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The Phillies' Historically Stunning April Whiff Rate

There was so much that was shocking about the Phillies' April. But, outside of the team's win percentage, perhaps nothing shocks more than the team's historically-great whiff rate.

Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Going into last night's game, Phillies' pitchers led all of baseball with 254 strikeouts.  The Boston Red Sox were running a not-so-close second with 243, and the Washington Nationals were an-even-more-distant third with 217.

That's a stunning difference.  Stated differently, the Phillies lead the next closest team in all of baseball by 11 and the next closest NL team by 37.  Here are the top 10 teams in the majors before yesterday's games:

PHI 254
BOS 243
WSN 217
NYM 216
ARI 213
TBR 213
LAD 212
SEA 208
PIT 207
OAK 206

These numbers don't tell the true story, though, as teams have wildly different innings pitched this early in the season.  Early season schedules vary, April weather is fickle, and extra innings games haven't evened out.  This early season variation has resulted in the total innings pitched for each team spanning from 194.3 for the Indians to 251.7 for the Diamondbacks.

A better stat for judging a team's strikeout dominance is the rate stat of K/9.  And here, the Phillies have excelled.  In fact, they have excelled in a way that has re-written history books.

The Phillies' April strikeout rate per nine innings pitched was 10.2.  This strikeout rate is the highest ever for April/March (combined in the stat books because of the very low number of March games).  You read that correctly - this ragtag bunch of pitchers that is the Phillies 2016 staff has set the all-time record for the highest K/9 rate for the first month of baseball (stats starting in 1913, courtesy of the Baseball Reference Play Index).

Here are the only 18 April/March K/9 rates that have been 9.5 or higher:

1 PHI 2016 10.2
2 BOS 2013 9.9
3 CLE 2015 9.9
4 DET 2013 9.8
5 BOS 2016 9.8
6 LAD 2015 9.7
7 WSN 2014 9.6
8 NYM 2016 9.5

Looking at all months since 1913, the Phillies' April this year ranks second ever, with only the Detroit Tigers' September/October of 2013 outpacing the Phillies' April this year.  Here are the top 10 since 1913:

1 DET Sept/Oct 2013 10.3
2 PHI April/March 2016 10.2
3 SDP Sept/Oct 2015 10.1
4 TBR June 2014 10.0
5 BOS April/March 2013 9.9
6 DET May 2013 9.9
7 CLE April/March 2015 9.9
8 CLE Sept/Oct 2014 9.8
9 DET April/March 2013 9.8
10 BOS April/March 2016 9.8

It doesn't take an overly astute reader to note something peculiar about these last two charts - all of the record whiff rates have been from 2013 or later.  In fact, expanding these charts just a bit, the only team not of recent vintage to appear on either category's top-20 is the 1966 Cleveland Indians, who had a 9.3 K/9 rate in April of 1966.

That April though was a strange bird - the Indians played only 11 games in the month.  The other teams on the list played twice as many, or more.  The Indians also had an incredible start to that season, winning their first 10 games and outscoring their opponents 42-19 over that span.  In other words, the Indians' 1966 start was a combination of small sample size and an incredible fluke.

I'm going to take a closer look at this aspect of K/9 stats tomorrow, but for now, we can just enjoy the fact that the 2016 Phillies, who were supposed to give us nothing but development this year, have given us a pitching staff for the record books.

And who would have predicted that after the team's 0-4 start?