Sunday, March 30, 2014

Card #5: Nolan Ryan Highlight

Who Can It Be Now?
It's the one, the only Lynn Nolan Ryan, whose fifth of seven no-hitters is highlighted in this card.  It had been over 6 years -- since June 1, 1975 -- since Ryan had thrown a no-hitter. Ryan spent his childhood throwing rocks and other objects at "any target", according to Wikipedia.  

In the 1950s, that was called being a kid.  These days, that would be called being a vandal.  

Trivial Pursuit
Since this card celebrates Ryan no-hitter #5, let's look at some of the trivia about all of Ryan's no-hitters.

  • Ryan threw his first four no-hitters within the space of two calendar years plus 17 days -- between May 15, 1973 (#1) and June 1, 1975 (#4).
  • Despite this fact of timing, Ryan never had the same catcher behind the plate twice for any of his no-hitters.  In order from 1 through 7, the catchers were Jeff Torborg, Art Kusnyer, Tom Egan, Ellie Rodriguez, Alan Ashby, John Russell, and Mike Stanley.
  • The Angels lineup for Ryan's first no-hitter featured three future major league managers: Jeff Torborg, Frank Robinson (who, at age 37, hit 30 HRs and drove in 97 RBI), and Bobby Valentine.  In Ryan's second no-hitter two months later, none of those three played.
  • There was a gap of 6-1/2 years between no-hitter four and five.  Between no-hitter five and six, there was a gap of just over 8-1/2 years.
  • In Ryan's first three no-hitters, his second baseman was Sandy Alomar.  In Ryan's last no-hitter, the opposing second baseman was Roberto Alomar.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
It's no secret that the sabermetric community believes that Nolan Ryan is overrated due to the love affair that baseball fans have with Ryan's strikeout records.  The reason for this belief is that Ryan (a) is first all-time in walks allowed with 2,795, and second place among Hall of Famers -- Steve Carlton -- isn't really close as Carlton is over 960 walks behind; (b) Ryan is first in the modern era with 277 wild pitches; (c) Ryan has the most losses in the post-1920 era; and (d) Ryan hit 158 batters. 

Look, Ryan is one of the best pitchers of all time by any measure.  He may have mediocre stats in some respects, but his lifetime K/BB ratio is still over 2.0 -- a measure of a good pitcher, though the best guys these days tend to have a ratio closer to 3.0 K/BB.  He had such good stuff that hitters couldn't hit the ball hard against him even if they could put the ball in play -- only 6.56 hits per nine innings prove this.

Statistics can be used to prove any argument you want.  Ryan didn't pitch on very many good teams, which could be either a defense for his rather poor win-loss record or an indictment of Ryan to say that either he chose low-stress situations with Texas teams (since as a free agent he signed first with the Astros and then with the Rangers) or he didn't do very much to make his team better, whatever that means.

I am of the opinion that Ryan is one of the best pitchers ever if only for his longevity and his strikeout totals.  Even in the swing-from-the-heels 2000s, he's still far and away the all-time strikeout king -- only Randy Johnson is within 1000 of him.  Saying he lost a lot of games is like saying that Christie Brinkley has trouble staying married -- they both are still fun to watch.

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