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June 3, 2005

Prospectus Matchups

Balking At Walks

by Jim Baker

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By now, you should be aware of the Minnesota Twins' spectacular strikeout-to-walk ratio. If not, you will be by the time you've finished reading this. The Twins are in the process of demolishing the all-time team record set three years ago by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The TCs are no strangers to this territory, though. While 2005's rate is extraordinary, they have fared well enough to rank among the best in baseball the previous three seasons:


2002: 5th
2003: 2nd
2004: 1st

A team with an outstanding ratio isn't really news these days (18 of the 33 best marks ever have come in the last decade), but Minnesota is so far ahead of the curve that it bears discussion.

What follows are capsules of the 10 teams with the best K:BB ratios ever:

3.829 - 2005 Minnesota Twins (314K:82 BB)

Main man: Brad Radke, 50:3
Useful sidekick: Johan Santana, 105:11; Carlos Silva (21:3) and Joe Nathan (27:7) are nicely above team average as well.
Surprising contributor: Radke. This is not to say he hasn't been great up to this point in his career (3.25:1)...but fitty to trey? That's just krazee. The three men who've managed a walk off Radke this year? Carlos Guillen, Mark Teixeira and Lyle Overbay.
Not with the program: Joe Mays (21:13) and J.C. Romero (21:12). Not terrible ratios, but way below average on this club. Four relievers are a combined 26:17, which doesn't help.

3.095 -- 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks (1303:421)

Main man: Curt Schilling, 316:33
Useful sidekick: Randy Johnson, 334:71. The Twins are going to be lucky to strike out 1,000 batters this year, which means they are going for the record from a completely different angle than did the Snakes.
Surprising contributor: Schilling. He'd been good before--even great--but never this great.
Not with the program: Miguel Batista, 112:70

3.045 -- 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers (1084:356)

Main man: Sandy Koufax, 317:77
Useful sidekick: Don Sutton, 209:52 and Don Drysdale, 177:45.
Surprising contributor: Sutton. It's surprising in hindsight in that this was his rookie season and he never registered a ratio this good again, in spite of going on to win 324 games. The 1965 season was his first as a pro and he registered a 239:45 ratio at two minor league levels, so his '66 result wasn't shocking at the time.
Not with the program: Ron Perranoski: 50:31. Everyone of note except Perranoski struck out at least twice as many as they walked.

2.984 - 2003 New York Yankees (1119:375)

Main man: Mike Mussina, 195:40
Useful sidekicks: David Wells, 101:20 and Mariano Rivera, 63:10. In a neat trick sure to thrill numerologists the world over, Wells managed the exact same ratio last year with San Diego.
Surprising contributor: Chris Hammond, 45:11. His ratio was about half that good the previous year, the season of his famous comeback with the Braves.
Not with the program: Jeff Weaver, 93:47. Not horrendous, but on a team where the worst ratio among the other starters was by Roger Clemens, it's a matter of context.

2.816 - 2002 New York Yankees (1135:403)

Main man: Mike Mussina, 182:48
Useful sidekick: Roger Clemens: 192:63
Surprising contributor: Andy Pettitte. Sort of, anyway; he had an even better ratio the year before but had struggled in this department in 1999-2000.
Not with the program: Mike Stanton, 44:28. Randy Choate was just 17:15 in limited duty.

2.813 - 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks (1297:461)

Main man: Randy Johnson, 372:71
Useful sidekick: Curt Schilling, 293:39. We're giving Johnson the top spot this time because he struck out over 37% of the batters he faced in 2001. Only Pedro Martinez in 1999 struck out a greater percentage of the batters he faced.
Surprising contributor: Albie Lopez, 69:24. Lopez wasn't this good with the Devil Rays earlier in the year, was never this good before 2001 and was never this good afterwards.
Not with the program: Quite a few. This was the team famed for "Schilling, Johnson and flick the Ronson," after all. Robert Ellis was 41:34 in 17 starts.

2.795 - 1994 Montreal Expos (805:288)

Main man: Pedro Martinez, 142:45
Useful sidekick: Jeff Fassero, 119:40. The bullpen was especially helpful. John Wetteland, Mel Rojas, Jeff Shaw and Gil Heredia all contributed ratios way over the team average.
Surprising contributor: Butch Henry, 70:20. This was Henry's best season in terms of K/9 and BB/9.
Not with the program: Ken Hill, 85:44. By default, really--this was a great pitching staff.

2.761 - 1996 Atlanta Braves (1245:451)

Main man: Greg Maddux, 172:28
Useful sidekick: John Smoltz: 276:55. It's not often a 5:1 ratio gets a pitcher relegated to sidekick status, and you could probably make the case that Smoltz was the main man and Maddux the sidekick based on quantity. Mark Wohlers scored at 100:21 as the closer.
Surprising contributor: Pedro Borbon, 31:7. This was twice as good as the year before in about the same small sample size. Brad Woodall chipped in with a 20:4 ratio in a cup of coffee.
Not with the program: Jason Schmidt was 48:32 before being shipped to the Pirates and never being heard from again.

2.750 - 1967 Minnesota Twins (1089:396)

Main man: Jim Kaat, 211:42
Useful sidekick: Jim Merritt (161:30) and Dean Chance (220:68).
Surprising contributor: Chance cut his walk total by a third while pitching 24 more innings. He also added 40 whiffs from '66.
Not with the program: Dave Boswell, 204:107. Boswell is the only man on any of these top 10 teams to have walked more than 100 men. Jim Roland was 16:17. For what it's worth, this team used basically 10 pitchers all year and six of them were named Jim: Kaat, Merritt, Jim Grant--better known as Mudcat--Jim Perry (who was in a mid-career lull), Jim Ollom and Roland.

2.741 - 1990 New York Mets (1217:444)

Main man: David Cone, 233:65
Useful sidekick: Dwight Gooden, 223:70. Frank Viola was also over 3:1.
Surprising contributor: Wally Whitehurst was 46:9.
Not with the program: Bob Ojeda, 62:40

Strike years excepted, the 375 walks allowed by the 2003 Yankee team has been the fewest of the recent past. That the 2005 Twins have a shot at paring over 100 passes off that total is startling. Here are the 10 lowest team walks allowed totals ever:


233: 1904 Boston Americans
245: 2005 Twins (projected)
255: 1906 Chicago White Sox
257: 1933 Cincinnati Reds
276: 1932 Cincinnati Reds
280: 1920 Pittsburgh Pirates
284: 1908 Chicago White Sox
285: 1906 Boston Americans
285: 1904 Cleveland Naps
288: 1908 New York Giants

This is what one might call a great leap forward. The Twins are an outlier team of extreme proportions. Cut them a break for playing eight more games and we find that they are walking about as many batters per game as did those '04 Pilgrims (who were led by Cy Young). That Boston team is also an outlier in its own right--the only club that did not play in the '60s or since 1987 that managed a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.5:1 or better. Their record of 2.67:1 held until 1963 when the Dodgers broke it. Now, with strikeouts growing more and more frequent, they have fallen to 19th place and will continue to drop yearly.

Tom Gorman contributed research to this column.

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