With an interest in the game’s best hitters and pitchers, it became a curious thought to research some of the outstanding hitters in baseball and find what pitcher struck out certain hitters the most during their long, distinguished careers.
Musial for example played 22 years in the majors and the pitcher who struck him out most often was Warren Spahn. The Hall of Fame left-handed hurler fanned Musial 29 times during their many battles. That number may seem high, but during the era these two stars played (1940s through the 1960s), hitters and pitchers faced each other frequently. There were only eight teams in each league, so a batter was pitted against only seven opposing teams during the regular season. In the case of Musial, he stepped into the batter’s box more than 375 times against Spahn, and hit .319 against him with 17 homers and 50 walks.
Famed pitching great Bob Feller was known for his blazing fastball and once struck out 346 batters in a season and led the American League in strikeouts on seven occasions. He also is the pitcher who struck out Joe DiMaggio the most times, sending the right-handed hitter back to the bench 12 times during their more than 200 confrontations against each other. No other pitcher struck out DiMaggio 10 or more times—Dutch Leonard and Early Wynn trail Feller with nine whiffs against the Yankee legend. DiMaggio, who rarely went down on strikes during his career, hit .342 against Feller with 11 home runs in 193 at-bats. The fleet-footed center fielder clubbed 361 homers during his 13-year major league career and struck out only 369 times.
“DiMaggio was the greatest all-around player I ever saw,” Feller said years ago. “He could hit for average and power and he ran the bases flawlessly. Plus he was the best defensive outfielder in the game. He had great instincts and a strong, accurate arm. He rarely struck out, always making contact and coming through with clutch hits. You couldn’t face him thinking you could strike him out. If you did, you would lose that battle. I was wild early in my career and battled DiMaggio every time we faced each other. He didn’t strikeout a lot nor did he walk many times. He probably got most of his walks against me,” Feller said with a laugh. “I think I could have won a few more battles against him if my control was a little sharper, but he was a great hitter. He and Ted Williams were the best hitters I ever faced.”
Feller also pointed out that in the era he played, batters did not strike out as much as they do in the current generation and often the league leader in strikeouts, fanned fewer than 100 times.
It’s interesting to see who won the battles between two great stars—Hank Aaron went down on strikes against Don Drysdale 47 times, but also victimized the Dodger right-hander for 17 home runs.
Tony Gwynn, who played in an era when strikeouts were common, finished his career with a .338 batting average and captured eight N.L. hitting titles. He was the consummate contact hitter who accumulated 3,141 lifetime hits while fanning only 434 times in 10,232 plate appearances. The pitcher who struck out Gwynn the most was Nolan Ryan with nine!
Among the players listed in the chart provided below, the batter with the most strikeouts against a single pitcher is Reggie Jackson, who went down swinging 49 times against Bert Blyleven. Jackson holds the career mark with 2,597 strikeouts and whiffed 100 or more times in a season 18 times. Besides Blyleven’s 49 Ks against Mr. October, 10 other pitchers fanned him 20 or more times, including Jim Kaat (27), Rudy May (25), Wilbur Wood (25), Mickey Lolich (23), Fritz Peterson (23), Gaylord Perry (22), Nolan Ryan (22), Jack Morris (20), Paul Splittorff (20) and Luis Tiant (20). Jackson also clubbed 49 of his 563 career home runs against these hurlers.
Hall of Famer Billy Williams was one of the top hitters in the N.L. during the 1960s and early ’70s, finishing second in the MVP race twice—losing both times to Johnny Bench—and belted 426 home runs. Williams struck out 1,046 times in his career with a single-season high mark of 84.
At the plate as a left-handed batter, he was known as “Sweet-swinging Billy Williams” for his smooth stroke that helped him finish his career with 2,711 hits, five seasons with a batting average of .300 or higher, including a league-leading .333 mark in 1972, and 948 extra-base hits.
“I had a good swing and quickness,” Williams said. “I could put the bat on the ball because I learned to hit to the opposite field. A lot of players can’t make that adjustment and it leads to many strikeouts. If a player has good eye-hand coordination, he can improve his average and cut down on his strikeouts. Sometimes, he can raise his average if he learns to go with the pitch. Most guys want to pull the ball. It’s tough to teach them to hit the other way.”
Asked why strikeouts are more common, Williams said: “The game is tougher for hitters today because they don’t see the same pitcher in a game that much. They face the starter a couple of times, maybe three times and then they usually face a couple of relievers late in the game.
“Not only do they face multiple pitchers every game, but they have to be aware of more types of pitches—splitters, two-seam fastballs, four-seam fastballs, cutters, sliders, curveballs, changeups. In my time, if a pitcher fell behind in the count, the hitter knew a fastball was coming. Today, the pitchers throw any pitch at any time in the count, so hitters have to really be ready. And if the batter falls behind in the count, then it becomes even tougher to make contact.”
The pitcher who fanned Williams the most was Juan Marichal with 22 punch-outs against him. The only other pitcher to reach 20 strikeouts against Williams was former Pirates pitcher Bob Veale, who fanned him 20 times.
Below is a list of some of the great hitters in the game and the pitchers who struck them out the most.