With the recent “feel-good” publicity surrounding pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, BBRT took time to reflect on some unique accomplishments involving major league batteries – specifically looking at teams that could boast 200-strikeout performances by three pitchers in the same season. It’s only happened three times in major history, and the nine hurlers involve make up a pretty diverse bunch:
- Five have at least one MLB no-hitter on their resume, with two of those having fashioned multiple no-hit games;
- One is on a streak of five consecutive 200+ strikeout seasons, while five notched only one (well-timed for this list) 200+ strikeout seasons in their careers;
- One was only the eighth rookie to notch 200+ whiffs, and never came close to the mark again in a 14-season MLB career;
- One won sixteen consecutive Gold Gloves, while another is one of only eight pitchers to capture the Cy Young Award and league MVP in the same season;
- One threw 17 no-hitters in high school (while racking up a 52-1 won-lost record);
- One celebrated his eighteenth birthday by making his first major league start and striking out Willie Mays to end his first major league inning;
- One is one of only two pitchers to strikeout four batters in a single post-season inning;
- Four, at one time, led their league in wild pitches, including one who led his league in wild pitches and hit batters two consecutive years.
You’ll find all of this and more in the detailed look at the 200+ strikeout trios later in this post, but for those who just want to know the years, teams and pitchers, here they are:
- 1967 Minnesota Twins: Dean Chance (220 Ks), Jim Kaat (211), Dave Boswell (204).
- 1969 Astros: Don Wilson (235), Larry Dierker (222), Tom Griffin (200).
- 2013 Tigers: Max Scherzer (240), Justin Verlander (217), Anibel Sanchez (202).
Now, let’s take a more detailed look at these bat-missing trios of teammates.
1967 MINNESOTA TWINS
The 1967 Minnesota Twins were the first MLB team ever to have three pitchers on the roster reach the 200-strikeout mark – two hard throwing right-handers and a crafty southpaw who took the mound in 25 MLB seasons. All three were twenty-game winners at least once in their careers, and they totaled six 200-strikeout seasons among them. In 1967, these three hurlers went 50-39, leading the Twins to a 91-71 record and a second place AL finish.
Right-hander Dean Chance – 220 strikeouts. Acquired from the Angels after the 1966 season, the former Cy Young Award winner (1964), went 20-14, 2.73 in his first year as a Twin, leading the AL in starts (39) and complete games (18), while fanning 220 in 283 2/3 innings. His 1967 season included an August 25th 2-1 no-hit win against the Cleveland Indians. Chance was a rangy (6’3”, 200 lbs.) right-hander, with a sinking low- to mid-90s fastball, complemented by a curve, changeup and screwball.
Chance signed right out of high school, where he had a 52-1 record – with 17 no-hitters – for West Salem Northwestern High in Wayne Ohio. Graduating from high school in 1959, he was in the major leagues by the end of the 1961 season. Chance reached the 200 + strikeout mark three times in his eleven MLB seasons (1961-71) – and finished with a career mark of 128-115, 2.92, and 1,534 strikeouts in 2,147 1/3 innings. In his 1964 Cy Young season (with the Angels), Chance notched an AL-leading 20 wins (versus nine losses), while also leading the league in ERA (1.65), complete games (15), shutouts (11) and innings pitched (278 1/3) – while striking out 207.
In that 1964 season, Chance added to his reputation by truly “owning” the AL champion New York Yankees. Chance started five games against the Bronx Bombers, throwing four complete games and three shutouts. In the only game he didn’t complete, he pitched 14 innings and left with a scoreless tie. In 50 innings against the Yankees that year, Chance gave up only one run on 14 hits, while striking out 36. The only run the Yankees scored in those fifty innings was on a solo home run by Mickey Mantle.
Left-hander Jim Kaat – 211 strikeouts. Kaat went 16-13, 3.04, with 211 strikeouts in 263 1/3 innings. The southpaw was coming off the best season of his career (1966), when he led the AL with 25 wins (against 13 losses), and posted a 2.75 ERA, with 205 strikeouts in 304 2/3 innings pitched. Kaat relied on a rising fastball, sinker/slider, changeup and curve to carve out a 25-year MLB career (1959-83). Kaat, who won 283 games and notched 2,461 strikeouts, reached the 200-strikeout level only twice. A superb athlete, Kaat won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. The left-hander was a three-time All Star. In 1961, Kaat led the AL with 11 hit batters and 10 wild pitches – and he repeated the dual category leadership in 1962 with 18 hit batters and 13 wild pitches.
Kaat gained the respect of teammates and opponents alike when he kept the Twins in the tough 1967 pennant race through the month of September. In that month, Kaat pitched in 9 games (8 starts), going 7-0, with six complete games, a 1.51 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings.
He continues to show his athletic ability, shooting his age (75) as a golfer this past year (2013). While quite a few golfers can boast shooting their age, Kaat has the distinction of doing it twice in less than 30 days – once left-handed and once right-handed.
Right-hander Dave Boswell – 204 strikeouts. Another hard-thrower, Dave Boswell went 14-12, 3.27 and notched his 205 Ks in 222 2/3 innings in 1967. In 1966, as a starter and reliever, he had led the AL with a .706 winning percentage (12-5) and had struck out 173 hitters in 169 1/3 innings. Boswell, who relied primarily on a “plus” fastball, slow curve and slider, never again reached 200 strikeouts in a season. He did come close in 1969, when he fanned 190, while compiling a 20-12, 3.23 record.
Boswell, who made his big league debut in 1964 at age 19 (he had a 28-2 high school record), had 64 major league wins by the time he was 24. He injured his arm in the 1969 post-season (on a hard slider to Frank Robinson), went 4-9 in 1970-71 and retired after the 1971 season (at age 26). Boswell had a record of 68-56, 3.52, with 882 strikeouts in eight major league seasons (1964-71).
1969 HOUSTON ASTROS
The second MLB team – and first NL team – to boast three 200-strikeout hurlers was the 1969 Houston Astros (now of the AL). The Houston trio was made up of three young (24-, 22-, and 21-years-old) hard-throwing right-handers – one a rookie who would never again approach 200 whiffs (and, in fact, would only reach 100 strikeouts once more in his 14-year MLB career). The young, hard-throwing trio went a combined 47-35 as the Astros finished fifth in the NL West with an 81-91 record.
Right-hander Don Wilson – 235 strikeouts. The hard-throwing righty (rising fastball/sharp-breaking slider), like many of the fire-balling hurlers in the 200K trios, came to the major leagues at a young age, making his MLB debut at age 21 (1966). In 1969, he went 16-12, 4.00, fanning 235 hitters in 225 innings – and led the league with 16 wild pitches. Wilson was an effective starter for Houston, going 104-92, 3.15, with 1,283 strikeouts in 1,748 innings (1966-74). He reached the 200-strikeout level just once. Wilson fashioned two no-hitters in his brief career – his first, against the Braves in the Astrodome on June 18, 1967, was the first no-hit game ever pitched in a domed stadium or on artificial turf.
Wilson’s career was cut short in 1975 – at the age of 29 – when he died of carbon monoxide poisoning (He was found in the passenger seat of his car inside his garage with the engine running). Wilson’s last game was a 5-0, two-hit, complete game shutout win over the Braves in Atlanta on September 28, 1974.
Right-hander Larry Dierker – 222 strikeouts. Only 22-years-old, Dierker had already registered 95 starts, 33 complete games and 35 victories going into the 1969 season. After 1968’s 12-15, 3.31 record, with a league-topping 20 wild pitches, Dierker came of age in 1969. He went 20-13 (making him the Astros’ first twenty-game winner), 2.33, with 222 whiffs in 305 1/3 innings – notching 20 complete games in 39 starts. He never again reached 200 Ks, although the two-time All Star came close in 1970 (16-12, 3.87, 191 strikeouts in 269 2/3 innings).
Dierker made his major-league pitching debut on his 18th birthday (September 22, 1964) – striking out Jim Ray Hart and Willie Mays in his first MLB inning. He threw a no-hitter on July 9, 1976, against the Montreal Expos. Dierker ended a 14-season career (1964-77) with a 139-123. 3.31 record, with 1,493 strikeouts 2,333 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Tom Griffin – 200 strikeouts. A 21-year-old rookie, Griffin reached the 200 strikeout mark for what was to be the only time in a 14-season MLB career. At the time, he was only the eighth rookie in MLB history to reach 200-strikeouts. (That number now stands at 16.) Griffin went 11-10, 3.54, with 200 strikeouts in 188 1/3 innings. Griffin fell off to 3-13, 5.74 the following season and spent most of his career (1969-62) bouncing between starter and reliever. His career record was 77-94, 4.07, 5 saves, with 1,054 strikeouts in 1,494 2/3 innings. He only once topped 100 strikeouts after his first season. In 1974, Griffin went 14-10, 3.54 with 110 Ks in 211 innings.
2013 DETROIT TIGERS
The Tigers’ 2013 power-pitching trio, if they stay together, have a good chance of making the Motor City team the first to have two seasons in which three of their pitchers reach 200 strikeouts. This past season, these three right-handers went 48-23 and averaged a combined 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings – as the Tigers won the AL Central with a 93-69 record and also ran up the highest regular season strikeout total in MLB history (1,428).
Right-hander Max Scherzer – 240 strikeouts. The 2013 Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer led the AL with 21 wins (against only three losses, for a league-leading .875 winning percentage), logged a sparkling 2.90 ERA and struck out 240 hitters in 214 1/3 innings. Scherzer also passed the 200 K mark in 2012 (16-7, 3.74, 231 strikeouts in just 187 2/3 innings). Scherzer uses a three-quarter (nearly-sidearm) delivery to offer up a four-seam fastball that averages in the mid-90s and has been known to touch 100 mph, a mid-80s slider, a low-to-mid 80s changeup and a sparingly used high-70s curveball.
In four minor league seasons, Scherzer went 10-5, 2.69, with 232 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings pitched. At 29 and with an MLB career average of 9.4 whiffs per nine innings, Scherzer is a likely candidate to contribute additional 200+ strikeout seasons going forward. Scherzer has a six-season MLB record (2008-still active) of 73-45, 3.67, with 1,069 whiffs in 1,019 innings. He has yet to throw a complete game (MLB or minors).
Right-hander Justin Verlander – 217 strikeouts. At 6’ 5”, 225 lbs., Justin Verlander looks the part of power pitcher – the kind of strikeout artist you’d expect on this list. And, he has the stats to back up that image. Entering his tenth MLB season (at age 30), Verlander is looking back on five consecutive years of 200+ strikeouts. In an off year by his standards, Verlander’s 2013 record was 13-12, 3.46 with 217 strikeouts in 218 1/3 innings. A Rookie of the Year (2006), Cy Young Award winner and MVP (2011) and six-time All Star, Verlander has led the AL in innings pitched and strikeouts three times, topping the AL in wins in two of those seasons. He relies primarily on a four-seam fastball averaging about 95 mph (and known to top 100 mph), a low-to-mid 80s slider, a challenging 12-to-6 curveball and a mid-to-high 80s circle change.
Verlander is known for both reaching back for a little extra with two strikes on the hitter and maintaining (or even increasing) his velocity late in games. Verlander has two no-hitters to his credit – one the first no-hitter ever at Comerica Park. Drafted out of college (Old Dominion University), Verlander spent only one season in the minor leagues, going 11-2, 1.29, with 136 strikeouts in 118 2/3 innings, before earning a late-season look from the Tigers (2005). In nine MLB seasons (2005-still active), his record is 137-77, 3.41, with 1,671 strikeouts in 1,772 innings.
Right-hander Anibel Sanchez – 202 strikeouts. Acquired from Miami in July of 2012, Sanchez went 14-8, with 202 strikeouts in 182 innings (and led the AL with a 2.57 ERA) in his first full AL season. He previously struck out 202 batters in an NL season, with the Marlins in 2011. Less of a power pitcher than Scherzer or Verlander, Sanchez throws five pitches: four-seam and two-seam (sinking) fastballs in the mid-90s; a mid-80s slider; a high-70s curve; and a change-up. At 30, Sanchez should have additional 200+ strikeout campaigns ahead. The only caution is the fact that Sanchez had surgery in 2003 (elbow) and 2007 (shoulder).
Sanchez showed his potential in his rookie season (2006), coming up in late June and going 10-3, 2.83 in 18 games – including a September 6 no-hitter in a 2-0 win over the Diamondbacks. In the 2013 post season, Sanchez struck out four Red Sox in the first inning of the first game of the American League Championship Series – Jacob Ellsbury, Shane Victorino (who reached base on a wild pitch), David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. He is one of only two MLB players ever to strikeout four batters in a single postseason inning (Orvall Overall, 1980 World Series). Through his first 8 seasons (2006-still active), Sanchez is 62-59, 3.55 with 935 in strikeouts in 1,051 innings.