Throughout the history of Major League Baseball, pitchers have been known to set records, many of which seem impossible to even come close to breaking with today’s standard procedures. From Nolan Ryan to Cy Young, a list has been compiled of pitching records that may never be broken in the future of MLB.
Most career wins – 511 Set by Cy Young in 1890–1911. For a player to accomplish this, he would have to average 25 wins in 20 seasons just to get to 500. In the past 38 years, only 3 pitchers (Ron Guidry in 1978, Bob Welch in 1990, and Steve Stone in 1980) have had one season with 25 wins. Between 2000 and 2009, the Major League leader finished each year with an average of 21. The pitcher with the most career wins during the 2015 season (222 wins), Tim Hudson, retired, making 43-year-old Bartolo Colón the active leader entering the 2016 season, with 218 wins.
Most wins in a season – 59 Set by Old Hoss Radbourn, in 1884. Most pitchers in today’s game start 30–35 games per season, and thus do not start enough games to break the record. The most games started by a pitcher in the 2014 season was 34, accomplished by six pitchers. This means that even if a pitcher were to win every game started in this scenario, he would still fall 25 wins short of tying Radbourn’s record. The last pitcher to win 30 games in a season was Denny McLain in 1968 and the last pitcher to win 25 games in a season was Bob Welch in 1990.
Most career complete games – 749 Set by Cy Young, 1890–1911. Highlights of this record include: nine 40-complete-game seasons, eighteen 30-complete-game seasons and completing 92 percent of his total career starts (815). For a player to accomplish this, he would have to average 30 complete games over 25 seasons to get to 750.
The closest active player is the 36-year-old CC Sabathia with 38 complete games.
Most complete games in a season – 75 The all-time record of 75 was set by Will White in 1879; the modern-era record of 48 was set by Jack Chesbro in 1904. Sports Illustrated has said about this record, “Even if the bar is lowered to begin with the Live Ball era (which began in 1920), the mark would still be untouchable.” The most complete games recorded in a live-ball season is 33, achieved twice at the dawn of that era—by Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1920 and Burleigh Grimes in 1923. According to Sports Illustrated, modern starters can expect to start about 34 games in a season.
Most career shutouts – 110 Set by Walter Johnson, 1907–27. He had eleven 6-shutout seasons and lead the league in shutouts 7 times.The next closest player is Grover Cleveland Alexander, who has 20 fewer shutouts at 90. As is the case for career wins and complete games, Warren Spahn holds the record among pitchers whose entire careers were in the live-ball era, with 63. For a player to tie Johnson’s record, he would have to pitch 5 shutouts every season for 22 years. Between 2000 and 2009 the Major League leader in shutouts finished each year with an average of 4. The closest active player is Colón with 13.
Most consecutive no-hitters – 2 Set by Johnny Vander Meer on June 11 and 15, 1938. Despite holding this record, he finished his career with a 119–121 win–loss record. The prospect of a pitcher breaking this record by hurling three consecutive no-hitters is so unimaginable that LIFE described this as “the most unbreakable of all baseball records.” Ewell Blackwell came the closest to matching Vander Meer after following up a no-hitter with eight no-hit innings in 1947. In 1988, Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays had consecutive no-hitters going with two outs in the ninth; both were broken up by singles. Between 2000 and 2009, 20 no-hitters were pitched, and the closest anyone came in the 21st century is Max Scherzer, who in 2015 threw a one-hitter and no-hitter in consecutive starts, respectively losing out on perfect games in the seventh inning and on the 27th batter.
Most career no-hitters – 7 Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93. Sandy Koufax is second with 4 no-hitters. Between 2000 and 2009 there were 20 no-hitters and no other pitcher has tossed more than three no hitters. Only 32 pitchers have thrown 2 or more no-hitters, and of the 18 active pitchers that have thrown a no-hitter, only six have pitched more than one.
Most career strikeouts – 5,714 Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93. Highlights include: six 300-strikeout seasons, fifteen 200-strikeout seasons, and leading the league in strikeouts 11 times. To accomplish this record, Ryan played the most seasons (27) in MLB history. The closest active player is Sabathia, with 2,574 strikeouts.
Most career bases on balls – 2,795 Set by Nolan Ryan, 1966–93. Ryan ended up with 50 percent more bases on balls than any other pitcher in history. The next closest is Steve Carlton with 1,833. The only active player with as many as 1,000 is A. J. Burnett, with 1,100 bases on balls at the end of the 2015 season.
Most career saves – 652 Set by Mariano Rivera, 1995–2013. Highlights include 15 consecutive seasons with 25 or more saves, 9 consecutive seasons with 30 or more saves and 15 seasons with 30 or more saves (all three are records). After Trevor Hoffman, who retired with 601 career saves, the next-closest pitcher in saves is Lee Smith, with 478. For a player to reach Rivera’s record, he would have to earn an average of 35 saves for 17 consecutive seasons just to get to 595 saves or 40 saves for 16 consecutive years to reach 640. As of the end of the 2015 season, the closest active player is 34-year-old Francisco Rodríguez, who has 386 saves and is 266 saves behind.
To read more about pitching records, you can go here. Stay tuned for next week’s article on Unbreakable Hitting Records!