Preston: Super-low strikeout pitchers of the 1970s and ’80s

From SABR member J.G. Preston at The J.G. Preston Experience on December 3, 2013:

Strikeouts are at an historic level in the major leagues. In 2013 American League pitchers struck out a league-record 7.65 batters per nine innings; the National League record of 7.69 was set in 2012. (The NL dropped to 7.49 this past season, a number that’s been topped only by the two previously mentioned.)

It wasn’t that long ago (at least in the mind of this 55-year-old) that these numbers not only weren’t “average,” they were off the charts. No pitcher who qualified for the ERA title reached 7.69 strikeouts per nine innings in the National League in 1974 or 1977, nor in the American League in 1980 or 1981 (after Nolan Ryan left the league; Ryan was the only AL pitcher who topped that mark in 1972, 1973, 1977 and 1979).

Len Barker led the AL with 6.83 K/9 in 1980; 56 pitchers topped that mark in the major leagues 2013, or 69% of those who qualified for the ERA title. The lowest K/9 rate for a qualifying pitcher in 2013 was Jeremy Guthrie’s 4.72; in 1980, 48 of the 89 qualifying pitchers in the majors — more than half — had lower rates.

In the 1970s and early ’80s there were pitchers who were successful, at least for a limited time, despite extremely low K/9 rates. This article focuses on what I will characterize as “super-low” strikeout rates — below 3.0 K/9.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: December 3, 2013. Last Updated: December 3, 2013.