I'm alright.  Don't nobody worry 'bout me.     (05/09/01)

Randy Johnson struck out 20 Reds in 9 innings last night.  That's an amazing feat.  Even more amazing is the fact that since he didn't get a  decision, his record tying total will not go into the record books.  Roger Clemens (twice) and Kerry Wood both won their 20 K games in 9 innings.  So they share the record for most strikeouts in a 9 inning game.  Back in 1962, Washington Senator pitcher Tom Cheney struck out 21 in 16 innings against Baltimore.  Since his teammates couldn't score more than one run while he was on the mound, enough for him to get a win, Johnson gets caught in the middle and gets left out of the record books.  Unless they have a new entry: Most strikeouts in a no-decision.

But Johnson's performance, along with some of the other incredible performances this year, like Nomo's no-hitter, got me to wondering: will the change in the strikezone bring about a season full of spectacularly pitched games?  Will their be more no-hitters this year than the average year because the pitchers have more room to work with?

Well, yes and no.

You'll get nothing and like it!

In terms of no-hitters, there probably won't be many more than we had last year, which was zero.  We've already had one.  There's always the possibility of more.  But historically speaking, it won't be because of the strikezone change.  It'll be because there are a lot of pitchers who are capable.

In 1962, Bo Belinsky, Sandy Koufax, Earl Wilson, Bill Monbouquette and Jack Kralick each threw no-hitters.  The following year, when major league baseball re-instituted the rulebook strikezone, only 3 were thrown (Koufax again, Don Nottebart and Juan Marichal).  The same number were thrown in 1964 (Koufax again, Ken Johnson and Jim Bunning, who threw a perfect game).  Getting off on a tangent a little bit here... Koufax threw another one in 1965, this time his own perfect game.  Imagine how disappointed fans were when he didn't throw one in 1966.  It had almost become an annual rite.  I hope they might have cut him some slack at the end of that season when he retired due to arthritis in his pitching arm.

Anyway, there was no change in the number of no-hitters the next time MLB enforced the strikezone.  In 1987, Juan Nieves threw his no-hitter against Baltimore, which was saved by Robin Yount's spectacular diving catch for the final out of the game.  The following year, only Tom Browning threw a no-hitter (a perfect game, at that) with the rulebook strikezone.  In 1989, no one threw a no-hitter.

Cannonball coming!

What we are more likely to see is more frequent dominating performances.

Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James to show how dominating a pitcher was in any particular game.  It takes into account the number of baserunners he allowed, the number of innings he pitched, the number of strikeouts and the number of earned runs with each event having a pre-assigned value.  By adding them up, you get a game score.  Brilliantly pitched games score 90 points or better.

Last year, there were only 11 games in which a pitcher accumulated a game score of 90 or better.  Already this year we have seen 5 such games - Johnson vs Cin (last night), Mussina vs Min (5/1), Maddux vs Mil (5/2), Nomo vs Bal (4/4), Schilling vs LA (4/10) - and we're not even to the one quarter point of the season.

We are witnessing some pretty ridiculous season totals, too.  Curt Schilling currently has 61 strikeouts in 52+ innings... and only 5 walks.  At his current pace, he will finish with 305 Ks and only 25 walks, breaking Pedro Martinez' major league record for greatest strikeout to walk ratio for a pitcher with more than 200 strikeouts (8.45 in 1999).

With his 20 strikeout gem last night, Randy Johnson is now on pace to strike out 403 batters, which would top Nolan Ryan's major league record by 20.

In fact, there are 4 pitchers (Johnson, Schilling, Martinez and Kerry Wood) who are currently on pace to strike out more than 300 batters.  There's a remote possibility that Wade Miller, who's on pace for 280, could be a 5th to reach 300 this season.  Before this year, the most ever to reach that mark in a season was 2, last accomplished in 1999.

But it's not just the elite levels that could see greater membership.  Last year, eight pitchers topped 200 strikeouts.  This season, seventeen pitchers are on pace to top that milestone.

What an incredible Cinderella story, outta nowhere...

The parade of strikeout artists is going to last a while.  Not only are there numerous young flamethrowers on the rise in the majors - Miller, Wood, Bartolo Colon, Chan Ho Park, et al - but there are plenty more on the way in AAA who are close to being ready and even more in AA.  In my season opening look at promising AA stars, there were so many to choose from, I forgot one: the Astros' Tim Redding .

Redding, Tim    HOU   6-1  1.27  7  7  1   1  49.2  25  171  188   8   7  1  1  0  1  13  0  57  0  0

Redding has a similar repertoire - 95 mph fastball, hard breaking pitch (in this case, a slurve) and plus control - as many of the other Astros young starters, like Wade Miller, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Wilfredo Rodriguez.  All of them should be in the majors no later than the end of next year.

There are also 3 very impressive guys making A-ball hitters feel inept who aren't long for the minors.

Peavy, Jake     SD    2-2  3.53  7  7  0   0  35.2  25  125  144  15  14  1  2  0  2  15  1  48  1  0
Tankersley, Den.SD    3-1  0.26  6  5  0   0  34.1  20  122  128   2   1  0  1  0  0   5  0  43  0  0
Beckett, Josh   FLA   3-0  0.00  6  5  0   0  35.2  10  112  121   3   0  0  1  0  0   8  0  55  0  1

Peavy was the Padres' 15th round pick in the 1999 draft.  Tankersley was drafted by the Red Sox in the 38th round the year before and was traded to the Pads in exchange for Ed Sprague.  Both guys have dominated their opposition the past two years with above average stuff and superior control.  The Pads are being careful with them, but both may force the issue with their continued excellence.

Josh Beckett was called the best high school pitching prospect in a generation when he was selected second overall in 1999.  With an easy motion, he routinely registers in the upper 90s with his fastball.  With his devastating curve and velocity, he's often compared to another fireballer from Texas, Kerry Wood.  Like the Padres, the Marlins have a number of high quality arms ahead of him so there's no rush.  However, if he keeps making his competition look this bad, the Fish will have no choice but to promote him.

You're, uh... You're not good

Randy Johnson is 38 years old and pitching as well or better than he ever has.  The improved training techniques he follows and medical advances could have him pitching this effectively into his 40s.  There are a very high number of excellent pitchers still in their peak years, like Martinez, Schilling, Maddux and Mussina, who will follow Johnson's example and enjoy longer, more productive careers as well.  And there's a veritable army of young, potentially great pitchers in both the majors and the minors establishing a new standard by which pitchers will be measured.  With all these great arms and the improving knowledge to keep them healthy and in the game, the next decade is not looking too promising for hitters.

© 2001, All Rights Reserved