not the rank and file.
    4. Bullpens are better maintained and managed. While I hate 12-man staffs and the one inning closer, now teams stock up on effective bullpens. Look at the 1971 Cubs - they had Phil Regan and a bunch of schlubs that I wouldn't trust to get me a sandwich, must lest hold a lead. So by inning 7, now you have fresh arms versus a tired starter, managers are choosing fresh arms.
    5. Billy Martin and his ilk aren't around to grind pitchers into dust. Just look at how long those A's pitchers from 1980 and 1981 lasted.
    6. If you're paying a starting pitcher millions of dollars, you don't want them to turn into Darren Dreifort.
    7. Teams only control players for so long, so they're more careful with their assets. If you have a phenom you want him to pitch for you for all six years before free agency.
    8. That era was an outlier. I clicked on 1954, to be random, and Early Wynn led the AL in innings with 270, and he completed just 20 of his 36 starts.
    9. Old Hoss Radbourn scoffs at Mickey Lolich.

  2. smedmusic, I think that you may be over-thinking it (just a little)...

    What has watered down the talent is expansion!

    In 1960, we had 16 MLB teams and, with a 4-man rotation, roughly 64 starting pitchers.

    Today, 30 teams and a 5-man rotation suggests roughly 150 starting pitchers (approaching 250% of 1960's total). So, by 1969, we had roughly 150% of the total of starting pitchers as compared to 1960. By 1969, you had plenty of starters who could NEVER have started ten years earlier... And this is with the 4-man rotation. A 5-man rotation, not to mention competition for athletes among the other amateur and professional sports, "waters down" available talent even further!

    In 1960, you could be "competitive" with a rotation comprised of a super-star, a star and two also-rans (or rank and file/average pitchers). With a 5-man rotation, you have to add a starter to your 4-man rotation. Hmm... Whom do we add?

    A super-star? Only a few of them...
    A star? More of them and reasonably high demand...
    An also-ran?

    Think about it!! Your 1970s and 1980s team's fortune may have rested on their ability to procure a decent 5th starter and manage talent and egos...