New York Yankee lefthander CC Sabathia became just the 17th pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball to record 3,000 career strikeouts when he punched out Arizona catcher John Ryan Murphy in the second inning of Tuesday’s game. Congratulations, Mr. Sabathia, that number is impressive.
Now we look ahead to see who else will join this exclusive club, one that shows sheer dominance and longevity. Currently, the next six possible candidates are Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, and Clayton Kershaw.
WILL DO IT:
The obvious choice to do it next is Justin Verlander. He opened the season 294 strikeouts away from the milestone and is right now on pace to collect 249. Given his lack of injury history (one stint on the disabled list since his rookie year in 2006), he’ll get it early in 2020.
Max Scherzer also makes my list of “he’ll get it”. Scherzer came into the season with 2449 punchouts and is on pace to collect 297 this year. Of course, barring any injuries (big if considering his lack of injury history), Scherzer should make it to 3,000 before the end of 2020.
Clayton Kershaw will get there, but there are some questions. The biggest one is can he stay healthy. He has missed significant time over the last three seasons, failing to make 30 starts in any season between 2016 and 2018. As it currently stands, he’s averaged 176 strikeouts per year in that timeframe. If he were to follow the averages over the last three years (25 starts, 176 strikeouts), he’ll get there in about five years, at the age of 36. If he reverts to 2011 to 2014 Kershaw, he would get to 3000 by the end of 2021 when he’s 33.
POSSIBLE IF THEY PLAY IT OUT:
Zack Greinke makes this list mostly because time is not quite on his side. He still has the stuff to collect 200 strikeouts a year, but that is probably as high as he’ll get on a year-to-year basis. Currently, Greinke is on pace to finish with 217 strikeouts so he will need to go into 2021 or 2022. Considering the mileage he’s put on his arm already, that could be a tall order, especially since he’s already 35.
Cole Hamels makes this list, also due to his age and innings worked already. To get to 3,000, Hamels would need to work into 2022 (his age 38 season) to get there. He’s always had a great changeup, and if he can keep adapting (he added a cutter and developed a great feel for his curveball as well over the years), there is little to believe he’ll hang them up before he gets his chance.
Felix Hernandez makes the “probably not” list because of the diminishment on his pitches, especially his fastball. When he came up at the age of 19, he had a heater that ran an average 94-96. He also worked at least 200 innings a year between 2008-2015, so his arm has logged 2500 innings already in his now 15th season. Time, and shoulder woes, have caught up to King Felix, and his fastball sits at 90-92 on the radar gun. Hernadez is on pace to pick up 160 strikeouts IF he can make a full 33 starts. That’s not likely at this point, so with his current three average of 108, he would need to pitch almost five more years to get there. I just don’t see it.