In baseball or softball, a strikeout (or strike-out) occurs when a batter accumulates three strikes during a time at bat. It usually means the batter is out. A strikeout is a statistic recorded for both pitchers and batters, and is denoted by K.
Although a strikeout suggests that the pitcher dominated the batter, the free-swinging style that generates home runs also leaves batters susceptible to striking out. Some of the greatest home run hitters of all time — such as Alex Rodriguez, Gorman Thomas, Reggie Jackson, and Sammy Sosa — were notorious for striking out.
A pitched ball is ruled a ball by the umpire if the batter did not swing at it and, in that umpire's judgment, it does not pass through the strike zone. Any pitch at which the batter swings or, that in that umpire's judgment passes through the strike zone, is ruled a strike. Each ball and strike affects the count, which is incremented for each pitched ball with the exception of a foul ball on any count with two strikes. That is, a third strike may only occur by the batter swinging and missing at a pitched ball, or the pitched ball being ruled a strike by the umpire with no swing by the batter. A pitched ball that is struck by the batter with the bat on any count, and is not a foul ball or foul tip, is in play. A batter may also strike out by bunting, even if the ball is hit into foul territory.
A pitcher receives credit for (and a batter is charged with) a strikeout on any third strike, but a batter is out only if one of the following is true:
- The third strike is pitched and caught in flight by the catcher (including foul tips);
- On any third strike, if a baserunner is on first and there are zero or one outs;
- The third strike is bunted foul and is not caught by a fielder.
Thus, it is possible for a batter to strike out, but still become a runner and reach base safely if the catcher is unable to catch the third strike cleanly, and he then does not either tag out the batter or force him out at first base. In Japan, this is called furinige (振り逃げ), or "swing and escape". In Major League Baseball, it is known as an uncaught third strike. When this happens, a strikeout is recorded for both the pitcher and the batter, but no out is recorded. Because of this, a pitcher may occasionally be able to record more than three strikeouts in one half-inning.
In baseball scorekeeping, a swinging strikeout is recorded as a K, or a K-S. A strikeout looking (where the batter does not swing at a pitch that the umpire then calls strike three) is often scored with a backward K, and sometimes as a K-L, CK, or Kc (the 'c' for 'called' strike). Despite the scorekeeping custom of using "K" for strikeout, "SO" is the official abbreviation used by Major League Baseball.
"K" is still commonly used by fans and enthusiasts for purposes other than official record-keeping. One baseball ritual involves fans attaching a succession of small "K" signs to the nearest railing, one added for every strikeout notched by the home team's pitcher, following a tradition started by New York Mets fans in honor of "Dr. K", Dwight Gooden. The "K" may be placed backward in cases where the batter strikes out looking, just as it would appear on a scorecard. Virtually every televised display of a high-strikeout major league game will include a shot of a fan's strikeout display, and if the pitcher continues to strike out batters, the display may be shown following every strikeout.
The use of "K" for a strikeout was invented by Henry Chadwick, a newspaper journalist who is widely credited as the originator of the box score and the baseball scorecard. As is true in much of baseball, both the box score and scorecard remain largely unchanged to this day. Chadwick decided to use "K", the last letter in "struck", since the letter "S" was used for "sacrifice." Chadwick was responsible for several other scorekeeping conventions, including the use of numbers to designate player positions.
Those unaware of Chadwick's contributions have speculated that "K" was derived from the last name of 19th century pitcher Matt Kilroy. If not for the evidence supporting Chadwick's earlier use of "K", this explanation would be reasonable. Kilroy raised the prominence of the strikeout, setting an all-time single-season record of 513 strikeouts in 1886, only two years after overhand pitching was permitted. His record, however, is limited to its era since the pitcher's mound was only 50 feet (15 m) from the batter during that season. It was moved to its current distance of 60'6" in 1893. The modern record (1901–present) is 383 strikeouts, held by Nolan Ryan, one better than Sandy Koufax's 382.
For 55 years, Walter Johnson held the career strikeout record, at 3,508. That record fell in 1982 to Nolan Ryan, who was then passed by Steve Carlton, before Ryan took the career strikeout record for good at 5,714.
Early rules stated that "three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand-out; if not caught is considered fair, and the striker bound to run." The modern rule has changed very little. The addition of the called strike came in 1858.
In 1880, the rules were changed to specify that a third strike had to be caught on the fly. A later adjustment to the dropped third strike rule specified that a batter is automatically out when there are fewer than two out and a runner on first base. In 1887, the number of strikes for an out was changed to four, but it was promptly changed back to three the next season.
Jargon and slang
A swinging strikeout is often called a whiff, while a batter who is struck out by a fastball is often said to have been blown away. A batter who strikes out on a swung third strike is said to have fanned (as in a fanning motion), whereas if he takes a called third strike it is called a punchout (describing the plate umpire's dramatic punching motion on a called third strike). However, sometimes these words are used as general synonyms for a strikeout, irrespective of whether it was swinging or looking.
On a called third strike, it is said that the batter was caught looking, or that he looked at a strike. Typically, a called third strike can be somewhat more embarrassing for a batter, as it shows that he was either fooled by the pitcher or, even worse, had a moment of hesitation.
For example, Carlos Beltrán was caught looking at strike 3 to end the 2006 NLCS, and the season, for the New York Mets. Sports commentators have also been known to refer to it as browsing if the batter did not move his bat at all.
A pitcher is said to strike out the side when he retires all three batters in a half-inning by striking them out. This term is also used when all three outs were caused by strike outs, regardless of how other batters in the inning fared. A batter that takes the third strike looking, especially on a breaking pitch like a slider or a curveball that appears to be out of the strike zone but drops in before he can get the bat off his shoulders, can be said to have been frozen.
In slang, when a batter strikes out three times in a game, he is said to have completed a hat trick. If he strikes out four times, it is called a golden sombrero. He receives a platinum sombrero if he strikes out five times, and this dishonor is also known as the Olympic Rings.
Striking out six times is a rare occurrence, which in the history of major league play has only occurred in games that went to extra innings, with Sam Horn of the Baltimore Orioles being one of the few to do this. The slugger's then-teammate, pitcher Mike Flanagan, told reporters after that 1991 event that six strikeouts would thereafter be known as a Horn. He added that if anyone ever strikes out seven times in one game, it will be a Horn of Plenty.
Some pitchers who specialize in strikeouts have acquired nicknames including the letter "K." Dwight Gooden was known as "Doctor K" (back-referencing basketball star Julius Erving a.k.a. "Dr. J"). Francisco Rodríguez is known as "K-Rod." Roger Clemens has taken the "K" name to an extreme by naming his four sons Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody. Tim Lincecum is nicknamed "The Say 'K' Kid", referencing former Giants player Willie Mays who was called "The Say Hey Kid." Daisuke Matsuzaka is known as "Dice-K", a term which was used as a pronunciation guide for his name when he first arrived in MLB.
Hall of Fame strikeout artist Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers coincidentally has a last name starting with "K", and in his call of the pitcher's perfect game in 1965, Dodgers announcer Vin Scully commented that Koufax's name "will always remind you of strikeouts."
More than three strikeouts in an inning
If a third strike is not caught cleanly by the catcher, it is still recorded as a strikeout for both the pitcher and the batter, but the batter is not out but becomes a runner, and the play is still alive. (This is not true when first base is occupied and there are fewer than two outs; see Uncaught third strike.) The batter-runner may occupy first base unless the defense tags him out or throws him out. Therefore, a pitcher can achieve more than three strikeouts in one standard half-inning.
Prior to 1960, the event occurred only eight times. The first Major League player to be credited with the feat was Ed "Cannonball" Crane of the New York Giants on October 4, 1888. It has occurred in Major League Baseball 76 times. Chuck Finley accomplished the feat on May 12 and August 15, 1999, with the Anaheim Angels and again on April 16, 2000, with the Cleveland Indians. Pete Richert of the Los Angeles Dodgers is the only pitcher to do it in his MLB debut (April 12, 1962, against the Cincinnati Reds). Steve Delabar struck out 4 men in the 10th inning, and recorded the win in a 3-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on August 13, 2012, making him the first pitcher in major league history to record four strikeouts in an extra inning.
For a list of pitchers who have achieved more than three strikeouts in an inning, including the most recent pitcher to do so, see List of Major League Baseball single-inning strikeout leaders.
Five strikeouts in one inning has never occurred in a regulation Major League Baseball game. It has occurred at least three times at the minor league level. Mike Schultz of the Lancaster JetHawks struck out five batters in one inning on July 16, 2004, and Garrett Bauer of the Rockford RiverHawks struck out five batters in one inning on July 1, 2008.
Houston Astros pitcher Joe Niekro struck out five Minnesota Twins batters in the first inning of an exhibition spring training game, April 7, 1976 at New Orleans. Niekro's catcher, Cliff Johnson, was charged with five passed balls in the inning. Exhibition games are not recorded in official statistics.
The Top 20 Major League Baseball career strikeout leaders (active players in bold) (since 1901):
- Nolan Ryan – 5,714
- Randy Johnson – 4,875
- Roger Clemens – 4,672
- Steve Carlton – 4,136
- Bert Blyleven – 3,701
- Tom Seaver – 3,640
- Don Sutton – 3,574
- Gaylord Perry – 3,534
- Walter Johnson – 3,509
- Greg Maddux – 3,371
- Phil Niekro – 3,342
- Ferguson Jenkins – 3,192
- Pedro Martínez – 3,154
- Bob Gibson – 3,117
- Curt Schilling – 3,116
- John Smoltz – 3,084
- Jim Bunning – 2,855
- Mickey Lolich – 2,832
- Mike Mussina – 2,813
- Cy Young – 2,803
Active pitchers with over 2,000 strikeouts (at the completion of the 2016 Major League Baseball season):
- CC Sabathia – 2,726
- Bartolo Colón – 2,365
- Félix Hernández – 2,264
- Jake Peavy – 2,207
- Justin Verlander – 2,197
- John Lackey – 2,145
- Cole Hamels – 2,122
- Zack Greinke – 2,201
The Top 10 Major League Baseball career strikeout-per-nine innings leaders (since 1900, minimum 1,000 IP):
- Randy Johnson – 10.61
- Kerry Wood – 10.32
- Pedro Martínez – 10.04
- Tim Lincecum – 9.61
- Nolan Ryan – 9.55
- Max Scherzer – 9.51
- Trevor Hoffman – 9.36
- Sandy Koufax – 9.28
- Clayton Kershaw – 9.26
- Óliver Pérez – 9.22
The Top 5 Major League Baseball single season strikeout-per-nine innings leaders (since 1900, minimum 1.0 IP per team game):
- Randy Johnson, 2001 – 13.41
- Pedro Martínez, 1999 – 13.20
- Kerry Wood, 1998 – 12.58
- Randy Johnson, 2000 – 12.56
- Randy Johnson, 1995 – 12.35
The Top 10 Major League Baseball single season strikeout totals (since 1900):
The Top 10 Major League Baseball single season strikeout totals (all time):
Progression of major league strikeout record for one nine-inning game, regular season (partial listing):
See also List of Major League Baseball single-game strikeout leaders
Progression of strikeout record for one game, World Series:
Progression of major league strikeout record for a relief pitcher, regular season (partial listing)
The top 15 Major League Baseball career strikeout leaders (as of completion of the 2016 Major League Baseball season):
- Reggie Jackson – 2,597
- Jim Thome – 2,548
- Adam Dunn – 2,379
- Sammy Sosa – 2,306
- Alex Rodriguez – 2,287
- Andrés Galarraga – 2,003
- José Canseco – 1,942
- Willie Stargell – 1,936
- Mike Cameron – 1,901
- Mike Schmidt – 1,883
- Fred McGriff – 1,882
- Tony Pérez – 1,867
- Ryan Howard – 1,843
- Bobby Abreu – 1,840
- Derek Jeter – 1,840
Active batters with over 1,400 K's (as of completion of the 2016 Major League Baseball season):
- Alex Rodriguez – 2,287
- Ryan Howard – 1,843
- Carlos Beltrán – 1,693
- Mark Reynolds – 1,631
- Curtis Granderson 1,589
- Adrián Beltré – 1,584
- Melvin Upton – 1,561
- Miguel Cabrera – 1,516
- Mark Teixeira – 1,441
- Jhonny Peralta – 1,437
Single season strikeout records (batters):