Or the first that I had read it from anyway.
Of course, my first post ever was at the same time that I first discovered that Ryan, in fact, was not the greatest pitcher ever.
Not really even close comparatively, when speaking of the greatest pitchers ever (after much research, one who thought he was the best ever soon discovers that his greatness was less than originally thought). But of course, very, very close to the best ever, in relation to the amount of pitchers that have toed the rubber overall. And that number is great.
Let me state something, something that may be misconstrued while reading this post.
First, this is not meant to disrespect Nolan Ryan. He was a great pitcher. And his 5,000+ strikeouts are 5,000+ more than I have below my non-existent name on “Baseball Reference.” But these kind of arguments are part of why sports fans enjoy being sports fans. So to argue one’s greatness, should still be a form of flattery, cause Ryan is still great (I doubt the athlete would take it as “flattery” however, if one is trying to make them appear less-great).
Second, I am not ripping off Stark, because I will explore this a little differently. And I came to the conclusion that Ryan was overrated before the book ever came out anyway. I just didn’t have a platform, a name, or any other means to get it out with any kind of readership. Although give Stark credit, for he was more concrete in his opinion, more deliberate earlier. And even though he has built up a name, a respect in the game, he did actually write a book about the subject. And neither Stark, nor I, probably originated this opinion anyway. There are most likely multiple stat-guys that have proposed this premise. The “Nolan Ryan was overrated” premise.
I guess there should be a “third” reason why too, so…
Third, I have to make it clear. ERA+ or “Adjusted ERA” if you wish, is a pretty telling statistic. But there are other factors that make a pitcher great. Although earned runs allowed are pretty critical, just understand that there are variables. Defense being one of those variables, crucial to understand this at its extreme.
Of course, when are there not variables?
But one thing that must be understood–and most do, although there are some that don’t–is the more innings that are pitched, the harder it is to sustain greatness, or to sustain a certain level of performance. Basically, more innings will generally lead to a lower level of performance, compared to whatever the performance had been (if there was even a “had”). It is less difficult to give a team 200 quailty innings than 300. So rate stats will generally be less appealing with the greater number of innings pitched.
And this is an example of why closers have better ERA’s than starters. They can come in, throw as hard as humanly possible, and produce better rate numbers.
For example, Jonathan Papelbon’s ERA+ was 198 last season, while CC Sabathia’s was 162. Sabathia was definitely more valuable, but that would appear deceiving because Papelbon’s ERA+ is significantly higher than Sabathia’s.
Of course, anyone that watches baseball probably understands this already, but it applies to the subject. So no matter its primitiveness, I felt that it was important to explain a little.
Because this plays a role when comparing from one era to the next.
Nolan Ryan averaged 231 innings adjusted for 162 games. Averaged! “Innings eaters” eat about that many innings nowadays at their max, usually fewer than that. But Ryan averaged that many. So naturally, Ryan’s ERA+ will be lower (worse in the case of ERA+) because he threw more innings than the pitchers of today do, generally speaking anyway.
Because in todays game, an ERA+ of 111 would most likely fall short of Hall of Fame induction (focused on solely of course).
Looking at pitchers of recent, and their workloads. That Adjusted ERA just wouldn’t cut it. Mike Mussina is a pretty borderline case to many different minds surrounding the game, and his ERA+ was 122. Schilling’s (who isn’t a shoe-in to many) was 127. And Blyleven’s was 118 while averaging 245 innings per 162–and he may not even get in (although Blyleven is more in Ryan’s mold because he averaged so many innings and pitched in the same time-frame. That should only increase his candidacy though).
So his ERA+ was 111. Effected by Ryan and one thing. What was that one thing? The “adjusted” part means that it already takes into account the ballparks that Ryan played in, and the league(s) that he played in.
So that one “thing” would have to be team defense.
The defense that was backing up Ryan in his effort to win ballgames.
Among pitchers who qualify, Nolan Ryan’s ERA+ falls in tied at 287th. Tied with AJ Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Todd Jones.
Ryan is better than any one of those pitchers.
And speaking of Todd Jones…there are some relievers on this list, another reason why pitchers on this list are not in order of actual greatness.
But over Ryan’s career, his average team’s “Defensive Efficiency” was ranked 11th out of 25. Roughly average.
So it seems clear that Ryan’s lower ERA+ was not do to a poor defense, which could have been an excuse without the proper research.
Ryan simply wasn’t as great as everyone thought that he was, and everyone thinks that he is still.
Again, 5,714 strikeouts is incredible, it really is.
But listen to some of Ryan’s single-season walk totals: 157, 162, 202!, 183, 204!, 148.
Two times Ryan walked over 200 batters.
Those are somewhat skewed when compared to the era we are currently witnessing because of the innings pitched issue. But they are still valid to the point. The base-runners allowed by Ryan were not exactly scarce.
Never did Ryan allow fewer than a base-runner per inning.
Pedro has done this 6 times.
Clemens never did it either, but came close many, many times.
Bob Gibson, although playing in the NL (pitcher bats, obviously), at least did it once. And Ryan DID spend half of his career in the National League too, so it wasn’t as if the better opportunity to put up a sub-1.000 WHIP wasn’t there.
Am I going to hold it against Ryan that he didn’t do something truly great from a starters standpoint (referring to sub-1.000 WHIP)?
Well, a little. But that wouldn’t solely prevent him from greatness.
However, Ryan’s career WHIP is currently ranked 260th all time.
WHIP may not be as great an indicator as “opponent OBP.” But come on, its pretty darn close! And I don’t have the career numbers in the form of a leader-board for a pitchers “opponents OBP” anyway.
Nolan Ryan struck out a lot of batters.
Nolan Ryan allowed many hitters to reach base as well though. And defense wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t an issue in regards to ERA or ERA+ either.
It’s funny how so many associate Ryan with being “The greatest of all time.”
So many believe this because of the absurd number of career strikeouts that he has.
But Ryan won 0 Cy Youngs. So his legacy had built over time, it seems. Because if the writers believed, at the time, that he was so great, wouldn’t they have thought, at least once, that he was the best in the league (I think Stark said this too)?
Cy’s aren’t everything, for voting is a subjective and sometimes flawed process in regards to MVP’s and “The Hall.”
Ryan may have thrown 7 no hitters. But his greatness is overrated.
Yet, Ryan should of course be proud that he was a great baseball player. Because that isn’t exactly an easy task.
So applaud his greatness, then downplay it while keeping a positive frame of mind.