Thursday, March 08, 2012

Who is the Tigers All-time Strikeout Leader?

Who is the best strikeout pitcher the Tigers have ever had?  One simple answer might be Justin Verlander who has the most strikeouts per nine innings of any Tigers pitcher with at least 500 career innings.  Verlander also holds the Tigers single-season record with 10.1 K/ 9 IP in 2009.  While his strikeout rate has been excellent by any standard, it's not fair to compare him to pitchers who pitched in earlier eras where strikeout rates were lower across the board.   

As you can see in Figure 1 below, there has been a great deal of variation in strikeout rates throughout baseball history.  Rates range from 2.7 in 1924 to an all-time high of 7.1 in 2011.  Some credit has to go to modern pitchers, who have more pitches and more information about opposing batters than ever before.  However, much of the variation is likely due to the way batters approach the game.  In earlier decades, batters were more interested on making contact, whereas today there is more focus on swinging for the fences.




Data Source: Baseball-Reference.com

 Regardless of the reasons for the wildly different strikeout rates, it is a challenge to compare pitchers from different eras.  For example, when Tommy Bridges struck out 138 batters in 245 innings in 1937, his 5.1 K9 was fifth best in the American League.  That was an impressive rate in a league where pitchers averaged only 3.7 strikeouts per game.  Conversely, Rick Porcello punched out batters at the same rate in 2011, but it was a disappointing  total in a league with a 7.1 average.

Fortunately, Raphy at High Heat Stats has come up with a way to make it easier to compare strikeout rates of pitchers from different eras.  He normalized strikeout totals for all seasons of pitchers with 1,000 or more innings pitched using a measure similar to ERA+.  The difference is that it's for strikeouts rather than ERA.  I will call it K+.  I will now apply his work to Tigers pitchers selecting only the seasons they pitched for Detroit.

I'll explain how K+ is calculated using Verlander's 2009 season as an example.  First copute the expected number of strikeouts for an average pitcher working the same number of innings as Verlander (240).  To do that, multiply league strikeouts per inning (.763) by 240 yielding 183 expected strikeouts.  Then divide Verlander's' actual strikeout total (269) by his expected total (183) to get 1.47.  Finally, multiply 1.47 by 100 to arrive at a K+ of 147.  In other words, Verlander's strikeout rate was 47% better than league average.  

To get a career total, first sum expected strikeouts across all of Verlander's seasons (985).  Then divide his career actual strikeouts (1215) by  985 and arrive at a career K+ of 123.  Figure 2 below shows that the Tigers current ace ranks ninth on the Tigers all-time list.  The leader is Bridges at 154 followed by Prince Hal Newhouser (146) and reliever John Hiller (145).

Figure 2:  Tigers All-Time K+ Leaders

Pitcher
IP
Actual K
Expected K
K+
Tommy Bridges
2,826
1,674
1,090
154
Hal Newhouser
2,944
1,770
1,205
147
John Hiller
1,242
1,036
714
145
Ted Gray
1,111
676
476
142
Virgil Trucks
1,801
1,046
766
137
Jim Bunning
1,867
1,406
1,051
134
Mickey Lolich
3,362
2,679
2,076
129
Joe Coleman
1,408
1,000
808
124
Justin Verlander
1,315
1,215
985
123
Billy Hoeft
1,325
783
656
119
Schoolboy Rowe
1,445
662
557
119
Earl Whitehill
2,171
838
722
116
Bill Donovan
2,137
1,079
946
114
Dizzy Trout
2,592
1,199
1,053
114
Jack Morris
3,043
1,980
1,750
113

Data source: Baseball-Reference.com

Raphy explains that we can go one step further and calculate Adjusted Strikeouts which give a pitcher credit for his innings workload.  What he does is estimate the strikeout total a pitcher would have assuming that the league average strikeouts per inning was .531 (the all-time MLB rate) every year.  The Adjusted K total is found by multiplying a player’s career IP by his K+ and then by .531.  In Verlander's case, that comes to 861 Adjusted K.

The all-time Tigers Adjusted K leaders are shown in Figure 3.  Bridges (2.304) narrowly beat out Mickey Lolich (2,302) and Newhouser (2,293) making him the Tigers all-time strikeout king in both rate and counting statistics.

Figure 3: Tigers All-Time Adjusted Strikeout Leaders

Pitcher
IP
Actual K
Expected K
Adjusted K
Tommy Bridges
2,826
1,674
1,090
2,304
Mickey Lolich
3,362
2,679
2,076
2,302
Hal Newhouser
2,944
1,770
1,205
2,294
Jack Morris
3,043
1,980
1,750
1,827
Hooks Dauss
3,391
1,201
1,239
1,745
George Mullin
3,394
1,380
1,468
1,693
Dizzy Trout
2,592
1,199
1,053
1,566
Earl Whitehill
2,171
838
722
1,337
Jim Bunning
1,867
1,406
1,051
1,326
Virgil Trucks
1,801
1,046
766
1,305
Bill Donovan
2,137
1,079
946
1,294
Frank Lary
2,009
1,031
1,096
1,003
John Hiller
1,242
1,036
714
956
Denny McLain
1,593
1,150
1,042
933
Joe Coleman
1,408
1,000
808
925

Data source: Baseball-Reference.com

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