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September 20, 2011

Divide and Conquer, NL West

Thirty-Two Short Films About Aaron Cook

by Geoff Young

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1
Of the 71 active big-league pitchers who have worked at least 1,000 career innings, only Colorado right-hander Aaron Cook (3.8) has a K/9 below 4. The next two lowest, Zach Duke (4.7) and Jon Garland (4.9), also call the NL West home, although unlike Cook, they have not spent their entire careers with one team.

2
If Carlos Silva—who is right at 4 K/9—pitches again, he could join Cook. Not that anyone is excited by the possibility.

3
Cook has pitched 1,307 1/3 innings in his career. The next-highest innings total by an active pitcher with a K/9 below 4 is 104, by Detroit Tigers southpaw Brad Thomas (3.9 K/9).

4
The highest innings total among all active pitchers with a K/9 lower than Cook's is 89 2/3, by his teammate, Greg Reynolds (3.6 K/9).

5
Billy Wagner averaged 11.9 K/9 during his career. If you combined the top single-season strikeout totals of Cook and Wagner, it would look like this:

Rank

Player

Year

SO

IP

1

Wagner

1999

124

74.2

2

Wagner

1997

106

66.1

3

Wagner

2003

105

86.0

4

Wagner

2010

104

69.1

5

Wagner

1998

97

60.0

6

Cook

2008

96

211.1

7

Wagner

2006

94

72.1

8

Cook

2006

92

212.2

9

Wagner

2002

88

75.0

10

Wagner

2005

87

77.2

6
Like Cook, Giants right-hander Matt Cain has spent his entire career with one NL West team. The two men have pitched almost the same number of innings—Cain is at 1,310 through Sunday's 12-5 thrashing of the Rockies, Cook at 1,307 1/3—but Cain has fanned nearly twice as many batters.

7
Cook gains an advantage by facing the opposing pitcher in the National League. Of Cook's 548 strikeouts, 114 (20.7%) have come against his opposite number.

8
Despite pitching in similar conditions—opposing pitchers account for a shade more than seven percent of all plate appearances against both men—Cain has not taken similar advantage, with pitchers accounting for a mere 13.5 percent of his strikeouts.

9
Wagner fanned the opposing pitcher a total of seven times in his career.

10
Cook's top victim is Mark Reynolds (eight), one of the easiest men in history to strike out. Tied for second (seven) are Matt Kemp (who also appears in Cain's top 10) and Chipper Jones (who is Wagner's no. 1).

11
Number three for Cook is former Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon Webb.

12
Cook's finest performance came at Coors Field on July 1, 2008, when he needed just 79 pitches to shut out the San Diego Padres. On recordings, he can be heard humming as he plays.

13
Critics complain that Cook's humming detracts from the work. Others see it as an expression of his joy at performing.

14
That bit about the humming isn't true, but it should be. Cook also should have used a harpsichord. Pitching would be more of a challenge with a harpsichord.

15
Strikeouts in a game, Cook vs. Cain:

SO

Cook

Cain

0

35

1

1-4

178

77

5+

24

108

9+

0

17

16
The last two pitchers to finish their careers with at least 1,000 IP and a K/9 below 4 were Ricky Bones (1991-2001) and Kirk Rueter (1993-2005). Before that, it was fairly common.

17
Given what we know about the evolution of strikeout rates over the years, this isn't surprising. In the 1920s, pitchers averaged fewer than 3 K/9. By the '50s, that number had crept up to the mid-4s. It then hovered in the 5s for a while before pushing above 6 in the '90s.

18
In other words, these may look the same, but they are not:

Player

Years

IP

K/9

Aaron Cook

2002-2011

1,307.1

3.8

Charlie Smith

1902-1914

1,349.1

3.8

Smith, for example, ranked 10th in the American League with a 4.1 K/9 in 1907. One hundred years later, that would have placed him 37th in the AL, behind everyone except Carlos Silva.

19
Ted Lyons, who played for the Chicago White Sox from 1923 to 1946, has the lowest K/9 (2.3) of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame.

20
Lyons was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Several other big-league pitchers have been born there, none known for his ability to put the ball past hitters:

Player

Years

IP

K/9

Ted Lyons

1923-1946

4,161.0

2.3

Wally Hebert

1931-1943

483.2

2.1

Ray Fontenot

1983-1986

493.2

3.9

Chad Ogea

1994-1999

632.2

5.2

Terry Burrows

1994-1997

68.2

4.6

Casey Daigle

2004-2010

71.2

3.8

Wade LeBlanc

2008-2011

279.1

6.2

21
Padres left-hander LeBlanc holds the all-time single-season strikeout record for pitchers born in Lake Charles, with 110 in 2010. He has faced the Rockies six times in his career but never drawn Cook as the opposing starter.

22
Lyons' best single-season strikeout total (74 in 1933) wouldn't crack Wagner's top 10.

23
Cook was born on February 8, 1979. An All-Star team of players born on that date wouldn't do well:

RHP: Aaron Cook
LHP: Fritz Peterson
C: Charlie Householder
1B: Bob Oliver
2B: Don Heffner
3B: Bert Haas
SS: Joe Cassidy
LF: Hoot Evers
CF: Bug Holliday
RF: Willard Marshall

24
Still, there's something to be said for a team that features a Cook, a Householder, a Hoot, and a Bug.

25
One other man from Cook's birthplace of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, has played in the big leagues. Jim Obradovich, a 24th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins in 1967, got into 10 games for the Astros in 1978.

26
Obradovich collected three hits, all against the Padres. His last was a run-scoring triple off Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, who played with Willie McCovey, who played with Dave Philley, who played with Ted Lyons.

27
Perry also played with Jerry Don Gleaton, who played with Denny Neagle, who played with Cook.

28
This is Cook's uniform number. It is also the second perfect number, the third Granville number, a Størmer number, a harmonic divisor number, a happy number, a triangular number, a hexagonal number, a centered nonagonal number, and a Keith number, as well as the atomic mass of silicon and the atomic number of nickel. Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven wore number 28, but probably not for any of the aforementioned reasons.

29
How did we ever live without Wikipedia?

30
Jerry Don Gleaton sounds like the name of some character actor, but it isn't. You're thinking of Joe Don Baker. Don't worry, we all make that mistake.

31
The Rockies selected Cook in the second round of the 1997 draft. Also taken that round: Randy Wolf (Phillies), Scott Linebrink (Giants), Jeff Weaver (White Sox), Rick Ankiel (Cardinals), and Chase Utley (Dodgers). Imagine what the NL West might look like today if the Dodgers had signed Utley.

32
My sincere apologies to François Girard, Glenn Gould, and Johann Sebastian Bach, none of whom ever struck out against Cook.  

Related Content:  The Who,  Aaron Cook

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