MLB: Who Holds the Record for Career Strikeouts?

When it comes to pitching in baseball, no result is as exciting or as effective as a strikeout. It means the pitcher either overpowered or outsmarted the batter, preventing them from putting the ball in play. The best pitchers tend to be the ones who can rack up the most strikeouts. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at who holds the MLB record for career strikeouts, counting down from number seven. 

7. Don Sutton – 3,574

Known to many current Atlanta Braves fans as one of the team’s color commentators on TV and radio, Sutton pitched for 23 years. While he never led the league in strikeouts, he did lead the NL in WHIP on four occasions. He averaged about 159 strikeouts per season. 

6. Tom Seaver – 3,640

A 12-time All-Star and three-time NL leader in wins, Tom Seaver was one of the best pitchers of the 1970s. He debuted in 1967 and was a member of the 1969 Amazin’ Mets as well.

Seaver led the league in strikeouts a whopping five times and won three Cy Young Awards. He retired as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 1986, ironically losing in the World Series to the team he’d been so prolific with earlier in his career: the New York Mets. 

5. Bert Blyleven – 3,701

Despite retiring in 1992, Bert Blyleven did not make the Hall of Fame until 2011. That’s mainly due to the fact that some voters viewed him as a compiler of stats rather than an actual all-time great due to his longevity.

Blyleven’s strikeout totals only tell one part of the story, however: along with his impressive regular season statistics, he also had a 2.47 ERA in eight career postseason appearances, helping both the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates and 1987 Minnesota Twins to World Series titles. 

4. Steve Carlton – 4,136

Though he played for several teams throughout his 24-year career, Steve Carlton is best remembered as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

That’s where he did some of his best work, including racking up 3,031 of his 4,136 career strikeouts. Carlton led the league in K’s five times. His highest total came in 1972 with 310. He also won the Cy Young Award four times. 

3. Roger Clemens – 4,672

Despite questions about his use of performance-enhancing drugs arising during the twilight of his career, no one can deny that Roger Clemens pitched like one of the all-time greats.

He was great for the Boston Red Sox in the ’80s before beginning to falter in the mid-’90s. He experienced a career renaissance when he signed with Toronto in the 1996 offseason. The Blue Jays would then trade Clemens to the New York Yankees in 1999 where he helped the Bronx Bombers win multiple titles.

2. Randy Johnson – 4,875

Dubbed “The Big Unit,” Randy Johnson stood tall at 6’10”, one of the largest pitchers to ever take the mound. Johnson pitched for the Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, and the San Francisco Giants.

While he was one of MLB’s best pitchers for much of his career, his most dominant run came during Arizona. That’s where he led the Diamondbacks (along with Curt Schilling) to the 2001 World Series championship. He also won four consecutive Cy Young Awards (1999-2002) during that time. 

1. Nolan Ryan – 5,714

Known for his blistering fastball called “The Ryan Express,” Nolan Ryan had a long career (1969-1993). He struck out batters in four different decades. Ryan pitched for the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros, and the Texas Rangers. Ryan’s fastball was absolutely legendary – according to one report from SI, Ryan threw the fastest pitch ever at over 108 miles per hour.