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    Wednesday, September 15, 2021

    The Future of the 3000 Strikeout Club, 2021 Edition

    Earlier this year, I published updates to some articles I did a few years ago, detailing the chances of current players reaching the 500 Homer and 3000 Hit milestones. I meant to do one for 3000 Strikeouts as well (since the last time I touched that was way back in 2015), but it slipped my mind. However, this past weekend, Max Scherzer became the nineteenth member of the club, which in turn reminded me that I had never actually gotten around to writing that piece.

    So let’s fix that! I’ll be using my method and numbers from last time to keep things simple. If you haven’t read one of these pieces before, the gist isn’t too complicated: first, I looked at how many strikeouts each eventual 3000 Strikeout pitcher had at each age (so, their totals through their age 23 seasons, then through their age 24 seasons, and so on). Next, I sorted them from highest to lowest and broke them into quartiles, and compared those quartiles to the overall number of liveball pitchers who fell in those ranges at that age. So if the range of the second quartile of the 3000 strikeout club at age 25 was 500 to 750 strikeouts, I looked at how many total pitchers also fell in that range, and then found the percent that eventually reached 3000 as a fraction of that total.*

    *One note here: instead of just a lowest quartile, I broke out Phil Niekro’s rate as a totally separate outlier, since he was such an anomaly in how late he started and lasted. So that’s the reason each set includes both a “Lowest” and “Second Lowest” threshold.

    And to clarify, this piece (like the others that I’ve done) aren’t necessarily guarantees that all of these players will pull it off. Rather, it’s intended to give a different perspective on the future of the milestone than just eyeballing the active leaderboard. Essentially, I’m looking at where past members of the club were at each age, and looking for players that look similar. A key part of reaching any milestone is staying productive into your 30s, which is not something every player can manage. Instead, we’re looking at which players are best positioned to do that in each age bracket, and giving a perspective of how many other players could or couldn’t keep it up from that age on. So with that, let’s get started.

    Age 23
    First Quarter Cutoff: 443 strikeouts (4.40% of pitchers with this many strikeouts at this age go on to 3000 strikeouts)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 375 (12.82% of pitchers between the last mark and this one get 3000 strikeouts)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 48 (0.26%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 0 (0.16%)
    Lowest: 0 (0.16%)

    There are a handful of current 23-year-olds with 100 strikeouts, but none with even 200 yet. Trevor Rogers and Triston McKenzie. Kolby Allard is third at 158, but that’s in part due to substantially more innings than anyone else in his age group.

    Age 24
    First Quarter Cutoff: 694 (8.16%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 540 (6.90%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 117 (0.43%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 25 (0.22%)
    Lowest: 0 (0.04%)

    2021 breakout star Logan Webb is third here, with 215 strikeouts in his career, and there’s a chance he’ll pass Jaime Barria (230) before the end of the year, given how much better his season has been. But neither is anywhere close to age-24 leader Julio Urías, who’s way out front with 407.

    Age 25
    First Quarter Cutoff: 970 (13.33%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 779 (12.12%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 283 (0.79%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 155 (0.55%)
    Lowest: 8 (0.03%)

    Jack Flaherty has struggled with injuries this season, but even with all of the missed time, he leads this age group with 563 Ks. His division rival Freddy Peralta (430) and former team Sandy Alcantara (415) are the next closest pitchers here.

    Age 26
    First Quarter Cutoff: 1215 (22.22%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 951 (11.11%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 491 (1.45%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 349 (1.17%)
    Lowest: 57 (0.05%)

    We have a quartet of young stars out in front here. Lucas Giolito (675), Shane Bieber (629), and Walker Buehler (609) are in a cluster, but age leader German Márquez has another huge lead on them, with 807 whiffs to his name.

    Age 27
    First Quarter Cutoff: 1534 (40.00%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 1261 (20.00%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 695 (2.00%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 504 (1.60%)
    Lowest: 74 (0.04%)

    Only one 27-year-old has topped Márquez’s total: recent Blue Jays acquisition José Berríos, who has a slight lead at 830. Lance McCullers Jr. is in second, but at just 733 strikeouts, he won’t even make it to 800 by the end of the year.

    Age 28
    First Quarter Cutoff: 1758 (40.00%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 1484 (28.57%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 940 (3.51%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 618 (1.28%)
    Lowest: 203 (0.08%)

    Aaron Nola is our youngest active player to hit the 1000-strikeout mark, with 1124 and counting. His ERA for the season looks a little rough, but his Fielding Independent numbers are more or less where they usually are (including a 3.41 FIP). Eduardo Rodríguez (872) and Blake Snell (818) are next, but just hitting the 800-K mark isn’t as impressive by this age.

    Age 29
    First Quarter Cutoff: 1981 (44.44%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 1724 (50.00%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 1210 (5.88%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 800 (1.49%)
    Lowest: 343 (0.12%)

    AL strikeout (and ERA) leader Robbie Ray is our second 1000-K pitcher of the piece, with 1262 and counting. He’s not necessarily on pace for 3000, but he’s also not in a position where it’s unthinkable, if he can stay healthy and productive for another six-to-eight years. And I know that sounds a little silly to say, but at the same time, Max Scherzer through age-29 was just wrapping up his tenure in Detroit and sitting at 1321 strikeouts. Carlos Martínez is a distant second here with 927 K, and with an ERA of nearly 7 over the last two years, is probably as close as you can get to “going backwards” in a counting stat.

    Age 30
    First Quarter Cutoff: 2220 (57.14%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 1913 (50.00%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 1435 (9.09%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 1119 (3.37%)
    Lowest: 536 (0.17%)

    Ray’s biggest competition in the Cy Young race leads the next group: Gerrit Cole, who is also our first pitcher past the halfway mark, at 1647. If he keeps up the pace of his last four seasons or so, he’s about four-and-a-half seasons away from 3000. That’s completely unrealistic of course (his 162 game average from 2018 to 2021 has worked out to 301 per season), but at the same time, even four-and-a-half seasons that are only partially as good (say, 225-250 Ks per year) still leaves him the entire back half of his 30s to pick up two- or three-hundred more, and even a 200-average over that span gets him within 500.

    Age 31
    First Quarter Cutoff: 2376 (57.14%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 2074 (50.00%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 1624 (13.79%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 1419 (7.50%)
    Lowest: 704 (0.23%)

    Madison Bumgarner should reach the 2000 strikeout mark pretty early next year; he’s already at 1936, well ahead of anyone else his age. On the one hand, his trajectory the last few years has been not great, but on the other hand, he started so young and had such a solid run in his 20s that he doesn’t really need to be great to reach 3000 Ks, just durable and not-bad. It’s not hard to envision him just trailing off from here, but he also has at least three more years on his contract with a team that’s rebuilding. At 31, he has time to try and reinvent himself, or figure out what went wrong. Even if he can’t return to his peak and can only approach something akin to his just-okay 2018-2019 self, 3000 won’t be out of reach.

    Age 32
    First Quarter Cutoff: 2530 (100%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 2224 (33.33%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 1850 (23.53%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 1571 (8.82%)
    Lowest: 877 (0.30%)

    Even after missing most of the last two years, Chris Sale still hasn’t dropped below the third quarter cutoff, with 2037 Ks under his belt. His strong return this year also bodes well, with 30 strikeouts through his first 25 innings. Obviously, his arm has to hold up still, but this is about as good as we could have hoped entering the year. For now, we can only watch how he finishes out 2021 and wait and see how he does with an offseason to build back his strength.

    After Sale is Stephen Strasburg; two years ago, in the wake of the Nationals’ title, he looked like he might establish himself as a dark horse to make a run at 3000, with 1695 Ks and a run of strong totals. Since then, he’s recorded just 23 strikeouts over 26.2 innings across two seasons, and it seems unlikely he’ll have the health needed to make a late run at the mark.

    Age 33
    First Quarter Cutoff: 2756 (100%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 2378 (40.00%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 2098 (40.00%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 1739 (11.54%)
    Lowest: 1041 (0.40%)

    Clayton Kershaw is an extremely straightforward case. At 2658 Ks, he only has 342 to go, and he’s still pitching effectively, with 189 strikeouts over 164.2 innings between 2020 and 2021. He’s not quite in that first quarter, 100% group, but he’s within 100. Maybe he slows down a step or two in the coming years, but even some just-okay seasons get him close enough to trip over the finish line. As long as he’s still capable of pitching, I imagine he’ll get as many chances to hit the milestone as he’s willing to take.

    Jacob deGrom is a much more interesting case to discuss. On the one hand, he’s been incredible for a while now. On the other hand, he’s only halfway to 3000 strikeouts, at 1505. As shown above, that wouldn’t be the lowest mark for a 33-year-old who eventually made it, but it would be the second-lowest. And on top of that, he’s 33 and injured. Back on the first hand, his performance this year prior to this injury was stellar, and age for a pitcher isn’t really a statement of certainty. And we aren’t exactly lacking for recent examples of good older pitchers. Max Scherzer is making his case for another Cy Young Award this season at 36. Justin Verlander did win another Cy Young a few years ago at the same age. Adam Wainwright just turned 40 and is having his best season in ages. There are even examples of pitchers who have remained solid into their 40s, both Hall of Famer and not. Really, for pitchers at this age, you’re better off just looking at how they’ve been lately. If deGrom is healthy, three or four more years like his last five or so gets him close. Five more seasons like his last five puts him within 100 Ks (and that even allows for some missed time or slowing down, given his shorter 2020 and 2021 seasons). The next few years will make or break his chances, but I think his odds are much better than they appear (even if he’s by no means a favorite). It really just hinges on if his problems this year are an oddity or an omen. Either way, I wish he was on a team with a better history handling injured players than the Mets.

    Age 34
    First Quarter Cutoff: 2887 (100%)
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 2524 (66.67%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 2329 (40.00%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 2032 (23.08%)
    Lowest: 1172 (0.46%)

    Lance Lynn (1576) and Yu Darvish (1569) both crossed the halfway mark this year. That’s not nothing. It still doesn’t make either one a great candidate at the moment, though.

    Age 35
    First Quarter Cutoff: 3070
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 2693 (80.00%)
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 2523 (66.67%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 2240 (18.75%)
    Lowest: 1367 (0.68%)

    David Price is just our third pitcher over 2000 strikeouts, with 2037, but his chances are basically nil. He hasn’t hit 200 whiffs in a season since 2016. His last seven appearances have included three bullpen appearances and three starts where he failed to escape the fifth inning. Even if he can move into the bullpen fulltime and become a shutdown reliever, his only real path to another 1000 Ks hinges on being an at-least-decent starter. For example, say starting next season, he has a second half as a star closer a la Dennis Eckersley: it’s worth noting that Eck still didn’t reach even 800 Ks or 1000 innings as a closer. And he converted to a reliever at age 32, and lasted until he was 43.

    Age 36
    First Quarter Cutoff: 3228
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 3040
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 2641 (80.00%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 2313 (18.75%)
    Lowest: 1511 (0.85%)

    Max Scherzer leads this age bracket in strikeouts. Can he reach 3000? I dunno. Sounds like an interesting idea for an article, though!

    Age 37
    First Quarter Cutoff: 3431
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 3137
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 2765 (80.00%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 2398 (21.43%)
    Lowest: 1684 (1.35%)

    The question for Zack Greinke at this point is basically “Do you want to stick around long enough to hit 3000?” At 2799, he’s a little bit too far away to do it in one year, but shouldn’t have any problems doing it in two. I know that a realization like that is partly what drove Mike Mussina to retire short of 300 wins and 3000 strikeouts, but he was also two years older than Greinke is now. Either way, he’s still an above-average pitcher, so I imagine plenty of teams would be willing to give him a chance over the next two years.

    Cole Hamels (2560 K) had an outside chance for a little while, but missing the last two years to injury have basically ended those hopes. Even if he comes back next year at 38 and pitches exactly as good as he did in 2019, he’d still need two more seasons equally as good afterwards to seal the deal. Still, even with that large gap, his chances at this point look better than Jon Lester (2469), who looks more or less done at this point.

    There aren’t too many pitchers left in the league this age or older, so we can just dump the rest of the age cutoffs all at once:

    Age 38
    First Quarter Cutoff: 3709
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 3154
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 2916 (100%)
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 2567 (33.33%)
    Lowest: 1946 (2.27%)

    Age 39
    First Quarter Cutoff: 3871
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 3208
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 3052
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 2778 (50.00%)
    Lowest: 2194 (3.85%)

    Age 40
    First Quarter Cutoff: 3920
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 3315
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 3141
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 2975 (100%)
    Lowest: 2402 (5.88%)

    Age 41
    First Quarter Cutoff: 4040
    Second Quarter Cutoff: 3431
    Third Quarter Cutoff: 3154
    Second Lowest Cutoff: 3011
    Lowest: 2578 (11.11%)

    Even counting the injured Justin Verlander, we only have nine pitchers 38 or older this season, and only six of those have thrown more than 9 innings. Obviously, Verlander leads this group, and is already over 3000 strikeouts with 3013; in retrospect, it’s good that he crossed that line when he did. If he had finished just short, I imagine the nearly two full years off would have felt just unbearable.

    Outside of him, Ervin Santana made a comeback as a reliever this year, but will probably fall just shy of 2000 strikeouts, with 1972 currently. J.A. Happ is even further off, but at least he made it past the halfway mark with 1646. Both of them are in their age 38 season, like Verlander. At 41, Rich Hill’s 1166 Ks are even more impressive when you remember that he only had 500 innings pitched through his age 35 season.
    The other player of note here is Adam Wainwright, who I mentioned earlier. By just about any metric, his age-39 season this year is the best he’s been since 2014, and it should get him over 2000 whiffs (he’s at 1997), but it’s also weird to think about. Like, it probably won’t happen, but what if this is the start of a Jamie Moyer-like renaissance for him? He’s proven adaptable in the past, he’s succeeding this year without overwhelming speed so it’s not like he has to worry about losing that much more. It still probably won’t be enough to get him to 3000 strikeouts or anything, but I kind of want to see that sort of weird career arc for fun, where I just come back in five years and he’s chugging along at 2500 Ks or something. How would it play out in real time? What effect would it have on his Hall of Fame case? Weird careers like that are always a lot of fun, and there’s nothing yet saying he couldn’t pull it off.

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