Albert Pujols. Joe Mauer. Nomar Garciaparra. You probably think of them as tough outs. Grinders. And you don’t think of them as whiffers.

Same with the entire Yankee, Red Sox, and Ray lineups. The American League East certainly seems to work the count, and pitchers don’t exactly rack up strikeouts against them.

Yet, when it comes to striking out, these guys deserve nothing more than honorable mentions.

From T-ball to Little League and Single A to The Show, striking out is a hitter’s worst nightmare. Okay, T-ballers don’t fan much—one hopes—but at every other level, striking out remains the pits of batting.

Head hung in shame, muttering to himself, the whiffer mopes back to a dugout indifferent to his return. No fist knocks or masculine slaps on the rear. Other players keep their eyes fixed on the field.

Strikeouts are largely, justifiably treated with such disdain, for they produce nothing. Every 12-year-old travel leaguer knows that when the ball is put in play, good things can happen.

Aside from occasionally wearing down a pitcher on a 15-pitch punchout, a hitter who fans has exchanged his out for absolutely nothing. And according to Billy Beane, this game of baseball is governed by outs.

Consequently, not striking out is nearly as valuable as any other tangible contribution a player can make.

The average strikeout rate, even among strong Major-League hitters is in the neighborhood of 20 percent. One out of every five plate appearances, hitters like Matt Holliday and Ryan Braun return to the dugout cursing at themselves.

Adam Dunn and Mark Bellhorn curse themselves a lot.

As the game has progressed through the years, hitters have largely struck out more—or pitchers have done them in more depending on your perspective.

Boston’s Tris Speaker is probably the all-time greatest hitter with the lowest strikeout rate. Speaker hit a career .345/.428/.500 with an incredible 2.8 K%.

Nearly as impressive were old-time ballplayers like Ty Cobb, Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, Joe Jackson, and Willie Keeler, but these guys played about a century ago.

Who’s been good recently? Who has been the best recently?

Guys like Mauer (.327 AVG / 11.5 K%), Pujols (.332 AVG / 11.2 K%), and Garciaparra (.313 AVG / 9.9 K%) are good, but really these guys don’t come close to the best of the past 25 years.

Here are the top 10 most difficult hitters to punch out.

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