MLB: Strikeouts at record pace for 9th straight year

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Among hitters qualified for the batting title, no one strikes out more frequently this year than Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox, once every 2.6 at-bats. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Once upon a time, there was nothing worse in baseball than to strike out.

The common approach to hitting was to shorten up one’s swing with two strikes, looking to put the ball in play rather than risk swinging and missing.

Times, they have changed.

Today’s hitters have a devil-may-care attitude about strikeouts and the numbers reflect this.

Bill Nicholson was an outfielder who played for the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Athletics from 1936-53 and he earned the nickname “Swish” because the alarming rate at which he struck out.

That alarming rate? Once every 6.7 at-bats—828 career whiffs in 5,546 at-bats.

Nicholson never struck out more than 100 times in a season, setting a career high of 91 with the Cubs in 1941 and leading the National League with 83 strikeouts for the Cubs in 1947.

He was also a four-time All-Star who finished in the top three in the Most Valuable Player voting in 1943 and 1944 and hit 235 career home runs.

This season, among batters who currently qualify for the batting title in their respective leagues (3.1 plate appearances per team game played), there are 125—125!—who strike out more frequently than old “Swish” did.

There are 10 players in baseball this season who strike out more than once in every three at-bats, including three former All-Stars and one former Most Valuable Player.

Here is the list of today’s high-impact, low-contact hitters:

Rk Player AB/SO G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
1 Adam Dunn 2.6024 64 216 27 50 10 0 12 33 44 83 .231 .360 .444
2 George Springer 2.7160 58 220 32 53 7 1 13 38 28 81 .241 .345 .459
3 Chris Carter 2.7500 67 220 24 41 11 1 13 30 22 80 .186 .271 .423
4 Danny Espinosa 2.7561 69 226 21 53 10 2 6 17 13 82 .235 .298 .376
5 Chris Davis 2.7949 59 218 33 47 9 0 12 37 32 78 .216 .327 .422
6 Ryan Howard 2.8750 72 276 37 67 8 1 14 50 30 96 .243 .317 .431
7 Mark Reynolds 2.9333 64 220 28 47 6 0 13 31 27 75 .214 .302 .418
8 Jackie Bradley 2.9467 70 221 29 46 13 2 1 24 23 75 .208 .293 .299
9 Jason Castro 2.9487 62 230 21 50 12 1 6 31 19 78 .217 .297 .357
10 B.J. Upton 2.9565 71 272 31 55 10 3 6 21 27 92 .202 .272 .327
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/23/2014.

So when did it change?

While no hitter with at least 250 home runs ended their career with fewer strikeouts than home runs, there were a few who came close.

Joe DiMaggio hit 361 career homers and struck out 369 times. Yogi Berra fanned just 414 times while clubbing 358 home runs. Ted Kluszewski had 279 homers and 365 whiffs.

Compare that to some modern-era hitters.

Mike Cameron hit 278 career home runs and struck out 1,901 times in the process. Bobby Abreu, currently with the New York Mets, has fanned 1,833 times while hitting 288 home runs.

Beginning with the end of World War II, let’s take a look at how the frequency of strikeouts has increased, decade by decade:

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