Why the Single-Season Hitter Strikeouts Record Will Be the Next to Fall in MLB

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Why the Single-Season Hitter Strikeouts Record Will Be the Next to Fall in MLB
Harry How/Getty Images
Back in 2009, when he was a Diamondback, Mark Reynolds did this 223 times.

Have you seen what Houston Astros slugger Chris Carter is doing these days?

No, not those 15 homers.

Try those 108 strikeouts.

The 26-year-old has racked up the most swing-and-misses in baseball. By a good amount, too, as Carter is about 10 strikeouts ahead of a handful of hitters in the Swiss-cheese stick department through Friday games.

In fact, Carter is on pace for 219 strikeouts, which means he could whiff his way to the record set by Mark Reynolds, who struck out 223 times in 2009.

Carter could very well top that, uh, "mark," especially since the last-place Astros are making sure to give him plenty of plate appearances at first base, outfield and designated hitter. Carter has split his playing time at those three spots pretty evenly, which is helping him stay in the lineup every day, despite the holes in his swing.

But it's not just Carter. The rise of the strikeout is a sport-wide epidemic, and that's the reason the single-season hitter strikeout record will be the next big one to fall.

What's also interesting is that, despite the increase in strikeouts across baseball in recent seasons, there's yet to be a season with more than one 200-strikeout hitter.

That could change soon, too.

Bob Levey/Getty Images
Memo to Chris Carter: It's hard enough for you to make contact when the bat is in your hands.

Consider the following...

  1. The five highest single-season strikeout totals, all north of 200, have happened, amazingly enough, in the past five seasons, with one coming each year, per Baseball Reference.
  2. Of the 33 occasions in which a player whiffed 180 or more times, only six occurred prior to the 2000 season, per Baseball Reference.
  3. The first time the league-wide strikeout-per-nine rate passed the 7.0/9 barrier was in 2010, and it's increased every year since, with 2013 and 2012 currently tied at 7.56 K/9, per FanGraphs.
  4. The first season in which the league-wide strikeout percentage—that is, the percentage of all plate appearances that end in a strikeout—crossed 18.0 percent was 2009, and that has increased every year since, too, with 2013 and 2012 tied at 19.8 percent, per FanGraphs.

That last point, in particular, is rather incredible: One out of every five batters who steps to the plate is going to be sent back to the dugout, bat in hand.

Is it any wonder, then, that someone, whether it's Carter or Dan Uggla (99 strikeouts) or Mike Napoli (98) or Jay Bruce (97)—or any of a host of other all-or-nothing types, really—will strike out 224 times?

Or more.

Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Adam Dunn is one of three players with four 180-K seasons in MLB history.

And there may be an even better chance that we see two 200-strikeout "Kampaigns" in the same season for the first time ever.

After all, we haven't even mentioned yet that the notorious Reynolds has struck out 91 times to this point. Or that other kings of swing-and-miss Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard and Pedro Alvarez have each whiffed 89 times this year, too.

All this, of course, raises the question: Why are strikeouts such an epidemic these days?

Sure, there's been a mindset shift to the point where whiffs are now considered acceptable, whereas in previous eras, a strikeout was considered an embarrassing no-no. But that's more anecdotal evidence.

What about cold, hard data?

When will Mark Reynolds' record of 223 strikeouts in a season fall?

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Well, for starters, pitchers are throwing harder than ever. The league-wide average velocity in 2013, per FanGraphs, is 91.7 miles per hour. That number has trended upward since this sort of thing started being tracked by PITCHf/x in 2007.

There are also more reliever specialists, meaning more righty-righty and lefty-lefty matchups late in games, which results in less frequent contact by a hitter who the opposing team can exploit by using an arm from the same side.

To that same point, baseball decision-makers have gotten smarter over the past decade or so. Thanks to the prevalence of sabermetrics and statistical advancements in front offices, teams are now better-equipped to make sure that they have the edge as often as possible.

And how about these last two?

One, hitters are sporting a 9.2 SwStr%—meaning, the percentage of total pitches a batter swings and misses on—which is the third-highest rate since the stat started being tracked in 2002, per FanGraphs.

And two, pitchers are throwing first-pitch strikes at a historically high rate. In fact, at 60.3 percent, it's higher than 60 percent for the first time. Ever.

Or, at least, since the data has been tabulated from 2002, again according to FanGraphs.

Basically, it won't be long before someone strikes out 224 times. Or 225. Or 230.

It could be Carter. It could be Dunn. Heck, it could be Reynolds, breaking his very own mark. 

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