Mets: A closer look at Tom Seaver’s exceptional career strikeout numbers

QUEENS, NY - 1983: Pitcher Tom Seaver #41 of the New York Mets pitches at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York in 1983. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos)
QUEENS, NY - 1983: Pitcher Tom Seaver #41 of the New York Mets pitches at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York in 1983. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos) /

Legendary New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver has some of the most impressive strikeout numbers in Major League Baseball history.

When New York Mets fans and baseball fans alike think about “all-time strikeout kings,” Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton come to mind for right-handers and left-handers, respectively. From the “yesteryear” of baseball history, Walter Johnson stands tall as the clear strikeout king from the game’s first century. He amassed 3509 strikeouts over twenty-one years in the major leagues, which was a major league record for 56 years from 1927 until 1983.

Slightly farther down that all-time list, Mets pitching great Tom Seaver looms well within the top ten all-time in strikeouts. He has the sixth-most strikeouts of any pitcher in major league history, with 3640 punchouts across twenty major league seasons. By this measure alone, he should be lauded as one of the all-time great strikeout kings. And yet, his name does not carry this reputation as strongly as it should.

Seaver has many other mind-boggling strikeout statistics to his credit. He led the National League in strikeouts five times in his career, which only 13 other pitchers have ever done for either the American or National League. He had ten 200+ strikeout seasons in the National League, more than any other pitcher in history. Seaver also had 200+ strikeouts for nine consecutive years from 1968-1976. That is the longest such streak in major league history.

Seaver led the NL in strikeouts per nine innings six times. That statistic becomes even more remarkable when you consider how many innings Seaver threw over the course of his baseball career. He AVERAGED 250 innings per a 162 game season, exceeding that mark eleven times in his career including all of his first seven big league seasons. His strikeouts were an integral aspect of his workhorse reputation and got him through many crucial innings with the Mets.

Seaver’s strikeout statistics are outstanding when compared to his walk numbers. For all of the accolades that Nolan Ryan receives as the all-time strikeout king, he also holds the all-time record for most walks allowed by any pitcher, surrendering 2795 free passes over 27 seasons. These walks somewhat deflated his career strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was 2.04.

By contrast, in twenty seasons, Seaver gave up over 1300 fewer walks than Ryan, finishing his career with 1390 walks and a 2.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He clearly struck out fewer batters in total, but still managed a crisper ratio of strikeouts to walks because when he did not strike batters out, he kept his control more often than Ryan.

Seaver’s single-game strikeout numbers are remarkable as well. He struck out double-digit batters 70 times in 647 career starts. That lands him 10th on the all-time list for most double-digit strikeout games. Seaver is the sole owner of another single-game strikeout record. He is the only pitcher in big-league history to strike out ten consecutive batters in a game, which he did on April 22, 1970, against the San Diego Padres.

Seaver finished that start against the Padres with 19 total strikeouts. He is one of only ten pitchers in major league history to ever strike out 19 batters in a single game.

In case you’re still not impressed with Seaver’s strikeouts and overall career numbers, here’s the final blow. Only two pitchers in major league history won 300 games, struck out 3000 batters, and had a sub-3.00 career ERA: Tom Seaver and Walter Johnson. That’s it.

Seaver has by far the most strikeouts for any pitcher in New York Mets history, with 2541 Ks compiled during his many stellar years in Queens. Mets fans know him as the team’s all-time strikeout king, his franchise strikeout records unlikely to be broken even by Jacob deGrom. And yet, on a historic scale, his strikeout accomplishments are somewhat underrated by the general baseball-viewing public.

Seaver may not have one singular career strikeout statistic that vaults him ahead of the pack. But it’s hard to argue that there was a more effective right-handed pitcher in baseball that struck out more batters over the last century. Seaver didn’t just strike people out, he was extremely successful at preventing runs while doing so. For reference, his career ERA of 2.86 is nearly a third of a run lower than Ryan’s career 3.19 ERA. In the context of those two pitchers, I would rather have the pitcher who prevented more runs and still struck out over 3500 batters in his career.

Next. Tom Seaver begins a Hall of Fame career

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Seaver’s baseball career ended over 30 years ago, and he is still very high on many all-time strikeout leaderboards. He was a workhorse, a World Series champion, a three-time Cy Young winner, and a consummate professional from his first start in 1967 to his final season in 1986. With all that said, he absolutely deserves the title of “all-time strikeout great” permanently etched on his resume.

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