Over the past four seasons, Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander has compiled 977 strikeouts -- a figure that has immediate and historical relevance. Not only does the total represent the most in the Majors over this span, it is also the fourth-highest amount over any four-year stretch in Tigers history, behind three separate accumulations from southpaw Mickey Lolich, whose high was 1,059 K's from 1969-72.
While Verlander has the most K's in the big leagues over the past four seasons, teammate Max Scherzer has fanned 763 batters -- the 14th-highest total in the Majors. And while this element alone is fairly impressive, the duo's work in the strikeout department in 2012 had a significantly deeper imprint on the game's history; for when it comes to raw strikeout totals in relation to the league leaderboards, and strikeout rates in relation to history, Verlander and Scherzer have few peers.
Verlander led the big leagues in 2012 with 239 strikeouts and ranked tied for eighth with 9.03 strikeouts per nine innings. In addition to finishing second to Verlander with 231 strikeouts, Scherzer led the Majors with 11.08 K's per nine. There are four particularly notable facts that can be drawn from those numbers and ranks:
Verlander, by leading the Majors in strikeouts for a second straight season (he had 250 in 2011), became the 22nd pitcher since 1901 to pace the big leagues in consecutive seasons. The others: Rube Waddell, Walter Johnson, Dazzy Vance, Lefty Grove, Dizzy Dean, Bob Feller, Johnny Vander Meer, Hal Newhouser, Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts, Herb Score, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Sam McDowell, Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard, Steve Carlton, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Randy Johnson and Johan Santana.
Scherzer's rate of 11.08 strikeouts per nine innings stands as the 12th highest since 1901 for any qualifying right-handed pitcher. The names of the men who have topped his rate: Pedro Martinez, Kerry Wood, Ryan, Gooden, Curt Schilling and Hideo Nomo.
Verlander and Scherzer became the eighth pair of teammates since 1901 to finish first and second in the Majors in strikeouts. The others: Waddell and Eddie Plank for the A's in '05, Grove and George Earnshaw for the A's in '30, Drysdale and Koufax for the Dodgers in '62, Ryan and Frank Tanana for the Angels in '76, Johnson and Schilling for the D-backs in 2001 and '02, and Wood and Mark Prior for the Cubs in '03. It's worth noting that since the American League adopted the designated hitter in 1973, only one pair from that league -- Ryan and Tanana -- had accomplished this feat before Verlander and Scherzer.
Scherzer and Verlander became the 10th pair of teammates since 1901 to each make at least 30 starts and fan at least 9.00 batters per nine innings. Interestingly, this grouping is absolutely dominated by National League representatives.
Pair of aces
Teammates to make at least 30 starts each and fan at least 9.00 batters per nine innings (since 1901)
Sam McDowell (9.47)/Luis Tiant (9.20)
Tom Griffin (9.56)/Don Wilson (9.40)
Mike Scott (10.00)/Nolan Ryan (9.81)
David Cone (9.91)/Sid Fernandez (9.08)
Randy Johnson (13.41)/Curt Schilling (10.27)
Randy Johnson (11.56)/Curt Schilling (10.97)
Matt Clement (9.44)/Kerry Wood (9.14)
Kerry Wood (11.35)/Mark Prior (10.43)
Tim Lincecum (9.79)/Jonathan Sanchez (9.54)
Max Scherzer (11.08)/Justin Verlander (9.03)
When the Indians' McDowell and Luis Tiant became the first set of teammates to accomplish this feat in 1968, they were the only two qualifying starting pitchers in the Majors to fan at least nine batters per nine innings, with the third-highest rate -- 8.06/9 -- being turned in by Lolich. And like Scherzer and Verlander, these Cleveland dynamos -- McDowell the lefty, Tiant the whirling right-hander -- individually and collectively assembled some very impressive numbers and achievements to go along with their respective strikeout rates.
With McDowell leading the AL with 283 strikeouts and Tiant finishing third in the league with 264, they became the first pair of teammates since 1893 (the year the pitching distance was extended to 60 feet, six inches) to each fan at least 260. No other pair would accomplish this until 1976 (Ryan and Tanana) and since then, only Johnson and Schilling (in 2001 and '02) have reached this height as teammates.
McDowell's 283 strikeouts represented -- at the time -- the eighth-highest total by a southpaw since 1893, and his rate of 9.47 strikeouts per nine innings was also the eighth highest for a qualifying left-hander since that time.
In addition to his strikeout rate, McDowell's ERA+ for the 1968 season was 165. At the time, the only other lefty since 1893 to have a strikeout rate and an ERA+ at those levels was Herb Score, in 1956.
Tiant's mark of 9.20 K's per nine represented -- at the time -- the third-highest mark since 1893 for a right-hander, with the only higher marks coming from Jim Maloney in 1963 and Tiant himself in '67.
Moving away from strikeouts, Tiant also compiled the lowest hits per nine (5.30) for any pitcher in history (it has since been bettered only by Ryan in 1972) and produced a 0.871 WHIP, a mark that stands tied for the seventh lowest in the live-ball era.
The magnitude of the Verlander-Scherzer strikeout rate feat in 2012 was, admittedly, quieted a bit by the realities of the game today. For example, they were two of seven pitchers this past season with at least 30 starts and a rate of at least nine K's/9 (again, McDowell and Tiant were the only two in 1968). Additionally, the Detroit duo's combined K/9 was 9.93, compared with the AL average (for starters) of 6.99. In '68, McDowell and Tiant combined for a mark 9.34 against the starting pitcher average of 5.94 in the AL.
Even more impressive, when Johnson and Schilling combined for a rate of 11.82 K's per nine in 2001, the NL average for starting pitchers was 6.66 strikeouts for every nine innings. Even so, in a season in which strikeouts continued to gain a greater place in the narrative of any single contest, the two Tigers right-handers stood out for their individual and collective work and gave this past season one of its more fascinating and potentially enduring achievements.