The strikeout is perhaps the single most important element of baseball. It not only keeps a player from possibly getting on base but it also keeps pressure off the outfield and other defensive parts of a team.
Today MLB pitchers are striking out batters at a greater rate than ever before. The question is, is it because of increasingly skilled pitchers or because the players these days are swinging for the fences? Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, two of the game’s newest Hall of Famers, did say that chicks dig the long ball, you know.
In 2009, there were around 6.91 strikeouts per nine innings of play in the game on average. It’s the highest league-wide average K/9 ratio in the game’s history. While the average did get close to 6 in the 1960s when Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Sam McDowell were in the league, it went down for a bit before crossing that threshold in the mid-1990s.
Pitchers like Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven and Tom Seaver made the strikeout into a work of art. Of course, you’d probably have to play for as long as Nolan Ryan did if you ever want to set the record for most K’s ever. The Ryan Express got 5,714 of them in 27 years. Randy Johnson is more than 800 behind him in second.
Today’s pitchers are still at it and are being paid millions to do so. In 1965, Sandy Koufax only made $110,000 and had 382 strikeouts. Fast forward to 2001 and Randy Johnson got $13.3 million for throwing 372 K’s en route to a World Series title.
In 2013, there were more than 35,000 strikeouts league-wide. As this list shows, some players got paid more money per strikeout than others in the 2013 season.
10. Yu Darvish – $34,296 per Strikeout
It hasn’t taken much for Yu Darvish to become a huge star. A former starter with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the NPB’s Pacific League, he was acquired by the Texas Rangers in 2012 as part of a $60 million deal over six years. In fact, the Rangers paid $51.7 million just for the rights to get a deal with him. Darvish ended up making $9.5 million in 2013 and led the majors in strikeouts with 277. This included one game against the Houston Astros where he got 14 strikeouts and had a perfect game going until giving up a hit on the Astros’ final at bat. This led to a total of $34,296 per strikeout for Darvish’s sophomore season, a total that could be higher if you consider the money the Rangers paid just to get the rights to sign him. Darvish’s 13-9 record and 2.83 ERA certainly helped him to finish second behind Max Scherzer for the AL Cy Young Award.
9. Adam Wainwright – $54,794 per Strikeout
Adam Wainwright had a career year with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. With a salary of $12 million, he had 219 strikeouts, giving him a total of nearly $55,000 per K. His 19-9 record was highlighted by five complete games and two shutouts. His 241.2 innings pitched were also a career high for Wainwright and led to a five-year deal worth $19.5 million per year with the Cards. This is a strong value for a pitcher who missed the 2011 season. It remains to be seen whether Wainwright will be able to further improve on his statistics, as he is in his thirties, a time when some argue that many baseball pitchers are past their prime.
8. A.J. Burnett – $78,947 per Strikeout
A.J. Burnett helped to bring the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first playoff appearance in more than twenty years this past season. Burnett was paid nearly $79,000 per strikeout this year but the Pirates didn’t have to pay for all of it. Burnett made $16.5 million in 2013 but $8.5 million was paid for by the New York Yankees. This was in accordance to the trade that the Pirates made where the Yankees would send Burnett and cash to Pittsburgh for two minor leaguers. Burnett only had 209 strikeouts in 2013, which accounts for this high total. His 10-11 performance wasn’t the strongest of his career; he went 18-10 with 231 K’s with the 2008 Toronto Blue Jays. Still, the Pirates did reach the postseason for a change.
7. Felix Hernandez – $91,930 per Strikeout
Felix Hernandez got $19.8 million in 2013 from the Seattle Mariners. His money total per strikeout comes to nearly $92,000 as King Felix got 216 K’s last season. This was his fifth straight year with at least 200. He didn’t have as many innings to pitch though, with 28 fewer innings than his 2012 campaign, and he only went 12-10. However, the Mariners can clearly afford to pay him his salary. After all, they are giving $30 million a year to Robinson Cano. Besides, King Felix is one of the hottest figures in the city of Seattle that doesn’t play for the Seahawks.
6. Justin Verlander – $92,165 per Strikeout
With two no-hitters, one Cy Young Award and one MVP title to his name, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers has become one of the biggest stars in the game. His 217 strikeouts from 2013 could actually be seen as a significant disappointment, not only because he went 13-12 for the season, but also because of how dominant he’s been in the past. He led baseball in strikeouts three times including in 2009 when he had 269. His $20 million salary, a part of his seven-year, $180 million contract, really improved his strikeout-to-dollar ratio. Verlander earned around $92,165 per strikeout for the season. In 2012 he was paid the same and got 239 K’s, giving him $9,000 less for each one.
5. Cliff Lee – $112,612 per Strikeout
Is $25 million too much to pay for one year’s services from a pitcher? It apparently isn’t too much for the Philadelphia Phillies. During a 2013 season that saw the Phillies go 73-89 at the beginning of the Ryne Sandberg era, Cliff Lee was paid that much money and got around $112,000 per K. His 222 strikeouts were the second-most he’s gotten in one year; he had 238 in 2011. You can’t fault him for the team’s struggles. Lee went 14-8 and had a 2.87 ERA, giving him a sixth place finish in the race for the NL Cy Young Award. Whether or not he’ll ever see a season like his Cy Young-winning year of 2008 when he went 22-3 with the Cleveland Indians is uncertain.
4. Matt Cain – $126,582 per Strikeout
Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants had a real drop-off in his performance this past year. Although he was getting $20 million in 2013 thanks in no small part to his strong past performances (like when he went 16-5 in 2012), he went 8-10 in 2013 and had an ERA of 4.00. He also had 158 strikeouts, a number lower than the career-high 193 he got the year earlier. This meant that he was paid $126,582 per measly K. This season also snapped his three-year run of being in the top ten for the NL Cy Young Award listings. The Giants’ 76-86 record and failure to make the playoffs was especially disappointing after having won the World Series the year before.
3. C.C. Sabathia – $131,428 per Strikeout
C.C. Sabathia‘s 175 strikeouts didn’t do much to help a disappointing New York Yankees team in 2013. While he did get 251 in 2008 and 230 in 2011, he struggled this year in comparison and went 14-13. He also led the league in earned runs with 112. The biggest problem for the Yankees is that they spent a massive amount of money for his services during the season. His $23 million deal in 2013 led to a total of $131,428 per strikeout. This is part of a seven-year, $161 million deal with the Yanks and one of the highest-paying contracts for all pitchers in the entire game. Of course, the Yankees are known for being big spenders and can actually afford to give him that money.
2. Zack Greinke – $132,867 per Strikeout
Although Zack Greinke got $19 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a six-year, $147 million contract, he didn’t really provide many strikeouts in return. He only had 148 K’s during the 2013 season, leading to a total of around $132,000 for each one. Greinke had 200 strikeouts or more in three seasons in his career but was not as strong in that field in 2013. Still, the Dodgers are more than willing to pay him what’s written in his contract. Greinke went 15-4 during the season and even won the Silver Slugger award for his position with a .328 batting average, four RBIs and two stolen bases. In fact, his appearance on this list might just be for posterity’s sake when the rest of his stats are considered.
1. Barry Zito – $232,558 per Strikeout
2013 was a year for Barry Zito to forget. He got $20 million in his final year of a seven-year $126 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. Although he started the season off strong by not giving up a run in the first 14 innings he pitched, he fell on several hard times over the course of the year. He had eight losses in a row before getting a win during the season and had several meltdowns including in one game against the Pittsburgh Pirates where he gave up eight runs in 4.2 innings. Zito even lost his spot in the rotation for a part of the season. The former Cy Young winner went 5-11 with a 5.74 ERA and 86 strikeouts, getting him close to a quarter million dollars per K.
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