Some people say Nolan Ryan is the greatest pitcher of all time. He is first in strikeouts and is not only first but first by a large margin over 800 strikeouts more than Randy Johnson. He won 324 games a respectable total but is only 32 games above .500 in his career. His defenders argue this was because he pitched in tough luck and on some poor teams. One year (1987) he led in earned run average, strikeouts, strikeouts per 9 innings and strikeout to walk ratio and had 8 wins and 16 losses. How does that happen? His walk rate was not bad that year. He gave up only 10 unearned runs, which was good for him. It turns out that he was supported by zero or 1 run 14 times that year in losses. That accounts for the losses. He lost victories as he left some games in the lead and the bullpen gave up a lot of runs after he left. This time he came blame it on his teammates and be right.
Ryan struck out a lot of batters, but he also walked a lot of batters. He is the career record holder for career walks. He has a big margin, bigger than his margin for walks. He has over 950 more walks than second place Steve Carlton. Of course, there is a lot of good pitchers in the top 24 in walks, because you must pitch a long time to get that many walks. Well over half are hall of famers.
Ryan was also a lousy fielder, although he might have improved later in his career or just stayed away from the ball. He is 26th on the all-time list but is number one for pitchers who pitched after WWII. Most of the players in the top 24 for career errors pitched in the 19th century. A lot more errors were made at that time. Ryan’s fielding average for his career was below.900 which is pretty low. He also made a lot of wild pitches. He is number 2 on the list for career wild pitches. Ahead of him is Tony Mullane a 19th Century pitcher. By the way I have Mullane as the 103rd best pitcher on my list and he made my top 1,000 so I hope to have an article on him one day. Nolan Ryan was a great pitcher, but he bought some of the hard luck on himself.
I saw Nolan Ryan pitch in an exhibition game his last season. It was in Florida. It was early in spring training and Ryan was making his first spring start. I went with a friend I known since junior high and went on a few trips with. Most pitchers leave early in the game especially early for spring training. After three innings we gave Ryan a hand because he had a solid performance. Then he came out to pitch the fourth. I’m like “this guy is 46 years old and he is coming out for a fourth inning this early in spring training”? Now what happens next, he came out for a fifth inning. I mentioned this at work when I got back. I had a boss who lived in Texas was visiting us and he said he watched the game looking for me in the crowd as I told him what Ranger game I was going to. He said it was Ryan’s decision to pitch 5 innings. Well if your 46 and preparing for your 27th major league season you should be allowed to make decisions like that.