'Strikeouts are sexy' but these pitchers are succeeding without K's


Nolan Ryan, Major League Baseball’s swing-and-miss king with 5,714 career whiffs, now ranks 10th in history among qualifying starters with an average of 9.55 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s one spot behind Chris Archer.

Greg Maddux, who won 355 games and made it to Cooperstown with 97.2 percent of the vote, averaged 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings over 23 seasons. Active starters Doug Fister, Mike Leake and Jason Vargas are slightly ahead of him in that department.

John Smoltz, Maddux’s fellow Hall of Famer, is 53rd on the career strikeouts-per-nine list. Marco Estrada is 51st.

As strikeout totals soar, they’re changing the nature of the game and leading to rampant inertia. At the same time, all those whiffs have elevated good and even average pitchers into the company of greats in one particular category.

The numbers might create the impression that the savvy “pitch to contact” guy has gone the way of the sacrifice bunt and straight-up infield alignments. But a few pitchers continue to thrive the old-fashioned way: by keeping their fielders alert and fans awake while expressing zero regrets when hitters put the ball in play.

Phillies starter Jake Arrieta, one of the foremost practitioners of the art, recently made news for criticizing the team’s defensive shifts. But Arrieta’s reservations haven’t dissuaded him from trying to make hitters put the ball in play. He has seven fielders behind him, and he thinks it’s in his best interests to make optimal use of them.

“Strikeouts are up, and that’s all people care about,” Arrieta said. “It’s the new thing people are enamored by. But what’s the essence of the game as a pitcher? You’re trying to get people out. I could easily strike more guys out, but I’m trying to get guys out in two pitches. I’m trying to finish the game. That’s the mindset going in.

“If I have a 20- or a 30-pitch inning early in the game, I have to navigate my way through the lineup to get to the seventh or maybe the eighth inning, and if I’m striking out seven or eight guys in deep counts, I’m not going to be able do that. To me, strikeouts don’t directly correlate to success. You can punch out eight or nine a game and give up four or five runs. That’s not what I’m trying to do.”

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