Nolan Ryan- a Perspective on His Career

Nolan Ryan is the only pitcher to have struck out Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey, Jr, as well as the only man to have fanned Roger Maris and Mark McGuire! Nolan Ryan was clocked at throwing a baseball at 100. 8 miles per hour in 1974, and this marvel from Refugio, Texas threw a record seven no-hitters during the course of his 27 year career. Nolan Ryan holds a record that is likely to never be approached, the all time mark for most strikeouts, which stands at 5,714. Yet Nolan Ryan, as remarkable as these achievements were, only won 20 games twice, and finished with more than 16 victories in just 5 of his 27 seasons. As a matter of fact, Nolan Ryan posted a losing record on 8 different occasions, and never won a Cy Young Award. So just where is Nolan Ryan’s place in baseball history?
Nolan Ryan came to the Mets in 1966, but didn’t stick with the New York club until the 1968 season as a 21 year old right handed flame thrower. Nolan Ryan had a reputation for being perhaps baseball’s fastest hurler, but he was also wild. He struck out 133 in 134 innings in 1968, but walked 75 batters. Nolan Ryan helped the Mets shock baseball in the 1969 World Series, pitching in relief against the highly favored Baltimore Orioles. But, unable to control his wondrous fastball, he struggled over the next two seasons. Nolan Ryan went a combined 17-25 in 1970 and 1971, and in 1971 he walked an astounding 116 hitters in 152 innings.
Traded for Jim Fregosi to the California Angels in 1972, Nolan Ryan began to gain better command of his fastball under pitching coach Tom Morgan. Lamented as the worst trade in Mets history as fans look back on that deal, it must be noted that Nolan Ryan was unhappy in New York. There is plenty of reason to feel that had he not been sent to another organization that Nolan Ryan would have continued to struggle with his control. It was the Angels, and Morgan, that made his delivery more compact, which greatly aided his location. His first year in California, Nolan Ryan went 19-16, with 329 strikeouts. He threw a pair of no-hitters in 1973, including one on July 15th against the Tigers. Norm Cash, the Detroit first baseman and last batter of the game, came to the plate against Nolan Ryan in the ninth inning with a wooden piano leg for a bat, so hopeless was the task of hitting the six-foot-two righty that day!
1973 saw Nolan Ryan win 21 games, but it must be pointed out that he also lost 16, despite setting the all-time mark for strikeouts in one season with 383. He still walked too many batters, and his ERA was 2.87, good but not dominating. The following year, Nolan Ryan put up nearly identical numbers, except that he issued 202 bases on balls. These back to back 20 win campaigns were the only 2 of Nolan Ryan’s career.
Continuing with the Angels, who for most years were a second division squad, Nolan Ryan kept striking out hitters at an incredible rate. Five of his six 300 plus strikeout seasons were accomplished in California, as were 4 of Nolan Ryan’s 7 no-hitters. Nolan Ryan signed with the Houston Astros as a free agent before the 1980 season began. He pitched for the Astros for 9 years, until he was 40, but never won more than 16 games for Houston. Nolan Ryan threw his fifth no-hitter on September 26th, 1981 against the Dodgers. He put up by far his best ERA, 1.69, in that strike-shortened season; he finished with an 11-5 record.
Nolan Ryan ended his career still in Texas, with the Rangers. He pitched his last pair of no-hitters in 1990 and 1991, easily the oldest player to accomplish this feat. When all was said and done, he held the record for most strikeouts and no-hitters, and had won 324 contests. But Nolan Ryan also held the benchmark for most walks allowed, by almost 1,000 over the next man on the list, Steve Carlton. He also had thrown the most wild pitches ever and was ninth on the list for hitting batters. He gave up a record 10 grand slams in his baseball career, and Nolan Ryan ranks third on the all-time losses ledger with 292. If you were to average out his 27 years of pitching, his yearly record is only 13-12, with more than a strikeout an inning and about 4.5 walks a game.
An All-Star 8 times, Nolan Ryan led his league in strikeouts 11times, led in ERA twice and in shutouts 3 times. Was Nolan Ryan the greatest pitcher of all time? In my opinion, he would not make my top five. He is however, without a doubt, the greatest strikeout pitcher ever. This is an obvious conclusion. If it were not for his propensity to walk people, Nolan Ryan would have been virtually unbeatable, but the pressure of that many base runners game after game is too much for anyone to overcome, even somebody with a 100 mph fastball. He also pitched for much of his career with offensively inept teams. One of the most remarkable statistics involving Nolan Ryan is not related to whiffing helpless hitters. It is the fact that in 5,386 innings pitched, Nolan Ryan only surrendered a little over 3,900 base hits. This ratio is the best in baseball history at 6.555 hits per 9 innings. This fact alone puts Nolan Ryan amongst the top ten pitchers ever in my book.
Reggie Jackson, after his career was over, stated, “Ryan’s the only guy to put fear in me. You just hoped to mix in a walk so you could have a good night and go 0-for-3.” Mr. October was not the only batter that felt this way. To say that Nolan Ryan should have accomplished more though is completely unfair. No pitcher could ever have been expected to harness such power so completely as to record all the strikeouts but not the walks. It would be the equivalent of praising a rainbow, but cursing the storm that created it.

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