by Joe Giglio
Baseball is famous for having clubs. Over the years, it has become a rite of passage for all-time greats or one-year wonders to infiltrate these clubs.
Of course, some are more famous and noteworthy than others. The 300-win club has long signified the best starting pitchers of all-time. While wins have been devalued in recent years, it’s hard to find anyone that doesn’t respect what it takes to get there. The 500-home run club has also lost some of its luster due to the steroid era and inflated long ball statistics, but it’s still an exclusive group. As for individual seasons, the power-speed combo has always fascinated fans. The 30/30 -- home runs and steals -- is an excellent barometer, with the the 40/40 club being the ultimate benchmark.
But what about a yearly pitching club? From ERA+ to FIP, the way we evaluate pitchers has changed over time. Of course, that’s a good thing for the game. It makes considerably more sense to look at how a pitcher is contributing to victories rather than solely looking at the ‘W’ column next to his name. While advance metrics are a welcome addition to the pitching debate, there are still two raw numbers that signify consistency and excellence among starters in 2012: Innings and strikeouts.
*The idea for this column was hatched while watching Bud Norris dominate the Cardinals in a meaningful September game earlier this week. Norris isn’t close to a household name, but he is a K machine. His 8.93 K/9 ranks him near the top of all starters. While his 162.1 IP will keep him far from the 200/200 Club in 2012, he profiles as a guy that can crack the club if he stays healthy and improves. As you are probably thinking, strikeouts have certainly changed over the years.
The 200/200 Club isn’t as exclusive as some of the other groups around baseball. In fact, membership is on the rise. The following is a look at the members from 1999-2011. In addition, the 2012 group is nearly set, with a handful of starters having a chance -- ranging from long shot to likely -- of entering the club during their last start of this season.
As you will see, the group always has members in a given season, but individuals are on the rise. There have always been great, transcendent strikeout artists -- Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens -- accounting for the majority of the seasons. While virtually none of the arms today come close to 300 Ks’ in a year, many more are able to reach 200. K’s are up across rotations, rather than just at the top.
1999: (6) Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Brown, Pedro Astacio, Kevin Millwood, Chuck Finley
2000: (7) Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Chan Ho Park, Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Ryan Dempster, Al Leiter
2001: (8) Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Chan Ho Park, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Javier Vazquez, Barry Zito, Bartolo Colon
2002: (6) Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Kerry Wood, Matt Clement, Roy Oswalt, A.J. Burnett
2003: (6) Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Javier Vazquez, Jason Schmidt, Esteban Loaiza, Roy Halladay
2004: (8) Randy Johnson, Johan Santana, Ben Sheets, Jason Schmidt, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, Curt Schilling
2005: (8) Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, Chris Carpenter, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Brett Myers, Doug Davis, Carlos Zambrano
2006: (6) Johan Santana, Aaron Harang, Jake Peavy, John Smoltz, Carlos Zambrano, Jeremy Bonderman
2007: (7) Jake Peavy, Scott Kazmir, Johan Santana, Aaron Harang, Javier Vazquez, C.C. Sabathia, Daisuke Matsuzaka
2008: (9) Tim Lincecum, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Chad Billingsley, Javier Vazquez
2009: (9) Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke, Javier Vazquez, Jon Lester, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, Roy Halladay
2010: (12) Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, Ryan Dempster
|Cain is 9 K's away from his 1st 200/220 season|
Picture courtesy of US Presswire
As you can see, the year-by-year group numbers are growing. Over the first five years of the study, the group averaged less than seven pitchers per season. Over the last five, that number has jumped to nearly double digits. To put that into perspective, from 1982 through 1993 there was a total of 55 individual 200/200 seasons. That number has nearly been equaled in the last six years by the current group of arms.
As for 2012, seven pitchers (Justin Verlander, R.A. Dickey, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, James Shields, David Price) have already stamped their place in the 200/200 group. Over the final week of the season, six more have a shot to enter. Gio Gonzalez needs to record just two outs in a postseason tune-up start. Yovani Gallardo needs 2 K’s and 1 IP. Zack Greinke needs just three K’s. Cliff Lee needs 2 IP and 5 K. Matt Cain needs 9 K’s. C.C. Sabathia needs a big start -- 8 IP, 10 K -- but could be called on for it if the Yankees are seeking to clinch a postseason berth.
By next week, the group could have it’s highest representation in years. Even with modest expectations, it’s a good bet to see the 200/200 Club reach double digits for the third straight season.
Take this study for what you will, but consider that most -- if not all -- of these arms were developed during the “pitch count” era. While K numbers aren’t as prolific among individuals anymore, many more arms are conditioned to do this. With the rise of excellent young pitching in the minor leagues, expect this group to grow and grow. It’s not crazy to think that upwards of 20 starters can headline this group per season in the near future.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WNST in Baltimore, co-host of the Just a Bit Outside podcast on iTUNES, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.