Saturday, January 10, 2015

Best Power Pitchers

With the recent, near-unanimous election of Randy Johnson to the Hall of Fame, I started thinking about power pitchers. After all, Johnson blew into Cooperstown the same way he blew away batters. But was he the best power pitcher of all-time? It's close, but I don't think so.

The candidates (based purely on strikeouts and K/9):

Nolan Ryan
The Ryan Express fanned an unfathomable 5,714 hitters over the course of his 27-career. He also holds the single-season record with 383 whiffs in 1973, a record that seems unlikely to ever be broken in the age of five-man rotations (Ryan completed 326 innings that year). Ryan won 11 strikeout titles and led the league in K/9 a dozen times. His 6.6 H/9 rate is also the best of all-time.

Randy Johnson
Johnson's 4,875 strikeouts are second-highest all-time and most ever for a lefty. He won nine strikeout titles (10 including 1998, when he switched leagues midway through the season), topping 300 in a season seven times and 290 three other times. Eight times he had the highest strikeout rate in baseball, and his 10.6 K/9 rate is the best of all-time. Had the Big Unit pitched as many innings as Ryan, he would have totaled 6,349 strikeouts.

Roger Clemens
Clemens is third on the all-time list with 4,672 punchouts. Rocket led the league in that statistic five times and three times had the highest strikeout rate. Though he never reached 300 strikeouts in a single season, he surpassed 200 12 times.

Bob Feller
Even before missing four prime seasons to World War II, Feller's legacy as one of the all-time great power pitchers was secure. The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa) paced the majors in strikeouts in the four seasons before the war and in the three seasons immediately after, including a record 348 in 1946 (since broken). Rapid Robert also led the loop in K/9 five times, and when he retired in 1956 only Cy Young and Walter Johnson had accumulated more strikeouts. Unlike the others, who all remained great pitchers deep into their 30s and 40s, he peaked very early and never won a strikeout title after turning 30. His lack of longevity will hurt him in these rankings.

Walter Johnson
Johnson was like the Babe Ruth of pitchers, with strikeouts instead of home runs. The Big Train won eight consecutive strikeout crowns from 1912-1919 and a dozen in all. He had the Junior Circuit's highest K/9 rate seven times. True, those were the days when 150 strikeouts were enough to lead the league, but Johnson regularly exceeded 200 during his prime (seven straight years from 1910 to 1916) and even topped 300 twice. 300 strikeouts back then would be equivalent to around 500 today. He retired second in strikeouts behind the one and only Cy Young. Of course, much of Johnson's best years came during the deadball era, so I have to discount his statistics significantly. Once the live ball was introduced in 1920, he wasn't nearly as dominant, though I'm sure age and insane workloads had something to do with that as well.

The list:
1. Ryan
2. R. Johnson
3. W. Johnson
4. Clemens
5. Feller

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