The rise of the 12-strikeout game

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Last night, it was Dillon Gee and Doug Fister. On Wednesday, it was Eric Stults, of all people.

All told, there have been 23 12-strikeout games from pitchers one-third of the way through the 2013 season. Not only is it a record pace, but it’s already more than the entire league achieved in 2005 or 2008. It matches the total of 12-strikeout performances from 2009.

The all-time record for 12-strikeout games was 57 in 1965, followed by 54 from both 1968 and 1997. Tripling this year’s total, since most every team has played 51-55 games, would put us at 69 for 2013.

That’s a huge step forward from recent years. Here’s a list of 12-strikeout games by season since 1996:

1996: 24
1997: 54
1998: 51
1999: 41
2000: 44
2001: 49
2002: 40
2003: 26
2004: 31
2005: 19
2006: 29
2007: 27
2008: 20
2009: 23
2010: 35
2011: 36
2012: 46

Of course, we’re seeing more strikeouts now than ever before, but we also have more attention paid to pitch counts these days and a lot of starters leaving before they can rack up 12 strikeouts. That likely played a role in the decline that started a decade ago, though the fact that Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens were all getting up there in years was important as well. Those four rank first, third, fifth and sixth, respectively, in the number of 12-strikeout games since 1916. The active leader in 12-K games is Johan Santana with 15. Next are Tim Lincecum with 12 and Justin Verlander with 10.

This year, 19 different pitchers have turned in the 23 12-strikeout games. Yu Darvish is responsible for three, while Verlander and Anibal Sanchez have two apiece. The Tigers have six in all, with Max Scherzer and Fister also on the list.

As for the victims, the Braves and Mariners both make the list three times. The Braves were the loser in the high-strikeout game of 2013, when Sanchez fanned 17 in eight innings on April 26.

The Padres’ Stults still rates as the unlikeliest with 12 strikeouts. He hadn’t reached that total in any two consecutive starts since 2007.

Major League Baseball needs to make an example out of José Ureña

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We’re about an hour and a half separated from the first pitch of Wednesday night’s Marlins/Braves game that featured Marlins starter José Ureña hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña on the elbow with a first-pitch, 97.5 MPH fastball. The benches emptied, Ureña was ejected, and the game went on. Acuña left the game not long after to tend to his injured elbow.

After the game, when the Marlins speak to the media, they will almost certainly deny any ill intent towards Acuña, who had hit leadoff home runs in three consecutive games against them. When they do so, they will be lying. Watch how catcher J.T. Realmuto sets up on the first pitch.

ESPN Stats & Info notes that Ureña’s 97.5 MPH fastball was in the 99th percentile in terms of velocity of the 2,125 pitches he has thrown this season. It was also the fastest pitch Ureña has ever thrown to begin a game. Ureña put a little extra mustard on this pitch, for some reason.

Ureña has a 6.8 percent walk rate, which ranks 37th out of 95 starters with at least 100 innings of work this season. The major league average is eight percent. Control isn’t typically something with which he struggles.

Furthermore, Acuña isn’t the only player who has drawn Ureña’s ire:

Ureña wanted nothing to do with Hoskins — even though Hoskins has yet to get a hit off of him — in his August 4 start at home against the Phillies, walking him twice which included a few up-and-in pitches.

Ureña will almost certainly be fined and suspended for his actions on Wednesday night against Acuña. But will his punishment be enough to deter him and others from wielding a baseball as a weapon? Probably not. On June 19, when Marlins starter Dan Straily intentionally threw at Buster Posey, he received a five-game suspension and manager Don Mattingly was suspended one game. If you look at Straily’s game logs, you can’t even tell he was suspended. He started six days later on June 25 against the Diamondbacks and again on July 1 and 6. Because starters only pitch once every five days, it was like he wasn’t even suspended at all.

Major League Baseball needs to levy harsher punishments on players who attempt to injure other players. A 15-game suspension, for example, would force Ureña to miss at least two starts and it would inconvenience the Marlins enough to more seriously weigh the pros and cons of exacting revenge. The Marlins couldn’t work around it the way they did Straily by pushing back his scheduled start one day.

Major League Baseball also needs to make a legitimate effort to do away with this culture of revenge against players who are just a little bit too happy. Batters get thrown at when they flip their bats, when they yell at themselves in frustration, and even when they’re just hitting well. Baseball’s stagnating audience is very old, very white, and very male. It is not going to bring in fans from diverse backgrounds by keeping this antiquated culture that prevents baseball players from showing their personalities and being emotive. In the event Acuña needs to go on the disabled list for a couple weeks, that’s two weeks that Acuña isn’t on SportsCenter’s top-10, isn’t on the front page of MLB.com, and isn’t in articles like this. The culture of revenge is actively harming MLB’s ability to market its bright, young stars. If ending this culture of revenge doesn’t hit MLB from a moral angle, it should absolutely hit home from a business angle.