Growing up a stone’s throw from Shea Stadium in the early 70’s, Tom Seaver became my favorite player. I tried to emulate his dirty knee as I pitched in little league and was told that power came from the legs. Today, we see pitchers consistently pitch in the upper 90’s with mechanics that resemble a whip rather than the push of thick thighs like Seaver and Roger Clemens. I have been fascinated with pitching my whole life and one of my favorite memorabilia collections is my 3000 K club autographed baseballs. The only one I’m missing is Walter Johnson and I doubt I will ever get one being that the cost is well over $2000. With CC Sabathia reaching this milestone on Tuesday night, let’s look at who, if anyone, will reach this milestone in the near future and while we’re at it, take a look at the 300 win club and the lost art of the complete game.
There are many pitchers I can use as a reference but my Tom Seaver fandom makes it easy for me to use him to compare to the current crop of pitchers and put the state of 2019 pitching into perspective. CC is 38 years old and this is his 19th and last season. His K/9 rate over his career is 7.74 and the only season he averaged a K/inning was a season in which he only logged 46 innings. He did come close a few times with rates in the high 8’s. Seaver’s rate was only 6.85 and only reached 9 once during his stellar 1971 season. Sabathia struck out 200 three times. Seaver did it 10 of 11 years with 9 in a row and had 196 the year he missed. In fantasy we all look for pitchers with K/9 rates of 9 and above which is part of today’s game. Pitchers are throwing harder and hitters are swinging and missing at a much higher rate than ever before. At what expense are we seeing this though? Will any pitcher be able to have a career that is long enough to average a 150 strikeouts a year for 20 years?
So who is close? Will there be a long wait for another entrant into this exclusive club? Barring injury, I see two pitchers who should get there. After them, there is no one on the horizon that is obvious and 10 or more years may pass before another comes close. Justin Verlander sits at 2752. He continues to pitch at a high level. In 2018 he had 290 strikeouts which was a career best at age 35. It’s early in the season, but his K/9 rate is currently over 10 and if he keeps this up, he will easily be in the 2900’s by season’s end. Look for him to join the club in May of 2020.
The other one knocking on the door is Max Scherzer. He currently has 2503 and at age 34, and less mileage on his arm based upon big league innings pitched, he also should get there barring an injury. Scherzer has only thrown 2157 innings with K/9 rate of 10.44. Through the 1978 season, when Seaver was 34 he had thrown 3239 innings. Mad Max has reached 250 Ks the last 5 seasons with 300 last year. If he pitches until age 38 he only needs to average 125 to reach 3000. He has a chance at getting there in late 2020 but my guess would be early 2021.
After Verlander and Scherzer, the only other pitcher that I see with a possibility is Zach Greinke. He has 2474 with a career K/9 of 8.25. If he keeps up his career rate, which is not likely to happen, Greinke will need to throw 574 more innings. He was projected for about 160 innings this season. At that pace, he’ll need to pitch into his age 39 season at his 8.25 K/9 rate to get to 3000. Doable? I’m not feeling it and don’t think he’ll get there. He will be close though. Food for thought….If he does get there, is he a hall of famer?
Let’s try to find someone under the age of 30 who might have a chance to reach this milestone. There are currently only 3 pitchers and one knocking at the door who are under 30 and have over 1000 strikeouts. Seaver who was still 29 at the end of the ’74 season had 1856 under his belt. Madison Bumgarner, who will turn 30 on August 1st, has 1626. Before his last two injury plagued seasons, Bumgarner had 6 seasons in a row of at least 190 strikeouts. In order to reach 3000, he needs to average about 200 a year….for the next 7 years. My vote: not happening. The other three pitchers are Gerrit Cole with 1064 at age 28, Julio Teheran with 1058 at age 28 and Trevor Bauer with 971 at age 29. They each need to average about 200 a year for the next 10 years. This paints a clear picture of the drought that lies ahead. The door will close after Scherzer and may not reopen for more than 10 years. Hope baseball doesn’t lose the key.
Another club that I see an even longer wait for another entrant is for 300 wins. It has already been 10 years since we had a pitcher reach this milestone with Randy Johnson in 2009. Of current pitchers CC Sabathia leads the way with 247. Next on the list is Verlander with 208. At age 36, he’s not getting a key. The youngest pitcher with the most wins is Bumgarner with 111 at age 29. Think he’s getting 189 wins over the next 10 years? There are only 22 pitchers with over 100 wins currently and Bumgarner is the only one under 30. On August 1st, Gerrit Cole, who sits at 75, will be the leader in wins for those under 30 years of age. The 300 win club expansion is going to be on hold for a very long time.
While watching the Phillies and seeing Zach Eflin of all people throw a complete game, I decided to take a look at how rare that stat had become. If you look at the career leaders you’ll see some fairly ridiculous numbers, but that was mostly due to the early days of baseball. Looking at the modern era (my definition is a pitcher who I actually watched at least once), Gaylord Perry leads the way with 303 complete games over a 22 year career and ranks 39th overall. Skipping over a few brings us to Seaver who ranks 100th overall with 231. What piqued my interest was seeing that in 1971 Seaver had 21 complete games. From 2009 -2018 only 3 pitchers topped that total, not in one season, but over the 10 years combined. Roy Halladay had 27, Clayton Kershaw 25 and Cliff Lee had 22. Who is the active leader? CC Sabathia leads the way and sits at 997th of all time with a whopping total of 38. With the advent of the opener, pitch counts, and stacked bullpens, the complete game has become a rarity. The leaders in complete games in 2018 had 2.
Baseball is evolving and we may never see some things we have seen in the past. CC Sabathia, having been mentioned in all three sections of this piece, will be a hall of famer and represent the last of an era. Congrats to CC on joining the 3000 K club and my signed ball collection.
A special shout out to my daughter Donna who graduates today from James Madison University….Go Dukes!!!!
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