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The rise of the 12-strikeout game

May 31, 2013, 1:55 PM EDT

New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee follows through on a pitch to the New York Yankees during their MLB interleague baseball game in New York Reuters

Last night, it was Dillon Gee and Doug Fister. On Wednesday, it was Eric Stults, of all people.

All told, there have been 23 12-strikeout games from pitchers one-third of the way through the 2013 season. Not only is it a record pace, but it’s already more than the entire league achieved in 2005 or 2008. It matches the total of 12-strikeout performances from 2009.

The all-time record for 12-strikeout games was 57 in 1965, followed by 54 from both 1968 and 1997. Tripling this year’s total, since most every team has played 51-55 games, would put us at 69 for 2013.

That’s a huge step forward from recent years. Here’s a list of 12-strikeout games by season since 1996:

1996: 24
1997: 54
1998: 51
1999: 41
2000: 44
2001: 49
2002: 40
2003: 26
2004: 31
2005: 19
2006: 29
2007: 27
2008: 20
2009: 23
2010: 35
2011: 36
2012: 46

Of course, we’re seeing more strikeouts now than ever before, but we also have more attention paid to pitch counts these days and a lot of starters leaving before they can rack up 12 strikeouts. That likely played a role in the decline that started a decade ago, though the fact that Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens were all getting up there in years was important as well. Those four rank first, third, fifth and sixth, respectively, in the number of 12-strikeout games since 1916. The active leader in 12-K games is Johan Santana with 15. Next are Tim Lincecum with 12 and Justin Verlander with 10.

This year, 19 different pitchers have turned in the 23 12-strikeout games. Yu Darvish is responsible for three, while Verlander and Anibal Sanchez have two apiece. The Tigers have six in all, with Max Scherzer and Fister also on the list.

As for the victims, the Braves and Mariners both make the list three times. The Braves were the loser in the high-strikeout game of 2013, when Sanchez fanned 17 in eight innings on April 26.

The Padres’ Stults still rates as the unlikeliest with 12 strikeouts. He hadn’t reached that total in any two consecutive starts since 2007.

  1. bbk1000 - May 31, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Interesting point…..this article is almost Craig like…not sure if that is good or bad…

  2. historiophiliac - May 31, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    Yes, four of our five SP’s have 12 SO games, and Porcello (!) had an 11 SO game this week.

    Sometimes I look back ten years and I just want to pinch myself!

  3. 18thstreet - May 31, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    Was 1996 really that long ago?


    • historiophiliac - May 31, 2013 at 3:31 PM

      My nephew and niece like to say: “That was last century.”


  4. billyboots - May 31, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    I would genuinely like to see how many times each team has had 12 K thrown against them in a game as well. I feel like my Twins would be fairly high on that list.

    • Matthew Pouliot - May 31, 2013 at 3:49 PM

      Anibal is the only pitcher to do it, in the near no-no of the Twins last week.

      Eliminating the one pitcher requirement, the Twins have fanned 12 times on six occasions this year, which is seventh highest in baseball.

      No of 12K games per team, offensively:

      16 – Astros
      10 – Braves, Mets
      8 – White Sox
      7 – Angels, Mariners
      6 – Twins
      5 – Nationsals, Blue Jays, Padres, Pirates, Phillies, A’s, Brewers, Reds, Red Sox
      4 – Rangers, Marlins, Tigers, Rockies, Indians
      3 – Rays, Yankees, Cubs, Diamondbacks
      2 – Giants, Dodgers, Royals
      1 – Cardinals, Orioles

      • historiophiliac - May 31, 2013 at 5:22 PM

        We’re Malins-level? 😦

      • anybodyinhere - May 31, 2013 at 10:08 PM

        This list would be oh so different if the Os still had Mark Reynolds

  5. anybodyinhere - May 31, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    This story would be so much better if Wang had one of them

  6. gloccamorra - Jun 1, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    So.. is it time to lower the mound again? But wait – how are the home run totals? If you have guys swinging for the fences, you’ll get a lot of homers AND strikeouts. What about all the young sluggers coming up? They’re most likely to try to impress and run up the Ks in the process. Maybe this is just a phase MLB is going through, the first step in the swing away from pitching dominance of the past few years to the hitting dominance to come.

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