I recently picked up this 1961 Topps NL Strikeout Leader card:
I started to think through my baseball history knowledge to see if I could recall anything that could have made the strikeout become more prevalent. First I thought, maybe it is just Don Drysdale, 2 of the 3 years were his seasons, maybe he was starting on a streak like Christy Mathewson in the early 1900s. We all know that 200 Ks is fairly common now so it couldn't just be Don. Maybe it was the expansion of the schedule, I recall that sometimes in the late 50s or early 60s baseball went to to the 162 game schedule from 154. I thought that would be about 2, maybe 3 starts, I guess that could push some of the 180s and 190s into the 200 range but then I looked it up and the change didn't take place until 1962 in the NL so the change had already started.
Thinking of how many starts that extra 8 games would equate to for a starter reminded me that in this era, most rotations were only 4 deep and now they are 5. That coupled with more relievers in today's game should reduce innings counts and therefore strikeout totals. I decided to look at the K totals for the league leaders in the NL since 1960. Here they are:
For some reason, strikeouts started to increase in the late 50s and continue at a high level today. I haven't been able to find any explanation other than just evolution of the game. Anyone out there have any ideas of what has driven the increase in strikeouts? Rule changes? Pitching training? Approach to the game? More power hitters? If you have any insight that could help put the wheels that are cranking in my head to rest on the subject, I would be interested to hear your theories.