Sewell's numbers have been fairly well known in stat circles for awhile, 114 strikeouts over 13 seasons, including 9 straight seasons of under 10 k's - 2 with 3 (1930, 1932) and 3 with 4 (1925, 1929, 1933).
Willie Keeler has always had a reputation as a tough player to strike out and his up until recently partial totals gave an indication of that (6 in 1894 & 9 in 1896). Now that all of Keeler's missing seasons have been added to B-R, we can now get a more complete picture of Keeler's ability to avoid the whiff.
First of all, one can go to B-R and look at the AB/K career leaders and see that Keeler & Sewell are neck and neck.
Keeler - 63.17
Sewell - 62.56
Career Leaders - At-bats per K
But this raises the inevitable dispute that Keeler hit in an era that had less strikeouts per ab anyways; Afterall, Sewell played during the era of big hitters.
Well, I wanted to see which player was a better strikeout avoider relative to their eras.
I first went and calculated the K/AB ration for all of the seasons that Keeler and Sewell played in:
1. Despite playing in completely different eras, the overall league averages for Keeler's and Sewell's K/AB is nearly identical (0.86 vs. 0.88).
2. While the league K/AB in Sewell was relatively stable (narrower variance), 0.77 to 0.96, Keeler's career is distinctly divided into 3 separate periods: 1892, 1893-1900, 1901-1910.
3. 1892 represented the last year of the 50 foot pitching box distance and had a 0.093 K/AB league average
4. With the lengthening of the pitching distance to 60 ft 6 in in 1893, the league average for K/AB went down to 0.059 and averaged 0.063 through the period up through 1900.
5. In 1901, the National League instituted the foul strike rule (1903 for the AL) and as a result, the K/AB jumped up from 0.069 in 1900 to 0.109 in 1901. For the remainder of Keeler's career (1901-1910), his league averaged 0.115 K/AB. This era actually had higher strikeout rates than any season during Sewell's era.
Because of the fluctation in K/AB in Keeler's career, I wanted to compare each to their league average by season and overall career. In order to do that, I adapted the BK+ stat that I had used in my previous research from K/G relative to the league to K/AB relative to the league
Here is Sewell's numbers:
Here are Keeler's numbers:
Again, as stated before, their career K/AB are nearly identical. What is interesting is their BK+ numbers.
1. Career-wise, Keeler holds the edge 555 to 536 (5.5 times better sitrkeout ratio than the league average).
2. Keeler has the 2 best BK+ seasons - 1747 in 1899 and 1677 in 1906.
3. Sewell has more BK+ seasons over 1000 - 5 (1925, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1933) versus "only" 3 for Keeler (1899, 1901, 1906). Keeler did have 2 more seasons over 940 (1898, 1900).
4. Keeler did play 6 more seasons than Sewell, but only 200 more games.
5. If we only look at "core" seasons (120+ games) for each, the numbers tell us a slightly different story:
Keeler core, 1894-1906 - BK+ - 819
Sewell core, 1920-1929, 1930-1933 - BK+ - 748
These are arbitrary groupings of course, and either way, these two hitters were easily the best at avoiding the whiff.