If you follow Major League Baseball, then you’re probably aware that we’re in the midst of a golden era for pitching. Or at least, that’s what the experts say. However, there’s always two ways to look at any statistical phenomenon. And the other day, as I was watching part of a Chicago White Sox Game—which means I saw Adam Dunn strike out two times—I got to thinking about the other side of this trend: the sky-high strikeout totals players put up these days.
You see, the record set for strikeouts in a single season set by Bobby Bonds back in 1970—which was 189—has been broken 10 times in the last 8 seasons. Baltimore’s Mark Reynolds now holds the all-time record with 223 Ks in 2009 (when he was with Arizona), and this year Adam Dunn who currently sits at 203, is on pace to beat that. So while the pitching in MLB certainly has been great over the last several years, you have to wonder whether free-swinging sluggers haven’t also done their part, making good pitchers look great, and great pitchers look legendary.
Thus, today I thought we’d take a look at the top 20 active career strikeout leaders in Major League Baseball. However, I’m not just going to present you with the totals. I’m also going to give you the players’ total plate appearances and their strikeout rate—that way you’ll have a better picture of just how much they whiff. And as we get to the top of the list, I’ll also give you some K stats on other great players in the history of the game, just to provide even more perspective.
So are you ready to see who’s struck out the most?
Good, let’s get started.
Career Strikeouts: 1,248
Career Plate Appearances: 7,519
K/PA: .166 (13th)
Lance Berkman is officially listed as "out for the year," so his total of 1,248 is not getting any higher. As for his strikeout rate, .166 is pretty standard for a "good" hitter in this day and age. And Berkman is a very good hitter—.296/.409/.544 with 360 HRs as a switch hitter.
20. Lance Berkman
Career Strikeouts: 1,257
Career Plate Appearances: 10,917
K/PA: .115 (20th)
Yes, Johnny Damon is still playing. It's just that he's in Cleveland, which is probably why you didn't notice. As you can see, Damon in 20th out of the players on this list with a fairly low .115 Ks per plate appearance. He's just a guy who's accumulated a ton of Ks because he's been around a long, long time.
19. Johnny Damon
Career Strikeouts: 1,260
Career Plate Appearances: 8,719
K/PA: .146 (18th)
The White Sox's Paul Konerko is one of the most under-appreciated players of his generation, with a career line of .283/.359/.499 and 420 HRs. And while he's got a ton of Ks, his strikeout rate of .146 is hardly obscene.
18. Paul Konerko
Career Strikeouts: 1,274
Career Plate Appearances: 5,507
K/PA: .231 (5th)
Former Detroit Tiger and current Oakland A Brandon Inge is one of the few players on this list who isn't a huge star and who hasn't had at least 8,000 plate appearces. He just strikes out a hell of a lot.
17. Brandon Inge
Career Strikeouts: 1,295
Career Plate Appearances: 8,651
K/PA: .150 (16th)
Adrian Beltre is a good hitter and a terrific third baseman, so his strikeout rate of .150 is acceptable. Especially when compared to the next guy on the list.
16. Adrian Beltre
Career Strikeouts: 1,298
Career Plate Appearances: 4,686
K/PA: .277 (2nd)
Ryan Howard was a slightly late bloomer with the Phillies, having debuted at the age of 24 and become a starter at the age of 26. If not for that fact, with a K-rate of .277 per plate appearance, this guy would be even higher on this list than 15th.
15. Ryan Howard
Career Strikeouts: 1,333
Career Plate Appearances: 8,317
K/PA: .160 (15th)
Carlos Beltran is another guy who would be a few spots higher if not for extenuating circumstances—namely, injuries that limited his player time. However, his strikeout rate is still a respectable .160.
14. Carlos Beltran
Career Strikeouts: 1,386
Career Plate Appearances: 7,649
K/PA: .181 (10th)
Big Papi is 13th in total strikeouts for active players, which is pretty high for a guy who still doesn't have 8,000 plate appearances. The reason? A fairly high (even by today's standards) K-rate of .181.
13. David Ortiz
Career Strikeouts: 1,403
Career Plate Appearances: 8,497
K/PA: .165 (14th)
Scott Rolen's best years at the plate are way behind him. Ironically, so are his biggest single-season strikeout totals. The guy racked up 141 Ks in 1998 as a 23-year-old, but hasn't reached the century mark again since 2003 in St. Louis. Of course, that probably has more to do with the fact that he also hasn't reached the century mark in games played in a while, either.
12. Scott Rolen
Career Strikeouts: 1,409
Career Plate Appearances: 10,585
K/PA: .133 (19th)
You don't really think of Chipper Jones as a free-swinging strikeout candidate, do you? After all, in 19 years, the guy hasn't once reached 100 Ks—though he has stroked 468 home runs. So this is just a case of a guy playing a really long time. (The next guy on the list isn't so lucky.)
11. Chipper Jones
Career Strikeouts: 1,425
Career Plate Appearances: 7,848
K/PA: .182 (9th)
Despite having about 3,000 fewer plate appearances that Chipper Jones over his 16 year career (and yes, I'm talking about PAs, not ABs), the Angels outfielder has racked up about 20 more Ks. That'll happen when you strike out 18% of the time you come to the plate.
10. Torii Hunter
Career Strikeouts: 1,465
Career Plate Appearances: 5,477
K/PA: .267 (3rd)
Carlos Pena is one of the most prolific striker-outers in baseball today. The fact that he's only 9th on the list is due solely to the fact that he hasn't been given quite as many chances to strikeout as everyone else. (He's got the fewest PAs of anyone in the top ten by a long shot.)
9. Carlos Pena
Career Strikeouts: 1,504
Career Plate Appearances: 8,622
K/PA: .174 (10th)
Jason Giambi's swing is so huge and loopy, you know the guy is going to strike out all the time. (Not even steroids can prevent that.)
8. Jason Giambi
Career Strikeouts: 1,571
Career Plate Appearances: 7,495
K/PA: .209 (6th)
When the Cubs gave this guy his huge 8-year, $136 million contract in 2007, he was coming off his best year at a hitter...when his OBP was just .351 and he racked up 160 Ks to go along with those 46 HRs. Since then, everything has gone done except the Ks—he's got 148 so far.
7. Alfonso Soriano
Career Strikeouts: 1,738
Career Plate Appearances: 11,842
K/PA: .147 (17th)
Jeter's K-rate isn't bad. He's just played a really long time. (Of course, his K-rate isn't great, either.)
6. Derek Jeter
Career Strikeouts: 1,746
Career Plate Appearances: 8,668
K/PA: .201 (7th)
Andrew Jones is a strikeout machine. His career K-to-HR ratio is 4:1. (Though, yes, that means his HR is pretty high—it's 433.)
5. Andrew Jones
Career Strikeouts: 1,819
Career Plate Appearances: 9,920
K/PA: .183 (8th)
In his prime, Bobby Abreu hit for average and got on base a ton. His best season was probably 1999, he hit .335/.446. However, he also struck out a lot, topping out at 138 in 2006, and he never really hit for power. So what do you make of this guy's skills?
4. Bobby Abreu
Career Strikeouts: 2,014
Career Plate Appearances: 7,167
K/PA: .281 (1st)
Adam Dunn hits a ton of home runs. Can you imagine what his value would be if he didn't also strike out 28% of the time? Still, that's nothing compared to the Orioles' Mark Reynolds. Though that guy also crushed some long balls, he's struck out an insane 32.7% of the time in his relatively short career. If that guy plays until he's 34, which is only five more seasons, he'll easily surpass Dunn's current total.
3. Adam Dunn
Career Strikeouts: 2,022
Career Plate Appearances: 11,115
K/PA: .182 (9th)
Since A-Rod's steroid-enhanced numbers are some of the greatest in the game, now would be a good time to look at how much other "greats" struck out. So here you go:
Albert Pujols...772 SO, 8,062 PA (.096)
Miguel Cabrera...1,101 SO, 6,436 PA (.171)
Joe Mauer...467 SO, 4,513 PA (.103)
Babe Ruth...1,330 SO, 10,620 PA (.125)
Joe DiMaggio...369 SO, 7673 PA (.048)
Willie Mays...1,526 SO, 12,496 PA (.122)
Stan Musial...696 SO, 12,717 PA (.054)
Carl Yastrszemski...1,393 SO, 13,992 PA (.099)
As you can see, Alex Rodriguez's strikeout rate is higher than all the other players on this list. In fact, it's much higher than everybody except Miguel Cabrera.
What does that mean? Well, not much, really. Though it does point out just how rare a hitter Albert Pujols is. The guy is from another era.
2. Alex Rodriguez
Career Strikeouts: 2,536
Career Plate Appearances: 10,283
K/PA: .246 (4th)
It should come as no surprise that Jim Thome tops the list. The guy is about 65 years old, isn't he?
In any case, he may be the best person to use as a starting point for the debate about great hitting. His career stats say he should be in the Hall of Fame: 611 HRs, .271 BA, .402 OBP, and .555 SLG. But he's also got one of the highest K-rates of all time, having struck out about a quarter of the time he stepped to the plate.
It's a bit of a conundrum.
1. Jim Thome
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