The Tigers' pitching staff was racking up the strikeouts earlier this season. When Anibal Sanchez struck out 17 batters in a game, it spurred discussion about whether the team could break the single-season strikeout record. The 2003 Chicago Cubs, with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, hold the record with 1404 strikeouts. They had the advantage of facing a pitcher as a batter far more often, yet the Tigers are still on pace to break the record.
Through Sunday's game Detroit's pitchers have 1024 strikeouts. They have played 116 games, or just over 70% of the season. The current projection is for 1430 strikeouts, breaking the record with a few games to spare.
The starters of course are leading the team in strikeout totals. Max Scherzer leads with 175, Justin Verlander follows with 154, Anibal Sanchez has 139 even having missed a few starts, Doug Fister has 114, and Rick Porcello has really picked up the pace with 94.
But the relievers have kicked in a third of the total. When looking at team leaders in strikeouts per nine innings, they hold the three top spots:
1. Al Alburquerque, 13.4
2. Joaquin Benoit, 10.5
3. Darin Downs, 10.1
Drew Smyly has a very impressive 9.5 rate with half the innings of a starter.
Even Jeremy Bonderman is at 9.6 with 5 strikeouts in 4 and 2/3 innings.
Strikeouts are not the point of pitching. The pitcher's job is to prevent runs. There are times when weak contact can produce outs with fewer pitches. But a groundball leads to a base runner by a hit or an error far more often than a strikeout leads to a base runner by a passed ball. And in general, pitchers who have higher strikeout totals allow fewer runs. When Max Scherzer was interviewed recently after his 1000th career strikeout, he seemed more proud of that achievement than leading the league in wins. So let's continue to enjoy this rare level of dominance.