More Fun With Historical Strikeout Rates

Last week, the A's telecast on CSNCA ran an onscreen graphic that stated that Gio Gonzalez's strikeout rate of 8.90 per nine innings is the highest single season mark in Athletics history. And it's true, in the literal sense—the next best is an 8.80 season by Todd Stottlemyre in 1995. But this is a clear case of numbers being used to distort, rather than inform. Gio has been good, to be sure, but historically good? I don't know about that. Earlier this year, I wrote about how strikeout rates have increased over time, and how you can't compare strikeout rates between eras. For example, Bob Feller's career K/9 is 6.07, which is well below average by today's standards. But for 1940s baseball, 6.07 is incredibly dominant.

Now, I'm sure this isn't a new idea by any means, but the change in league average just screams to me that it deserves the "+" treatment. ERA+ is ERA scaled around each season's league average, where 100 is the average. So an ERA+ of 125 means that the pitcher was 25 percentage points greater than the league average of the year. Why not create a K+, so that Bob Feller's strikeout dominance relative to his peers can be compared to a modern pitcher? Plus, we could actually compare Gio's 2011 season to all others in Athletics history.

Now, when I did the previous post, I only gathered enough data to span back to 1940, so I'm going to stay within the boundaries of 1940 to the present. But since 1940, these are the best seasons by any Athletic by strikeout rate relative to the league average rate of the season:

  1. Vida Blue — 160 (1971)
  2. Lou Brissie159 (1948)
  3. Bobo Newsom147 (1944)
  4. Todd Stottlemyre139 (1995)
  5. Bobo Newsom135 (1945)
  6. Jose Rijo132 (1986)
  7. Jesse Flores — 128 (1943)
  8. Barry Zito — 128 (2001)
  9. Orlando Pena — 127 (1964)
  10. Lou Brissie — 127 (1949)

Gio Gonzalez's 2011? It ranks 13th, at 125. Which is nice, of course, but not nearly as historic as the CSNCA graphic would have you believe. That 1971 season by Vida Blue? There's one for the ages.

The A's move on to game two of their three game set against the Angels tonight. Jerome Williams faces Guillermo Moscoso at 7:05 PM.

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