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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:

Rk Player SO% SO BF From To Age G IP ERA Tm
1 Scott Sheldon
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100.0% 1 1 2000 2000 31 1 0.1 0.00 TEX
Kevin Seitzer
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100.0% 1 1 1993 1993 31 1 0.1 0.00 OAK
3 Chuck Nieson
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62.5% 5 8 1964 1964 21 2 2.0 4.50 MIN
4 Jim Mosolf
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50.0% 1 2 1930 1930 24 1 0.1 27.00 PIT
Walter Bernhardt
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50.0% 1 2 1918 1918 25 1 0.2 0.00 NYY
6 Mark Whiten
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42.9% 3 7 1998 1998 31 1 1.0 9.00 CLE
7 Al Alburquerque
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41.9% 31 74 2011 2011 25 17 17.2 3.06 DET
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
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: View Play Index Tool Used
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Generated 6/3/2011.

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 game

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, on September 6, 2000. In that game, Sheldon played all 9 positions, making him one of only 4 players
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to do that in one game since 1919. What’s even more amazing is that Sheldon did not even start the game; he entered at catcher in the bottom of the 4th inning, with his team down 10-1. With 1 out in the 9th inning, he switched to pitcher (8th of 9 positions) and struck out the only batter he faced (Jeff Liefer
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). That was the only batter he faced in his career, leaving him as one of only two players with a perfect pitching career: nothing but strikeouts.

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

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on May 2, 1993. With his A’s down 10-2 with 2 outs in the bottom of the 8th, he was brought in to face Indians DH Carlos Martinez. Seitzer got to a 2-2 count, but Martinez must have fouled a ball off his foot or something, because he left the game mid-at-bat. He was replaced by Glenallen Hill, who proceeded to take a called 3rd strike. The strikeout was charged to Martinez. That was a weird appearance, even by “position players pitching” standards.

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 game

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went like this: flyout, strikeout, walk, strikeout. The second strikeout was of Tony Conigliaro. His second appearance
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started with a solo home run by Frank Malzone, but Nieson recovered by striking out each of the next 3 batters he faced. He never appeared in the majors again, though he did put in 5 more seasons in the Twins’ minor league system.

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

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as a pitcher, on September 16, 1930, and it was a doozy. His Pirates took a 10-5 lead into the 9th inning against the A’s only to give up 5 runs and send the game to extra innings. The Pirates scored 4 runs in the top of the 10th to take a 14-10 lead, but the A’s rallied for 5 runs in the bottom half to win it. Mosolf pitched in that inning, striking out 1 guy and giving up a hit to the other. Supposedly, Mosolf was on the mound when the game ended, and supposedly, he gave up a run, but frankly I can’t figure out that could have happened from the limited box score information. If anyone can figure out what happened, I’d like to hear it. I think the box score might be wrong (wrong pitcher order, or wrong assignment of runs to the pitchers).

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.

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2 Responses to Players With A Higher Career Strikeout% Than Craig Kimbrel

  1. matt w says:

    His career K/9 is also 27.0, which is the best possible mark.

    I disagree.

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    (This blog is awesome, BTW.)

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  2. Tommy Walker
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    says:

    The guy is right, you know. I seem to remember a pitcher who struck out four in an inning twice.

    To my mind Mark Whiten is better known for the 12-RBI aspect of his 4-homer game. A slam, two Earl Weavers and a 2-run poke. He is also the subject of my favorite baseball riddle: How is it that Mark Whiten was a detriment to his team the day he had 12 RBIs?

    Answer– The 12-ribbie game wasn’t a day at the plate, but just one game of a doubleheader. His team won by 13 runs when he had the 12 RBI, so they’d have won without him. In the other game he does nothing but botch a flyball that leads to the losing run.

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