Kepner: Swing and a mystery, why MLB strikeout rates are soaring

From Tyler Kepner at the New York Times on March 29, 2013:

As their strikeout totals piled up last summer, the pitchers for the Milwaukee Brewers hardly noticed. The team was struggling to reach .500 and the rotation had been in flux all year. It did not feel as if the pitching staff was closing in on the record for strikeouts in a season.

“It honestly didn’t,” said starter Yovani Gallardo, the team leader in strikeouts. “All the guys went out there and pitched the way they pitch. You want to pitch to contact, but next thing you know the hitter’s down, 0-2, and you just go to your put-away pitch.”

The theory of pitching to contact works only if the hitter connects. And while the Brewers fell two strikeouts short of the single-season record, set by the 2003 Chicago Cubs, their performance seemed more ordinary than remarkable. In 2012, more than ever, the whiff became the norm across the game.

Total strikeouts in the major leagues have risen in each of the last seven seasons, peaking — so far — at 36,426 last year to establish a record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Eighteen teams struck out at least 1,200 times last season; in the history of baseball, through 2005, there had never been a season in which more than two teams topped that total.

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Originally published: March 29, 2013. Last Updated: March 29, 2013.