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July 5, 2013

Overthinking It

Getting to Know the New Insane Strikeout Rate Relievers

by Ben Lindbergh


Here’s a stat about strikeouts: The percentage of 50-plus-inning relievers who struck out a batter per inning in 1990 was lower than the percentage who struck out 12 per nine innings in 2012. Remember the Reds’ “Nasty Boys” bullpen of Rob Dibble, Randy Myers, and Norm Charlton? They were three of only eight relievers with a K/9 of at least 9.0 in 1990. Relative to average, Dibble’s 12.5 K/9 that season was more impressive than, say, Aroldis Chapman’s league-leading 15.1 in 2013. But 15.1 is such an astounding number that it commands the attention anyway. Strikeout rates are rising too fast for the baselines in our brains to keep up.

Every season, a new crop of relievers arrives and astonishes us with their strikeout prowess. Some are promising rookie relief prospects who throw a million miles per hour and were expected to miss many bats. Others are rookies who’ve exceeded expectations, and still others are veterans whose latent strikeout powers were never suspected before they surfaced this season.

The following 10 pitchers have thrown at least 10 innings in relief and struck out (approximately) everyone, without any prior insane strikeout rate seasons.* There are other eye-popping relief lines that come with more modest strikeout rates, but those won’t appear in this article. As wonderful as it is that soft-tossing 26-year-old Twins rookie Caleb Thielbar, whom we discussed on Effectively Wild last week, has started his career with 16 2/3 scoreless innings, he’s also struck out under eight batters per nine innings, walked almost four, and given up a lot of fly balls. You can enjoy the fact that none of his batted balls has been a homer and that very few of his batted balls have been hits, but not without a sense of impending doom that sort of spoils the small-sample success. The higher the strikeout rate, the lower the flash-in-the-pan potential, so some of these guys might have a slightly longer life expectancy than the typical non-Rivera reliever.

1. Shawn Kelley, Yankees (13.1 K/9, 31.0 IP)

Strikeout pitch: Slider (44.3 percent whiff/swing rate)

Strikeout pitch video:

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Related Content:  Pitching,  Relievers,  Strikeouts

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Fantasy Article Fantasy Starting Pitch... (07/05)
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