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Dodgers racking up strikeouts at unprecedented rate

Dodgers pitchers are whiffing batters at a relative rate better than all but one LA team in the last 50 years

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals
Scott Kazmir is one of several Dodgers with more than a strikeout per inning in 2016.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The first-place Dodgers matched their season high with 15 runs in Tuesday’s win over the Phillies, so the offense understandably was the big story. But in the victory the Dodgers also struck out 13 batters.

It was the 18th time this season Dodgers pitchers struck out at least 13 batters in a game, the most such games in baseball in 2016.

The club leads the majors in strikeouts (1,108) and also rank first in strikeout rate (25.3 percent).

The Dodgers are on pace for 1,508 strikeouts this season, which would shatter the franchise record of 1,396 whiffs, set in 2015. The Dodgers have set a franchise strikeout record in each of the last three seasons.

But these are high-strikeout times. The National League strikeout rate in 2016 is 21.4 percent, the highest ever, an increase from 20.9 percent in 2015.

So if everyone is striking out, what does this all mean?

Sandy Koufax’s career strikeout rate was 25.2 percent. The Dodgers’ strikeout rate as a team in 2016 is 25.3 percent, so there is clearly some need for context.

For that context, I looked up Dodgers annual team strikeout rates on FanGraphs, and annual National League strikeout rates from Baseball-Reference, all the way back to 1916, trying to see how the Dodgers fared relative to the league.

For instance, this year’s club has a 25.3-percent strikeout rate and the NL is at 21.4 percent, so the 2016 Dodgers have a strikeout rate that is 118.3 percent of the NL, sort of a K-rate-plus if you will.

Among the last 101 Dodgers teams, the best such score came in 1924, when Dazzy Vance and his 262 strikeouts accounted for 41 percent of the team’s total of 638. That club’s strikeout rate was just 10.9 percent, but the NL rate was 7.3 percent, so they were 150.1 percent of the league.

That 1924 team was far and away the best relative team, with the second-place squad (1927) at 133.3 percent.

The 2016 Dodgers come in at 20th in the last 101 years of the franchise, with nearly all the teams ahead of them in relative terms from Brooklyn. There are some other LA teams in the top 20, and understandably the Sandy Koufax years are accounted for, with 1961 (132.7 percent, 3rd), 1966 (120.3, 17th) and 1962 (119.1, 18th) checking in.

The only Dodgers team in the last 50 years with a better relative strikeout rate than this year’s team was 2003, the most most extreme team in franchise history. At the plate, that club was one of the worst teams in history (79 OPS+) but on the mound the club was one of the best ever, posting a 128 ERA+.

The 2003 Dodgers had a 21.5-percent strikeout rate when the NL rate was just 17 percent, making them 126.3 percent of the league.

In other words, the 2016 Dodgers have been quite impressive in racking up strikeouts, doing so at a relative rate better than all but one Dodgers team in the last 50 years.

The accomplishment becomes even more amazing when you realize that Clayton Kershaw, the major league strikeout leader at the time of his last start, hasn’t thrown a pitch in the last 41 games.

Also, I’m not sure if you heard, but the Dodgers were doomed when Zack Greinke signed with Arizona as a free agent, taking his 200 strikeouts from 2015 out of the rotation, among other things.

So far this year, 11 of Dodgers’ top 15 in innings pitched have more strikeouts than innings pitched, including Kenta Maeda and his nine strikeouts on Tuesday night, and Scott Kazmir, who starts the middle game of the series on Wednesday night.

Kazmir has 132 strikeouts in his 127⅔ innings and a 24.2-percent strikeout rate.

He struck out six Phillies one week ago in Los Angeles, when he held Philadelphia scoreless through six innings before allowing two runs in the seventh inning in a tough-luck loss.

Game info

Time: 4:05 p.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA