Like a .300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBI for hitters, 200 strikeouts in a season has always been a benchmark of excellence for pitchers. In turn, a 2000 strikeout decade is truly a measure of sustained excellence, perhaps even greatness.
In baseball’s modern era, since 1900, pitchers have topped 2000 strikeouts within a decade only 13 times. In the 1970s four players achieved this feat – Tom Seaver (Mets/Reds, 2304), Steve Carlton (Cardinals/Phillies, 2097), Bert Blyleven (Twins/Rangers/Pirates, 2082), and Nolan Ryan who had the most ever in a decade while pitching for the Mets and Angels (2678). No other decade has ever had more than two pitchers exceed 2000 strikeouts. In the 1980s only one pitcher topped 2000: Ryan again, this time with 2167. Randy Johnson eventually joined Ryan as the only other pitcher in baseball history to exceed the 2K mark in strikeouts twice; Johnson did it in the 1990s (2538- second most in a decade all-time), followed by 2182 strikeouts in the 2000s.
Johnson and Ryan share another notable decade strikeout achievement – they are the only pitchers to ever lead two different decades in strikeouts. Only five other pitchers finished in the Top 10 twice – Walter Johnson (’10s and ’20s), Lefty Grove (’20s and ’30s), plus Bert Blyleven and Steve Carlton (like Ryan also ’70s and ’80s), and Pedro Martinez who joined Johnson in the Top 10 of the 1990s and 2000s.
Ryan, who holds the career strikeout record of 5714 (839 more than second place Randy Johnson), is clearly the most prolific strikeout artist in baseball history. He holds the single season record with 383 strikeouts in 1974 and exceeded 300 strikeouts in a season six times (tied with Randy Johnson for the most ever). Ryan also holds records for most 200+ strikeout seasons (15) and the most games with 10 or more strikeouts (215). Ryan had 15 or more strikeouts in a game 26 times (second to Johnson’s 28). He led the league in strikeouts 11 times (second all time to Walter Johnson’s 12) – with his first strikeout title coming as a 25-year-old in 1972, and his last four crowns at the ages of 40, 41, 42, and 43.