3,000 K's is one of MLB's rarest feats

Baseball's 3,000-strikeout fraternity is smaller than you probably think

September 12th, 2021

The 3,000-strikeout club, one of baseball's most exclusive, has a new member, and it's Max Scherzer.

Scherzer became just the 19th pitcher to reach the 3,000-K mark, adding to this list (date of 3,000th strikeout in parentheses):

Walter Johnson (July 22, 1923)
Bob Gibson (July 17, 1974)
Gaylord Perry (Oct. 1, 1978)
Nolan Ryan (July 4, 1980)
Tom Seaver (April 18, 1981)
Steve Carlton (April 29, 1981)
Fergie Jenkins (May 25, 1982)
Don Sutton (June 24, 1983)
Phil Niekro (July 4, 1984)
Bert Blyleven (Aug. 1, 1986)
Roger Clemens (July 5, 1998)
Randy Johnson (Sept. 10, 2000)
Greg Maddux (July 26, 2005)
Curt Schilling (Aug. 30, 2006)
Pedro Martinez (Sept. 3, 2007)
John Smoltz (April 22, 2008)
CC Sabathia (April 30, 2019)
Justin Verlander (Sept. 28, 2019)
Max Scherzer (Sept. 12, 2021)

Three thousand strikeouts is a mark that requires excellence and longevity, which means there's a good number of legendary aces who aren't listed above (e.g. Tom Glavine, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Robin Roberts, Dwight Gooden, Jim Palmer, etc.). In fact, the 3,000-K fraternity is markedly smaller than baseball's other marquee clubs; 39 position players have stolen 500 bases, 32 have knocked 3,000 hits and 28 have clubbed 500 home runs, and 24 pitchers have won 300 games.

Scherzer, a master of the K, seemed destined to join the 3,000-strikeout club dating back to at least 2012, when he began his string of eight consecutive 200-K seasons with the Tigers and Nationals. Now he's finally a member with the Dodgers.

While Scherzer has made a lot of his K’s look easy, crossing the 3,000-K threshold is anything but. Here's a little more context for just how hard it is for a pitcher to get there:

• Walter Johnson was the first to notch 3,000 strikeouts when he punched out fellow pitcher Stan Coveleski on July 22, 1923. Baseball then had to wait nearly 51 years to the day until the next pitcher, Gibson, reached the mark on July 17, 1974. In comparison, only 11 years passed until Jimmie Foxx joined Babe Ruth as the second member of the 500-homer club in 1940. It took 17 years for Honus Wagner to join Cap Anson in the 3,000-hit club, and just two years for Tim Keefe to join Pud Galvin as the second 300-win pitcher.

• Baseball fans have been spoiled watching CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Scherzer cross 3,000 strikeouts in the last three years. But the sport has had some droughts: 11 years passed between John Smoltz in 2008 and Sabathia in 2019. There was also a 12-year gap between Bert Blyleven (1986) and Roger Clemens (1998).

The 300-win club had one gap of nearly 13 years between Ryan (1990) and Clemens (2003), but has not seen another void of at least 10 years since the 20-year span from Lefty Grove in 1941 to Warren Spahn in '61. Meanwhile, the 500-homer club's longest wait between members over the last half century was the nine-year wait from Mike Schmidt (1987) to Eddie Murray (1996). The longest gap between 3,000-hit members in that span was seven years between Rod Carew (1985) and Robin Yount (1992).

• More pitchers have twirled a perfect game (23) in modern history than compiled 3,000 strikeouts. Nearly as many pitchers (14) have recorded an immaculate inning over the past three seasons alone. (Fun fact: Scherzer threw one of those immaculate innings in the game he joined the 3,000-strikeout club.)

• Scherzer reached 3,000 strikeouts in only the 404th appearance of his Major League career, the second-fewest on anyone’s path to 3,000 K’s behind Randy Johnson (362 games) per the Elias Sports Bureau. Johnson also needed the fewest innings of the club at 2,470 2/3 frames. Scherzer is second, doing it in 2,516 innings.

• While it's true that Scherzer is currently pitching in a strikeout-rich era, he didn't necessarily start in one. The Major League strikeout rate was 17.5% percent in 2008, the year in which Scherzer debuted. That was also the year when strikeout rates began rising in every season until the most recent record of 23.4% set last year (2021 is hovering right around that figure again).

Scherzer’s current career strikeout rate of 29.4% percent is poised to be the highest in the 3,000-K club, topping current leader Randy Johnson (28.6%).

• Who’s next to 3,000 K's now that Scherzer's in the club? Zack Greinke (2,799) and Scherzer’s current teammate, Clayton Kershaw (2,653), could join over the next handful of years. But another gap after that could be looming, with 32-year-old Chris Sale looking like the next-likeliest candidate at 2,037.

• The biggest hurdle for aspiring 3,000-K pitchers used to be that hitters simply didn't strike out all that often. Now, it's a question of workload.

Only 15 pitchers reached 200 innings in the most recent full season in 2019, one year after just 13 pitchers (a record low for any non-strike season since 1900) got there in '18. Meanwhile, the members of the 3,000-K club have combined for 261 200-inning seasons, including Scherzer, for an average of roughly 14 such campaigns per pitcher. In fact, the club contains 13 of the top 29 pitchers in history for most 200-inning seasons compiled, topping out with the all-time leader Don Sutton at 20.

Scherzer currently has the fewest 200-inning seasons (six) of anyone in the 3,000-strikeout club, but obviously he has more years remaining to increase that total. Pedro Martinez needed only seven 200-frame seasons to punch his ticket into the club.