Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer recorded his 3,000th career strikeout on Sunday. This makes him the 19th pitcher in MLB history to reach the storied plateau. He joins former Tigers teammate Justin Verlander as the only active pitchers who have hit the milestone. In the aftermath, while giving the future Hall of Famer Scherzer his due, it's only natural to catch our eyes looking elsewhere.
That is, who comes next and what other active pitchers might follow? Let's take a look.
Greinke is the active leader in strikeouts with 2,799. He turns 38 years old in October and is a free agent after this season. Surely he'll find a job, as he's been effective this year (3.66 ERA in 159 2/3 innings, good for a 118 ERA+), but his strikeout rate is dwindling. He's struck out 110 this year and in 2019 it was 187 in 208 2/3 innings. There's a reasonable chance he makes 3,000, but it isn't a sure thing.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Kershaw is next on the active list with 2,653 strikeouts and he's a good bet to be number 20 to get there. Injuries have to be a concern, as Kershaw hasn't made 30 starts in a year since 2015. Still, in 2019-21 so far, Kershaw has made 56 starts and struck out 378 batters. Merely repeating that the next three years gets him home and that's without throwing another pitch this season, which is unlikely. He's also only 33.
Sale is a bit further away than the other two up here at 2,037 strikeouts. At 32, he's not a ton younger than Kershaw. Sale can rack 'em up and close the gap rather quickly, though. He struck out 308 in 214 1/3 innings in 2017. He actually averaged more than 13 strikeouts for every nine innings the following two seasons, too. He's only made five starts since 2019 thanks to having Tommy John surgery, but in his return this year he's struck out 30 in 25 innings. A big age-33 season in 2022 and he's well on his way.
Give him a few years
Things happen -- see Sale's Tommy John surgery -- so Cole isn't yet a great bet to get to 3,000. He has 1,647 strikeouts and is in his age-30 season. It's just that at this rate he's surging toward the mark. In his last four seasons (103 starts), Cole has 913 strikeouts in 644 1/3 innings. Remember, there's a pandemic-shortened season in there. Let's say Cole strikes out 1,000 hitters in the next four seasons. That's 2,647 on top of however many hitters he sits down the rest of this year. And that's only through his age-34 season. He's signed with the Yankees through his age-37 season. In projecting things out, it looks promising. As noted, though, things happen.
David Price, Dodgers: Price has 2,037 career strikeouts, but he's in his age-35 season and has struck out 437 since 2016.
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: Strasburg is sitting with 1,718 career strikeouts. He's 33 now and had to undergo thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. That usually ruins pitchers. If it doesn't, he's a guy who can rack up the Ks. He's still pretty far away and likely just doesn't have enough time and/or arm left.
Jacob deGrom, Mets: He surpassed the halfway mark earlier this season and has 1,505. Unfortunately, deGrom got a late start and now he has arm issues. If he does come back full strength next year, he'll still have to maintain that level until he's at least 40.
Aaron Nola, Phillies: It was tough to actually know where to put Nola on here. It doesn't feel like he's been around that long, right? He has 1,114 strikeouts! Of course, it is his seventh season now. He's 28 years old. It seems reasonable that Nola could average 200 strikeouts for the next five years and that gets him to a bit over 2,100 through his age-33 season. That seems like more a longshot. It's possible a pitcher with his talent level takes off in the range of ages 28-33, as several on this list have. Nola is somewhere between a longshot and good foundation.
José Berríos, Blue Jays: He only has one career 200-plus strikeout season, though he's 23 away this year. The current career mark for Berríos is 830, meaning he gets to 1,000 during his age-28 year.
Shane Bieber, Cleveland: The 2020 pandemic and 2021 injury set him back a bit, but Bieber still has 629 strikeouts now in his age-26 season.
Walker Buehler, Dodgers: Another in his age-26 season, Buehler has 609 career strikeouts.
Jack Flaherty, Cardinals: He'll need to better avoid injury, but Flaherty is only 25 and already has 536 strikeouts.