MLB.com Columnist

Roger Schlueter

Mets, Tribe pitching staffs could be histori-K

Mets, Tribe pitching staffs could be histori-K

You've heard the adage many times. Strikeouts, they're part of the game.

Boy, are they ever. Around two million K's have been recorded since Major League Baseball's birth in the late 1800s.

So it may come as a shock that only three clubs -- the 1967 Twins, the 1969 Astros and the 2013 Tigers -- have employed a trio of pitchers with 200-plus strikeouts apiece in the same season.

The three-with-200 K's achievement practically sits on its own echelon of unlikelihood, right up there with four pitchers winning 20 games (that's happened twice; three with 20 has occurred 35 times).

But if things break the right way in 2016, the number of clubs with 200-K triumvirates could double. The Mets and Indians are the likeliest candidates, but several other squads could make a run at it as well.

Let's examine each team's chances:

New York Mets

200-K candidates: Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard

Among these three, only deGrom reached the 200-whiff plateau in 2015. Working 191 innings, the righty posted a 9.7 K/9 rate to finish with 205 punchouts.

Harvey fell just short, fanning nearly a batter per frame (188 K's in 189 1/3 innings), while Syndergaard finished third on the team with 166 K's despite working only 150 innings. But on a per-frame basis, Thor's 10.0 K/9 rate led the National League champion's starting staff.

Outlook: Syndergaard, SP, NYM

So, how do we come to predict a possible trifecta of 200-K efforts? For one, all three starters could work 200 innings in 2016. In fact, MLB.com's Fantasy Player Preview -- which often errs on the side of conservatism -- comes awfully close to predicting just that. The Preview also prognosticates that all three will record more than a K per frame. So if you think 200 innings per arm is possible, then three 200-K stat lines is not tough to imagine.

Full Mets projections

Cleveland Indians

200-K candidates: Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar

Three Tribe mates ranked among baseball's top 12 in strikeout rate last year, with Carrasco (10.6 K/9) finishing ahead of Kluber (10.0 K/9) and Salazar (9.49). Together, they made history as the first teammate trio with K/9 rates as high as 9.4. In fact, just nine other teams have had two qualifiers achieve that threshold.

Carrasco, Butler on near no-no

Powered by their incredible whiff rates, Carrasco (216), Kluber (245) and Salazar (195) fell tantalizingly short of joining the elite 200-K class last year. In fact, Cleveland had a fourth arm on the periphery of this conversation, with Trevor Bauer posting 170 K's for an 8.7 K/9 rate.

Pitchers are tough to predict given the volatility and injury risk associated with the position, but the 2016 Indians appear to have a great shot at achieving this trio-defined milestone.

Full Indians projections

Now, let's look at the best of the remaining contenders.

San Francisco Giants

200-K candidates: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija

A bona-fide workhorse, Bumgarner has easily topped the 200-whiff mark in each of the past two seasons. And across the past three campaigns, the southpaw has averaged 217 punchouts.

MadBum set to start Opening Day

Cueto has flaunted stellar swing-and-miss stuff as well, as evidenced by his 242-strikeout effort in 2014. And before his trade to Kansas City last year, he looked to be on pace to threaten the 200-mark.

Samardjiza represents the wild card of this group. The right-hander could complete this trio if he bounces back from a disappointing 2015 campaign and returns to the high-strikeout ways that pushed him past the 200-K mark in '13 and '14.

Full Giants projections

Washington Nationals

200-K candidates: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez

Few starters have a better chance to exceed 200 strikeouts than Scherzer, who has posted a K/9 over 10.0 in each of the past four seasons.

If healthy, Strasburg could give the Nats a pair of starters with more than 220 whiffs. Even amidst his injury-plagued 2015 campaign, the first overall pick of the 2009 Draft notched an 11.0 K/9 rate. And, of course, let's not forget his 242-K effort from two years ago.

Outlook: Strasburg, SP, WSH

To complete the trifecta, Washington would require a bounceback season from Gonzalez, the owner of a lifetime 8.8 K/9 rate. To join the group, Gonzalez would likely need to return to his workloads from 2010-13, when he hovered around the 200-inning mark. Since then, he has not exceeded 176 frames per campaign.

Full Nationals projections

Chicago Cubs

200-K candidates: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel

The 2016 Cubs exude excitement any way you look at them, with the rotation serving as no exception.

Full Cubs projections

Like the 2015 Indians, last year's Cubs had three qualifiers -- Arrieta, Lester and Hammel -- post K/9 rates over nine. The latter name may struggle to reach 200 innings in '16 given the depth of Chicago's rotation, but hey, this is the time of year to think big.

Roger Schlueter is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.