7 Modern-Day MLB Milestones That Will Never Be Reached Again
Already the all-time leader in strikeouts, Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to ever record 5,000 strikeouts when he fanned future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson on August 22, 1989.
Now 25 years later, that looks like a mark that will never be reached again, and it's not the only milestone that may never be touched.
For the sake of argument, we'll consider the modern era to be everything that happened after the 1919 season.
It was 1920 when Babe Ruth officially put the dead-ball era in the rearview mirror, launching an unheard-of 54 home runs, nearly doubling his previous record of 29 from the year before.
So here is a look at seven modern-day MLB milestones, including the 5,000 strikeouts Ryan piled up, that will never be reached again.
These seven represent a good mix of single-season and career marks, and cover both the pitching and hitting side of things. A case can certainly be made for a number of others to be included, but these were the most statistically significant in my opinion.
A .400 Batting Average
It's been 73 years since Ted Williams became the last hitter to eclipse the .400 mark, and while a handful of others have made a run at it over that span, that is an accomplishment we may very well never see again.
Four players have posted an average over .380 since Williams etched his name in the history books:
- Ted Williams, 1957 (.388)
- Rod Carew, 1977 (.388)
- George Brett, 1980 (.390)
- Tony Gwynn, 1994 (.394)
That's three members of the 3,000-hit club and a man who may well be the greatest pure hitter the game has ever seen in Williams.
B/R National MLB Columnist Scott Miller wrote an article a few weeks back on the 1994 strike and analyzed how the run Gwynn was making at .400 was perhaps the sport's last real shot at reaching that number.
In the past decade, there have only been nine seasons where a player has hit over .350. While we are still seeing some impressive batting averages, there may never be another .400 hitter.
A .500 On-Base Percentage
This feat has been accomplished the most since the start of the modern era, but as you notice on the above list, it's something that was only achieved by five different players over that span.
Steroids have clouded Barry Bonds' legacy, but they did nothing to improve his incredible plate discipline, and we may never see a player capable of working a count and drawing a walk the way he could.
In fact, the .609 mark he posted in 2004 is not just the last time someone has had an OBP over .500, but it's the all-time single-season record.
Outside of Bonds, only three players have had an OBP over .450 since the 2004 season:
- Albert Pujols, 2008 (.462)
- Chipper Jones, 2008 (.470)
- Joey Votto, 2012 (.474)
If anyone in the current MLB landscape is going to top the .500 mark, it's Votto, as he has actually been criticized for being too patient in the past. He's been banged up this year, though, and even at his best .500 is an uphill battle.
4,000 Career Hits
This one is all about longevity, as both Pete Rose and Ty Cobb played an impressive 24 seasons and rank in the top five all-time in career games played.
To break it down into simple terms, a player would need 200 hits for 20 straight seasons to reach the 4,000 mark.
Derek Jeter is currently sitting on 3,437 career hits, and up until last season he had enjoyed fairly good health over what will be a 20-year career. That total puts him sixth on the all-time list but also at least another three seasons from hitting the 4,000 mark.
Mike Trout already has 535 career hits in his age-22 season, so he's certainly off to a nice start on the path to 3,000 hits and more. Starlin Castro is also worth mentioning, as the 24-year-old leads all players under the age of 25 with 833 career hits.
Still, the chances that either of those guys winds up becoming the third member of the 4,000-hit club are still incredibly slim. It's not for a lack of talent—it's just a matter of needing the perfect mix of sustained success and good health to pile up that many hits.
1,000 Career Stolen Bases
The running game is no longer emphasized like it was when Henderson was in his prime. That being said, it was Henderson's unique qualities that allowed him reach and far exceed 1,000 stolen bases.
His terrific plate discipline led to a .401 career on-base percentage and 2,190 career walks, giving him plenty of opportunities to swipe a base or two.
And that he did, eclipsing 100 steals in a season three different times and leading the league in that category in a record 12 seasons.
Perhaps more impressive than the 100-steal seasons is the fact that Henderson led the AL with 66 steals as a 39-year-old in 1998, as his base-stealing prowess carried well past his prime as a hitter.
Among active players, Jose Reyes probably has the best chance of reaching the mark, as he has swiped 448 bases and is in his age-31 season.
Injuries have slowed him in recent years, though, and he has averaged just 26 steals per year over the past six seasons.
Billy Hamilton will be one to watch, as he made headlines with back-to-back 100-steal seasons in the minors and has 46 so far in his rookie season. He's got a long road ahead to join Henderson in the 1,000 club, though.
30 Wins in a Season
In the age of five-man rotations and expanded bullpens, there's a very real chance we've seen our last 30-game winner.
As a matter of fact, only 13 pitchers have recorded 30 decisions over the past decade, let alone made a run at 30 victories.
Since the 1968 season, when Denny McLain won 31 games, only two pitchers have topped the 25-win plateau:
- Steve Carlton, 1972 (27 wins)
- Bob Welch, 1990 (27 wins)
No one has started 40 games in a season since Charlie Hough in 1987, and while there are probably some workhorses out there capable of making 40-plus starts, it's just not something that would be done today.
Good starting pitching costs too much money these days to risk that investment for a run at 30 wins, so all signs point to McLain being the last to reach the 30-win mark.
10 Shutouts in a Season
Without making a trip to Baseball-Reference.com, chances are few would know that John Tudor was the last pitcher to rack up 10 shutouts in a single season.
Tudor was a solid starter throughout his 12-year career, winning 117 games with a 3.12 ERA, but everything came together for one monster season in 1985.
That year he was 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA and an NL-best 0.938 WHIP to go along with his 14 complete games and 10 shutouts. He finished second to Dwight Gooden (24-4, 1.53 ERA) in Cy Young voting but likely would have taken home the award in almost any other year.
Since 1990 only two pitchers have topped five shutouts in a season, with Randy Johnson (1998) and Cliff Lee (2011) each tallying six.
Last year, Justin Masterson and Bartolo Colon topped MLB with three, and this year Henderson Alvarez and Rick Porcello are leading the way with the same total.
It's not quite as far-fetched as 30 wins, but another 10-shutout season seems highly unlikely as well.
5,000 Career Strikeouts
To put 5,000 strikeouts into perspective, only 16 pitchers in MLB history have reached the 3,000 strikeout mark, and only four of those guys topped 4,000.
Randy Johnson would likely have joined Ryan in that exclusive club had he hit his stride prior to his age-26 season, as he wrapped up his career with 4,875 strikeouts for his career.
Johnson managed to get to that number thanks in part to six seasons with 300-plus strikeouts, and not since he racked up 334 punchouts in 2002 has any pitcher reached the 300 mark in a single season.
Clayton Kershaw is sitting at 1,380 in his age-26 season, while Felix Hernandez has 1,900 career strikeouts in his age-28 season. Those two have a lot of good baseball ahead of them, but they also have an awfully long way to go to reach 5,000.
Ryan had 1,205 strikeouts after his age-26 season and 1,758 after his age-28 season, so they are ahead of his pace.
However, the game has never seen a strikeout pitcher with the longevity of Ryan.
All told, he pitched 27 seasons in the majors, and he won four strikeout titles after his 40th birthday. He had 16 seasons with at least 30 games started and 14 seasons with 200-plus innings—and he was still at the peak of physical health when he retired at the age of 46.
Like the 4,000-hit mark, it will take tremendous longevity to make a run at 5,000 strikeouts. However, with the way pitchers are coddled these days, it's unlikely anyone will ever make a serious run at 5,000 again.