Not any kind of personal history, or team history. Not even a new kind of history. Instead, Tarpley had made a kind of history that had been seen 12 years in a row and will likely be made again next year and the year after.
Tarpley had thrown the 41,208th strikeout in Major League Baseball this year, setting the new league record for strikeouts in a season according to ESPN.
Every year since 2008, MLB has seen an increased number of strikeouts. Before 2008, the record has been 32,404 in 2001. The league has now added nearly 10,000, more than two per team and per game, in the time since then. And we might as well start preparing for the new record next year as well.
What’s causing MLB’s constantly rising strikeout rate?
Most trends in MLB these days boil down to one powerful word: velocity.
With increased youth training and bio-mechanical streamlining, the bar for what constitutes a flamethrower is increasing every year and taking the strikeout rate up with it.
The 2019 season has seen 22 pitchers reach 200 strikeouts on the year. The previous high in the modern era before 2010 was the Year of the Pitcher in 1969, with 15.
Of course, there are other reasons for the rise in strikeouts, but all of them hold at least a correlation to he modern game’s obsession with making the ball go as fast as humanly possible.
Much has been made with the spike in home run rates, and power swings and strikeouts usually go hand-in-hand. Swinging for the fences usually means you’re fine with some more whiffs than usual.
Power pitchers are also able to stay on the field more thanks to career-saving medical procedures. Of the 22 200-strikeout pitchers so far this year, seven have undergone Tommy John surgery, which was invented in 1974 and has become progressively more successful for its patients.
And then there’s the rise of bullpening, with relievers who can throw 110 percent in single-inning outings taking up more and more of the game.
If you’re among those lamenting the constant fall of contact rates across the league, the bad news is none of these factors will likely be changing anytime in the near future. Young pitchers will be taught to maximize velocity. Relievers will be used as much as possible if the strategy is still effective. Medical advances will (thankfully) continue to keep players on the field.
That leaves the question of how much higher can strikeouts reasonably reach in the future? And will there be a point (unless it’s already been passed) where that starts hurting the game’s bottom line?
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