The Worst Relative Strikeout Season Ever

In the past, while researching pitchers that had started team’s Opening Day games, I came across the name Glenn Abbott. Abbott had been the Mariners’ Opening Day starter a few times including in 1979, the team’s third year in existence. During that season, Abbott would go on to be pretty awful over 518 batters faced. Notably, he struck out just 25 hitters that year, a 4.8% strikeout rate that I found fascinating in its ineptness.

Late last week however, Jeff Sullivan reminded me of the 2003 Detroit Tigers and a Lookout Landing reader noted Nate Cornejo’s season that year in which Cornejo fanned a mere 46 hitters over a larger 842 batter sample. Amazingly, Cornejo netted 1.9 WAR that year. Cornejo’s strikeout rate was superior to Abbott’s by a touch, but it struck me that because of the changing nature of the game, with strikeouts more frequent in 2003 than in 1979, that Cornejo’s season was perhaps worthier of enshrining.

Once I arrived there, I had to complete the dig. And so it was time to turn to Retrosheet and some database work. The absolute worst strikeout season, viewed against the league average, had to be found and I was going to do it. The process was actually simple. For each year beginning in 1916 and going through 2011, I computed the league average strikeout rate (per batter faced) and then went about finding the pitcher in each season with the worst overall rate. Take that list and sort it by the relative rate (the pitcher’s rate divided by the league’s rate) and you have the all time worst season.

At first I set the batters faced cut off at 250 and at that level there is a clear winner (loser?). Baseball fans, meet Ted Wingfield and his 1927 season for the Boston Red Sox.

Pitcher Year Tm G GS BB HBP SO BF IP H R ER ERA
Wingfield 1927 BOS 20 8 27 3 1 346 74.2 105 60 42 5.06

I anticipate little disagreement that over that many batters faced, it’s difficult to surpass a single strikeout. For the record, the MLB strikeout rate in 1927 was 7.3%, so Wingfield’s 0.3% was just 4% of the league rate.

Two hundred and fifty is a low cut off though. After all, Cornejo is the inspiration here and he pitched a full season so I upped it to 650 batters and found Bill Beckmann. In 1939 as a31-year-old rookie with the Athletics, Beckmann posted this stat line.

Pitcher Year Tm G GS BB HBP SO BF IP H R ER ERA
Beckmann 1939 PHI 27 19 41 1 20 692 155.1 198 104 93 5.39

After Beckmann is Slim Sallee in 1919 who had one of the rare feats of appearing on these lists and yet still being quite successful. Sallee didn’t strikeout much of anyone, just 24 of 893 batters, but he also didn’t walk much of anyone either with just 21 free passes allowed via walk or hit batsman.

Right after Sallee is Cornejo’s 2003 season, easily the worst mark since World War II. However, he almost didn’t get to keep this dubious honor for long. Kirk Rueter in 2004 came close to matching Cornejo’s penchant for no strikeouts and amazingly, Rueter got another shot in 2005 and almost blew right past Cornejo that year. He had just 25 strikeouts in 2005 but only faced 489 batters. At his rate, he would have ended up with just 30% of the 2005 league rate, markedly worse than Cornejo’s 33% figure in 2003, worse than Sallee in 1919 and Beckmann in 1939. Kirk Rueter’s 2005 was on pace to be the worst relative strikeout season ever.

Tomorrow will see the other side, with the best seasons ever, but for now which one of these is the worst? All of the above are fair designations for the title of worst ever. It’s ultimately dependent on where you set the cutoff. Personally though, Ted Wingfield’s one strikeout stands out the most to me.



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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


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Pat G
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Pat G
4 years 7 months ago

I wonder who earned the dubious title of “Only guy Wingfield struckout this season” in 1927

RationalSportsFan
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4 years 7 months ago

Using Baseball_Reference, it looks like either Max Bishop (awesome superhero name), Chick Galloway (only in the ’20s), or Lefty Grove (I sure hope his only K was vs a pitcher).

Mike Rogers
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

Damn, I was wrong. Overlooked the bottom of the order/figured Wingfield started the game. So yes, either Bishop, Galloway, or Grove. Good catch, sir.

JimNYC
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JimNYC
4 years 7 months ago

I would kind of doubt it’s Max Bishop — Bishop was known for having one of the best batting eyes of the era. Possibly ever, if you think about it — not many other guys with OBP’s 57 points higher than their SLG over their careers.

Eirias
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Eirias
4 years 7 months ago

Baseball Library has Ted Wingfield striking out Chick Galloway with 2 outs in the sixth inning of the Sox-A’s game in 1927.

http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=Ted_Wingfield&page=chronology

Mike Rogers
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4 years 7 months ago

It was in Wingfield’s third-to-last start in 1927 against the Philadelphia A’s. Max Bishop led off and played 2B for the A’s and went 0-for-3 with 2 BB’s, 1 K, and 2 runs scored.

Bishop posted a 113 wRC+ that year and the following year exploded for a 133 wRC+ which was his career high.

For more perspective, Bishop and Tigers great Charlie Gerhinger both had 113 wRC+’s, so Wingfield K’d a mid-tier second baseman.

joser
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joser
4 years 7 months ago

It came in this game vs Philadelphia A’s on August 10. Wingfield pitched just 3 innings in relief; we don’t have detailed play-by-play records for ’27 (AFAIK), so we have to make an educated guess. There were 3 A’s struck out in the game: Chick Galloway, Max Bishop, and — my bet — HoF pitcher Lefty Grove. It almost certainly wasn’t Galloway, who had only 9 SO that entire year (in 205 PA); Bishop had 28 SO, but in 489 PA. Grove meanwhile had 30 SO in just 97 PA. So, yeah, my money’s on the opposing pitcher. (He didn’t get into the HoF because of his bating.)

Slacker George
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Slacker George
4 years 7 months ago

I know it was different years and leagues, but it would have been so perfect had the only K been of Moonlight Graham.

hmk
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hmk
4 years 7 months ago

do an article next on the fewest walks in a season. carlos silva 2005!!

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 7 months ago

Nate Cornejo was ranked the 55th best prospect in baseball in 2002. Anyone know what the hell happened?

Colin
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Colin
4 years 7 months ago

In sum, he wasn’t actually very good…..also he was the ugliest man I have seen in pro baseball. All in all it would seem he had a pretty unfortunate life until I remember that, unlike myself, he got to play pro baseball…

RationalSportsFan
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4 years 7 months ago

His alopecia couldn’t have helped your grading of his looks, either.

Mike
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Mike
4 years 7 months ago

Ugliest man in pro baseball? He wasn’t even the ugliest Tiger. How quickly we forget about Chris Shelton.

DonM
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DonM
4 years 7 months ago

Don Mossi.

Anon
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Anon
4 years 7 months ago

Nice artice.

Hopefully, tomorrow’s article isn’t the last like this one.
It would be great if this turned into a series looking at how MLB has changed over time.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
4 years 7 months ago

I agree 100%

Johnny Slick
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Johnny Slick
4 years 7 months ago

So, question… I play a certain micromanagement-intensive baseball sim whose name rhymes with “MOOTP Baseball” and one thing that I’ve noticed is that in the 20s and 30s at least it’s still possible for a pitcher to strike out very, very few people but still be somewhat effective (i.e. still as much as a win or so above replacement level) if they also keep the ball down and have good control. How much does/did that happen in real life? Is there some point at which a pitcher’s complete lack of ability to miss bats encourages hitters to take bigger and bigger hacks, thus increasing HR/FB and perhaps BABIP?

James
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James
4 years 7 months ago

I suspect standard deviations below league average or some other statistic is probably the proper way to identify the relatively worse season ever (although it may arrive at the same result)…. Someone else on here who hasn’t lost their statistics knowledge may have the correct answer.

Everett
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Everett
4 years 7 months ago

You’re correct, but this is probably close enough for our purposes.

Stuart
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Stuart
4 years 7 months ago

You would only gain information on how rare such a season would be (how many sigmas). For determining what the absolute worst strikeout season relative to average it isn’t necessary.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
4 years 7 months ago

I love this article, looking back at the idiosyncrasies and just plain crazy statistics in baseball history is one of the things that makes baseball so enjoyable. I suspect the opposite of this low strikeout season will be Randy Johnson, Randy Johnson or Randy Johnson.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
4 years 7 months ago

Wow, this guy Ted Wingfield threw 553 IP and faced 2,426 batters in his career and struck out a total of 68!!

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
4 years 7 months ago

Wingfield also once threw three consecutive complete games, won all three, gave up a total of 4 earned runs in those three games and sruck out ZERO batters!!!!

Barry Zito
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Barry Zito
4 years 7 months ago

How do you strike out 1 batter in 346 batters? That’s mindboggling. Unless he was throwing batting practice I can’t believe it. Even Johnny Damon pitching could strike out more people than that. What happened? Maybe every time he got 2 strikes he’d throw one right over the middle of the plate at 50 mph?

phoenix2042
Member
Member
phoenix2042
4 years 7 months ago

nick swisher has pitched exactly one inning, issuing one walk and getting one strike out. pretty sure anyone can get a K… except for wingfield!

TK
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TK
4 years 7 months ago

Ted Wingfield’s FIP in that season was better than A.J. Burnett’s last year.

Lack of a heart
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Lack of a heart
4 years 7 months ago

You, sir, are deserving of high praise indeed

Keystone Heavy
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Keystone Heavy
4 years 7 months ago

I don’t want to see the best strikeout rate seasons ever! I want to see some funny inept baseball milestones!

Ted Wingfield is a hero. When you have three times more HBP as Ks in a season, you deserve to be somwhat of a cult icon amoung baseball circles. And the 18 unearned runs in 20 appearences (just under 75 innings)! He had a career K/9 of 1.11, but in 1923 he faced 3 batters and struck one of them out!

In fact Mr. Carruth, why don’t you write an article on the worst realative unearned runs allowed by a pitcher in MLB history. Or worst relative HBP percentages in history. There has got to be something more entertaining than good strikeout rates. Everyone knows the historically good players. Good in history gets boring. Lets see some weird in history.

Matt Defalco
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Matt Defalco
4 years 7 months ago

This article was a fantastic read. I will be sorely disappointed if this sort of “anomaly searching” doesn’t become a weekly thing! Baseball keeps stats of everything for a reason!

JKB
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JKB
4 years 7 months ago

Great article, you made my lunch hour. This is exactly what I love about baseball, data mining 100 years of history.

tz
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tz
4 years 7 months ago

Wingfield’s 1 strikeout season is amazing. However, I still think the best is Lou Boudreau’s MVP line from 1948:

Wins Above Replacement: 11.4
Strikeouts: 9 (!!!)

kyd-a
Member
kyd-a
3 years 6 months ago

Corey Lee was a pitcher of the same magnitude.Unrecognized, he is as many pitchers who’ve pitched in the Majors since the 1920’s. He had a low strikeout rate in 2008. It’s for me moronic that no articles exist on him. All I find is of the Texas Rangers bust Corey Lee.

Alex "The kyd" Ojeda
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Alex "The kyd" Ojeda
3 years 5 months ago

Another was John Oldham, relatively obscure.

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