Texas Liberal

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Nolan Ryan—He Focused On Strikeouts Over Winning And His Team

I follow baseball. I find it intellectually engaging without being stressful. I don’t follow any team and I don’t have strong feelings about most players. I  follow the various teams and I enjoy the statistics.

But if there is a player I’ve not liked over the years, it is Nolan Ryan. Mr. Ryan always struck me as more about macho than about a team approach. He appeared to me always as a macho Texan Lone Ranger type.

Mr. Ryan is from Texas.

Here is Nolan Ryan’s career record.  Here is a profile of Mr. Ryan.

(Above is a picture of Mr. Ryan in action. At the bottom of the post is a picture of Warren Spahn.)

The reason I’ve never liked Mr. Ryan is summed up by his former pitching coach the Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn. Mr. Spahn spoke of Mr. Ryan in the book The Only Game In Town:Baseball Stars of the 1930’s and 1940’s Talk About The Game They Loved. This book is a series of oral accounts of baseball back in the day that was compiled by former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent.

Here is what Mr. Spahn said about Mr. Ryan—

“…I was Nolan Ryan’s pitching coach at Anaheim when he was there and I tried to get him to throw his curveball and his change to set up his fastball. But Nolan had such a big ego, he wanted to strike out people instead of win.” 

Here is Warren Spahn’s career record.  Here is an obit of Mr. Spahn.

Mr. Spahn is suggesting that if Mr. Ryan had developed a wider array of pitchs to throw instead of relying on his very fast fastball, that he would have been more successful. He would of had more tools to get batters out.

You might assert that Mr. Ryan was a very successful pitcher because he is the all-time leader in batters struck out. Mr. Ryan struck out 5,714 batters in his career.  This gives Mr. Ryan 900 more strikeouts more than the current runner up.

What is less known is that Mr. Ryan is also the all-time leader in walks allowed. He allowed 2,795 runners to reach first base on walks. This is around 950 more than the runner up in this statistic. That is a lot more walks than the next guy. 

Mr. Ryan had 950 walks more than the number two out of 2,795 walks in comparsion to 900 more strikeouts over the runner-up out of 5,714 strikeouts.

Mr. Ryan could throw fast to get a strikeout, but he could not control his pitching to keep runners of first base with a walk.

One measure of a pitcher is his relative earned run average. This is how many runs are charged to a pitcher adjusted for the run scoring environment of the stadiums he pitched in and how the rest of the league is performing.  100 is average. Anything above 100 is above average.

Mr. Ryan’s number is 111. This ranks him as tied for 287th among all pitchers in this measure.  That’s good, but nowhere close to great. The all-time leader among starting pitchers is Pedro Martinez who has a number of 154. If you follow baseball, you can study the list linked to at the top of this paragraph and see the multitude of pitchers not regarded nearly as well as Mr. Ryan who were, in fact, more effective at preventing runs scoring than was Mr. Ryan.

Mr. Ryan’s record as a pitcher was 324 wins and 292 defeats. He began his career in 1966 and retired after the 1993 season.  

Much is made of the fact that Mr. Ryan pitched 7 no-hitters. No other pitcher has more than four. That’s fine–But Mr. Ryan started 773 games. So that is 7 out of 773 starts. 

Mr. Ryan’s teammates and the fans of the teams he played on, would have better served if he had applied as much effort to true greatness as he did to showing off how fast he could throw. While Mr. Ryan was a generally effective pitcher over many innings pitched, what he is most know for are a selection freakshow statistics as much as or more than actually winning games.

That’s a macho Texan Lone Ranger for you. 

March 11, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,


  1. First, please let me thank you for your passion and your comments. Here are mine; The stats don’t lie, and I think you have provided what you needed to drive your point, so, good job for you. That’s an interesting statement by Warren Spahn, and a most valid one. But Nolan Ryan brought something to the game that cannot be of measure in a box score, or an arctice, or even the record books…and that’s excitement…and ticket sales. Certain players had that(ego), it was part of their drive, and if not for it, wouldn’t baseball be a litte mundane? I could list these type of players but if you are any type of fan, you know who they were as well as I do. I remember in 1973, he had something like 383 strikeouts that yr. I would check the box scores every time he pitched, and I lived in Michigan and I wasn’t even an Angels fan. No other player has ever left that much of an impact on my childhood memories, and all this, when for years it’s always the big hitters and home run chase. That, and the A’s, Tigers, and Mets, is the only thing I remember about the ’73 season….thank you Mr. Nolan Ryan. I saw him pitch in San Diego when he was with Houston, warming up in the bullpen pre-game with Joe Niekro. One could easily hear the seams hissing from the baseball as his pitch approched the catcher and popped in the mitt..and that sound was just flat out nasty..just awsome..but I am amazed at the one thing probably the least talked about, and that is for how long he threw as hard as he did… that’s amazing, and you nobody can take that away from him. But, thanks for the insight and take care. Oh, by the way, in 1985 my wife gave birth to what would be the first of my three sons. I thought back to 1973, and I did’t hesitate much to come up with a name for my newborn son. Baseball, gotta love it.

    Comment by Mike Welch | April 8, 2009

  2. Mike–Thanks for this great comment. Not much I can say to improve upon these memories that clearly mean a great deal to you. Please visit the blog again.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | April 9, 2009

  3. I came here to see the pretty whales and came across Nolan’s name. I tell you what, I know people have their own opinion, but this is just biased, socialist garb.

    It seems to me you can’t stand individualism and individual success so you attack the leaders of the pack to try to bring them down to an even level, maybe even your level, if possible, while capitalists attack the leaders for other reasons, to sharpen their fangs,learn battle techniques to be leaders themselves, all the while the leaders are getting tougher,taking punches, learning survival skills and pushing forward. Socialist like to lay around on the couch in their parents basement, getting high, eating milk duds and demanding stuff from people they don’t even know. Capitalism is the only way, chief. Socialism is like a dragging boat anchor. You’re just slowing the ship down. Let the champions be champs. There is a lot to criticize in your writing but I’ll refrain due to my time constraints.

    Over his career, Nolan, in a hypothetical 9 inning game struck out more people than innings pitched and while walking only 4. This guy pitched for 27 seasons, averaging a no-hitter once every 4 years. He allowed 1 home run every other game. 222 complete games, facing 22,500+ batters, striking out 5700, or 1 in 4, while walking less than 1 in 8. I have no idea how your opinion will hold any water. Even in his worst seasons for walks totals, he was starting in 35 to 45 games a year and completing 18,20,22. Unheard of now.

    Warren Spahn pitched/coached for the Mets when Nolan was 18 and Warren was, let’s say, 44-45? For less than 1 season. Warren liked to finesse and change things around and gamble where Nolan came at you. Nolan was an 18 year old rookie and this 20+ year mega-vet was telling him to develop a curve ball. Warren didn’t even develop all his pitches until his later years. Nolan has always said he had control problems early in his career.

    Players strikeout and on their way back to the dugout would say “Nolan’s throwing fastball’s today” and the other players walking to the plate would reply “What did you expect?” Everyone knew he was throwing fastballs and they could never catch him. I saw him pitch and he defined the term, if not redefined the term “velocity” in regards to pitching. George Brett and the Royals were trailing 4-1 in the 7th inning at Royals Stadium when Nolan went to the bench. His replacement looked to be lobbing the pitches compared to the starter. Brett said once he saw Nolan sit down he knew for the first time that night his team had a chance to win, which they did 7-5. This was the last time they faced each other before retiring.
    Now I’m going to go find something else to critique!

    Comment by john | April 18, 2009

  4. John—Thanks for the comment.

    State intervention in the economy and in providing things such as education and, as we move towards universal health care, health care, does not lessen the prospect of individual success. By helping people, instead of just letting them rot away as you would because they were born poor or lack health insurance at a given moment,you enable folks to have a chance of success.

    As for Mr. Ryan, pitching forever does not make him an all-time great. Pitching forever gives him all sorts of big number statistics but that is not the same as being great.

    The walks and the won-loss record tell the story. And the complaints about his egoism extended up until the end of his career.

    Maybe Mr. Ryan pitched the only way he could and did the best he could with that set of skills. You could argue he did well enough by that measure. But he is far from an all-time great as defined by Walter Johnson or Lefty Grove or even Bob Gibson or Tom Seaver.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | April 18, 2009

  5. Are you really Jim Palmer? I’m a bit upset because I typed up a bit of a refutation to your use of some of the statistics — particularly the ERA+ which is sort of a mystical calculation (particularly the determination of whether or not a field favors pitchers or batters because that can be influenced by a number of variables that are not typically taken into account) that favors pitchers who have spent most of their careers on winning teams. Unfortunately, I accidentally navigated away from the page and lost it! I will visit again though!

    In any case, I appreciate your oppinion but must respectfully disagree. I’ll add the support for my oppinion later (and I am politically liberal and fearful of many Texans, so don’t hold it against me!). I need to get some rest.

    I do have one question, however. From what other sources can you support the notion that Ryan was an egomaniac apart from the Spahn quote which must be taken in context of the time that it was given, the type of pitcher Spahn was, and the age of Ryan when Spahn coached him? I have read that portion of the book, and that’s the only place in which I’ve seen that sort of comment. Granted, not having ever lived in a city where Ryan pitched, I didn’t see the local media’s take on him. Nevertheless, I believe he fares quite well in comparison to many of the recent sports stars, e.g. Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Ricky Henderson, Curt Schilling, 1/3 of all NBA and NFL stars (and for some unknown reason many cyclists:)!).

    In any case, thanks for the thoughts.

    Comment by Mike | July 24, 2009

  6. Mike—I’m going to reply to this nice comment when I have a little more time in the next few days. Thanks for reading the blog and please check back.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | July 25, 2009

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