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In his short career, Craig Kimbrel has faced 204 batters and struck out 82 of them, or 40.2%. Only a few players have struck out a higher percentage of batters in their careers, and they make for a very interesting list.
Here they are, the only 7 players in baseball history (since 1901, but likely before that, too) who have struck out more than 40.2% of the batters they faced in their careers:
Discerning readers may have noticed that four of these seven players were actually position players: Sheldon, Seitzer, Mosolf, and Whiten. So over half of the players to strike out a higher percentage of batters than Kimbrel weren’t even pitchers. Let’s talk more about each of these 7 players:
Scott Sheldon was a utility infielder for the A’s and Rangers from 1997-2001. He only had 310 career PA, and while he had a pretty good year in 2000 for Texas, his career would not have been memorable were it not for this game4 players Jeff Liefer
The other perfect pitching career also came from a position player, Kevin Seitzer. Seitzer’s career was a good deal more distinguished than Sheldon’s; he made two All-Star teams and accrued 26 WAR (Baseball-Reference version) in his 12 seasons from 1986 to 1997. His one appearance as a pitcher came in this game
The highest career Strikeout% by a pitcher belongs to Chuck Nieson, who recorded 5 strikeouts in 2 innings over 2 games for the 1964 Twins. He appeared in back-to-back September games against the Red Sox. His first gamesecond appearance
Next up is another position player, Jim Mosolf, who struck out 1 of the 2 hitters he faced. Mosolf was a reserve outfielder in parts of 4 seasons from 1929 to 1933. He appeared in one game
Walter Bernhardt also struck out 1 out of 2 career batters, but I can’t tell you much else about him except that the only game he appeared in was in 1918, for the Yankees. He was presumably a pitcher by trade, but even that I can’t say for sure.
Mark Whiten had a pretty good career, racking up 12 WAR in 11 seasons. He’s probably most famous for having a 4-homer game, but his pitching appearance is also fairly well known. He had one of the more entertaining pitching appearances by a position player of all time. As far as I know, he’s the only position player ever to strike out the side. On July 31, 1998, Whiten came on to pitch the 9th inning of a blowout loss to the A’s. He started inauspiciously, walking Rafael Bournigal, giving up a double to Jason Giambi, and hitting Scott Spiezio with a pitch. He then struck out both Mike Blowers and Miguel Tejada. Unfortunately, he walked A.J. Hinch to score a run, but he recovered by striking out Mike Neill* to end the inning. Three strikeouts out of 7 batters makes for a pretty good strikeout rate. His career K/9 is also 27.0, which is the best possible mark.
* Mike, Miguel, and Mike… all 3 strikeouts were of guys named “Michael”
Finally, we come to the only player to have made more than 2 appearances and strike out a higher percentage of batters than Craig Kimbrel. He’s Tigers rookie Al Alburquerque (great name, by the way). He’s sort of the American league version of Kimbrel, combining a super strikeout rate (15.8 K/9) with a worrisome walk rate (6.1 BB/9). Of course, Kimbrel’s K and BB rates are both lower than Al’s, and most importantly, Kimbrel is 2 years younger and has a much better track record in the minor leagues. I don’t think Alburquerque can keep this K rate up; he has excellent K rates in the minors, but they topped out at 11.1 K/9 in 2009. He’ll probably have a long career as a wild, high-strikeout reliever, but I highly doubt he’ll end up with a higher career K rate than Kimbrel (who consistently struck out more than 13 batters per 9 in the minors).
As strikeouts become more and more prevalent, I’d expect that we’ll see more of these hyper-strikeout relievers. Whether any of them will match or surpass Kimbrel, or whether Kimbrel can keep up his career pace, I have no idea. But they’ll be fun to watch, I’m sure.
Tagged with: Al Alburquerque Chuck Nieson Craig Kimbrel Jim Mosolf Kevin Seitzer Mark Whiten rare feats Scott Sheldon strikeouts Walter Bernhardt
This blog is devoted to the invention and use of unusual baseball statistics. These Junk Stats are designed to reveal the not-so-meaningful quirks that make baseball so fascinating.
JunkStats is written by Jacob Peterson, who also writes for the Braves blog Talking ChopBeyond the Boxscore
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