This is a little post that I do maybe every ten years or so. The purpose is to point out that nobody – ever – is going to throw as many strikeouts as Nolan Ryan.
It’s the most unbreakable modern-day record in sports. (Nobody is ever going to win more games than Cy Young, but that was a different game in a different time.) Somebody eventually is going to hit in 57 straight games. Somebody is going to break Hack Wilson’s RBI record. Somebody is going to break Hank Aaron’s home run record. (Yeah, yeah, yeah.) But no one is going to catch the Ryan Express.
The way you figure it out is this. Take all the active pitchers with a minimum number of strikeouts. Project the rest of their career and determine how long they would have to pitch in order to catch Nolan Ryan. Because, you see, you can beat the Ryan record of 5714 strikeouts; you just have to keep pitching for as long as he did, as effectively as he did, for 27 years, in his age-46 season.
Methodology: The following table has the active strikeout leaders. I’ve calculated their average strikeouts per year, and assumed that they can keep throwing at that level indefinitely (which is not the way to bet) and calculated just how old they would be when they equaled Nolan Ryan.
|Player||Seasons||Age||Strikeouts||Average strikeouts per year||Strikeouts behind Ryan||Years to Ryan||Age to Ryan|
I left off all the active pitchers who would have had to pitch past their 65-year-old retirement age. As funny as it might be to see Dallas Keuchel pitch until he’s 70 to try and catch Ryan, it’s not going to happen.
So what does this tell us? Is there a chance for the people at the top of the list? It certainly looks possible. Could Clayton Kershaw pitch until he’s 48? He might not want to, but he could try if he wanted to. A 48-year-old Clayton Kershaw pitching in a Rangers uniform is not, shall we say, unthinkable.
But here’s another way to think about it; Clayton Kershaw has been a strikeout machine for his entire career, has pitched at a Hall of Fame level, and he isn’t even halfway to Nolan Ryan’s record. Verlander is only barely halfway to Ryan and it took two unbelievable strikeout seasons in 2018 and 2019 to get there. He’s not going to keep pitching until he’s over fifty, he’s just not.
Of the people on this list, if I had to guess if any of them would even get close, I might pick Chris Sale. Maybe. He can pitch 300 strikeouts a year, if he can keep it up for ten years, coming back from Tommy John, I might say maybe. But I’m not seeing it.