The recent AL Cy Young Award conversation focused attention on pitching's Triple Crown: ERA, wins, and strikeouts. The latter remains one of the eye-catching measures of pitching performance, even though it’s generally held that it has limited effect on team success.
That being the case, which team pitching staff has been the top strikeout (SO) staff in the AL? The argument will be made here that it is the Cleveland Indians staff of 1964-68. By what metric(s)? : 1) individual season SO records; 2) consecutive season SO records, analyzed to avoid against sampling error introduced by analyzing only too-few years; 3) SO records by comparison to the rest of the AL, which assure the leader is indeed striking out a greater proportion than the rest of the staffs during the same time period, not merely reflecting a high-SO period for all teams ; 4) SO records in comparison to the NL, which also emphasizes superiority not only to the AL, but to pitching across the major leagues; 5) Staff performance, not merely numbers pumped up by a one or two record-setting pitchers.
After 3 minor-league seasons, and 26 starts with the Tribe, Sudden Sam McDowell would join the club May 31, 1964, never to return to the minors. Luis Tiant would make his first AL appearance July 19, replacing Tommy John on the roster. Sonny Siebert would start his rookie season season in the bullpen, and work his way into the starting rotation by summer. The staff would SO 6.8 / 9 innings prior to, and 7.2 / 9 innings after, June 1(1).This Big 3 would be the nucleus of the top SO staff for the entire 5 years. Gary Bell, Don McMahon, Pistol Pete Ramos, Jack Kralick, Dick Donovan, Ted Abernathy, and Floyd Weaver would all contribute to the SO totals.
The ’64 staff would be the firstAL staff to SO over 1100 batters, and over 7.0 / 9 innings. The Indians staff of ’64-68 set individual SO records that would last 30 years, until the steroid era. Their yearly totals and SO / 9 innings are listed in Table 1.
1964 1965 1966 1967 1968
Strikeouts 1162* 1156 1111 1189 1157
Strikeouts / 9 innings 7.03 7.13* 6.8 7.24* 7.1
Table 1. Yearly SO and SO / 9 innings of th Cleveland Indians Pitching staff 1964-68.
That staff would lead the rest of AL in SO by more than 20% in each of those years, and they did it in the ballpark with the largest foul area, Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Only the California Angels would lead the AL more consecutive years. But more on that in upcoming posts.
1. STRIKE THREE! My Years in the ‘Pen, T.A.Tomsick, Cincinnati Book Publishers, Cincinnati, OH, 2010