Friday, September 18, 2015

The Game's Biggest Whiffers

Any batter who swings for the fences is bound to strike out fairly often--it's an unavoidable fact. On the road to 700-plus lifetime homers, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds were victimized by opposing pitchers more than 1,300 times apiece. Reggie Jackson--considered by many to be the most reliable October slugger in history--struck out 70 times in postseason play while generating 33 extra-base hits (18 of them homers). Everyone loves the long ball and it seems that GM's and managers are willing to tolerate high strikeout totals in exchange for homers and RBIs. 

But how many strikeouts are too much? 

Of all the ways to be retired, a strikeout is the least productive. A guy who whiffs a lot is consistently failing to advance base runners. And though a healthy number of walks might help offset high strikeout totals, there's a point where the cost of a strikeout exceeds the potential benefits. The following men helped raise the bar for futility at the plate over the course of their careers.

Jake Stahl (1903-1913)
A .261 lifetime hitter, Stahl led the American League in homers while playing for the Red Sox in 1910. He would later serve as a player/manager during Boston's championship season of 1912. In an era when players were encouraged to make contact with the ball, Stahl was an accomplished strikeout artist. He led the league three times in that category, gathering more than 80 K's in six of his nine major league seasons. His 128 strikeouts in 1910 were a record at the time. He was the only player in the majors to reach the century mark that year.

Vince DiMaggio (1937-1946)
The oldest and least heralded of the three DiMaggio brothers, Vince enjoyed a few good slugging seasons in the late-thirties/early-forties. He put up double digit homer totals in seven of his nine seasons while driving-in 75 or more runs four times. He also led the NL in strikeouts on six occasions, peaking at 134 in 1938--a new single-season record. 

Jim Lemon (1950-1963)
 Lemon was among the Senators top run producers for a considerable stretch. Between 1956 and 1960, he clubbed no fewer than 26 homers four times while driving-in at least 64 runs each year. His production came at a rather high price as he finished among the top five in strikeouts for four straight seasons. In '56, he broke Vince DiMaggio's record with 138 K's. Over the course of his career, Lemon averaged one whiff per every 4 at-bats.            

Dave Nicholson (1960-1967)
Few people remember outfielder Dave Nicholson. During his seven years in the majors, he played for four different clubs and never appeared in more than 126 games in a season. He reached the peak of his offensive potential with the White Sox in 1963, tying for the team lead in homers with 22. On the downside, he broke Harmon Killebrew's single-season record for strikeouts with 175. He retired with an average of 1 strikeout per every 3 at-bats. 

Bobby Bonds (1968-1981)
For a good portion of his career, Bonds served as a leadoff man, combining speed with power. He was a member of the 30/30 club five times. He also captured three gold Gloves. But despite his many talents, he was vulnerable to the strikeout. He whiffed more than 100 times in seven consecutive seasons from '69-'75. In 1969, he set a new strikeout record with 187 K's. The following year, he raised the bar by two--a mark that would stand into the twenty-first century.

Adam Dunn (2001-2014) 
There are few hitters who have whiffed with more regularity than Dunn. A giant of a man at 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, he strung together five consecutive 40-homer seasons from 2004-2008. He reached the century mark  in RBIs on six occasions. Though Dunn drew quite a few walks--leading the league twice in that category--his strikeout totals are mind-blowing. He whiffed no fewer than 159 times during twelve of his fourteen seasons, averaging one K per every 3 at-bats. He broke Bobby Bonds strikeout record in 2004 and would have reset the mark multiple times had Ryan Howard and Mark Reynolds not beaten him to the punch.

Ryan Howard (2004-Present)
A prototypical slugger at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Howard was Rookie of the Year in 2004 and MVP the following year. He reached the 30 homer/100 RBI plateau in six straight seasons with the Phillies. He also held the single-season strikeout record briefly when he was victimized 199 times in 2007. Still active at the time of this writing, Howard was averaging 1 whiff per every 3 at-bats during his career. 

Mark Reynolds (2007-Present)
Reynolds has spent ample portions of his career at first and third base, fielding both positions below the league average. Though his offensive numbers have dropped off over the past two seasons, he was a top run producer for the Diamondbacks and Orioles between 2008-2012, averaging 33 homers and 88 RBIs per year. In that same span, he carved a small niche in the annals of baseball history with his high strikeout totals. For three straight seasons, Reynolds struck out more than 200 times, setting the all-time single-season mark in 2009 with 223. At the time of this writing, he was playing for the Cardinals and averaging one strikeout for every 3 at-bats during his career.


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