Originally, this post was going to be about the San Francisco Giants starting rotation – with Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito, the Giants are going to rack up a ton of strikeouts. I wondered how they would compare to other recent pitching staffs in K/9, and started to look at the leading teams in strikeout rate over the years. I quickly noticed a trend.
Year, #1 Team In K/9, K/9 Rate
2001 – Chicago Cubs, 8.42 K/9
2002 – Chicago Cubs, 8.32 K/9
2003 – Chicago Cubs, 8.68 K/9
2004 – Chicago Cubs, 8.27 K/9
2005 – Chicago Cubs, 7.85 K/9
2006 – Chicago Cubs, 7.82 K/9
2007 – Chicago Cubs, 7.53 K/9
2008 – Chicago Cubs, 7.84 K/9
The last time the Cubs didn’t lead the majors in strikeout rate was 2000 – they finished 5th.
Granted, strikeout rate is one of the pitching statistics that correlates best from year to year, but it’s not like the Cubs haven’t had significant roster turnover on their staff during this decade. In 2001, it was Kerry Wood, Jason Bere, and Kyle Farnsworth racking up the strikeouts. 2002 saw Matt Clement, Carlos Zambrano, and Mark Prior join the squad. 2003 was similar to ’02, but added Joe Borowski and Mike Remlinger as high strikeout relievers. As Wood and Clement faded away, Ryan Dempster and Mike Wuertz joined the scene. Then came Prior’s demise, but the rise of Rich Hill, Scott Eyre, Will Ohman, and Bob Howry. 2007 brought Ted Lilly and Carlos Marmol. 2008 was all about Rich Harden.
That’s eight years of league leading strikeout rate, with nearly wholesale turnover of the pitching staff during that time. That’s pretty remarkable. It is clear that the Cubs value pitchers who can generate swinging strikes and eschew a pitch to contact philosophy, but valuing something and maintaining a stranglehold on the league lead are two different things.
Eventually, the Cubs will fall from their perch. They’re not going to lead the majors in strikeout rate forever. However, with a projected rotation of Zambrano, Harden, Dempster, Lilly, and Marshall/Heilman, they are geared up for another run at it. Can they hold off the Giants addition of the The Big Unit? It will be fun to find out.
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