Year Inducted: 1999 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 491/497)
Longevity, as stat inflating as it may be, is a very undervalued skill, both when it comes to the Hall of Fame and baseball in general. It’s impossible for a player to be able to do anything if he isn’t on the field. That’s the primary thing keeping players like Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker and Bobby Grich out of the Hall of Fame-injuries limited how often they could play for a good part of their careers. The baseball season is also a giant grind, and being able to answer the bell when it’s his turn adds value to a player. Longevity can come at a price, as the longer a player plays the more likely he is to be an average or below average player, but only the truly best can last out a season for 20 or more years. Having said all that, who showed more longevity than Nolan Ryan?
To quote Ryan’s numbers in a statistical study seems like an exercise in futility as most of his numbers are insane. 27 seasons, 5714 strikeouts, 7 no-hitters and 314 wins. Just amazing what he was able to do. Very few players could dominate like Ryan could, as batters hit a mere .200 against him while he struck out more than 9 batters every game. The only real criticism of Ryan was his walks. Ryan walked 2795 batters in his career, averaging more than 4 walks a game. This is why, despite a low batting average against him, Ryan’s career WHIP was only 1.25 (very good, but not great).
Throughout most of his amazing career, Ryan was somewhat overlooked as a great pitcher. Like Juan Marichal, Ryan never won a Cy Young Award. Unlike Marichal, who was always overshadowed by pitchers like Gibson and Koufax, Ryan was passed over mostly due to his win totals. While he made the playoffs five times in his career, he was never on truly great teams so he never racked up the wins that he would need despite leading the league in ERA twice, strikeouts 11 times and H/9 a whopping 12 times. Ryan would have probably fared better in today’s game, where the writers don’t look at a pitcher’s win total very much anymore (despite the results of this year’s AL Cy Young Award.)
So, with the incredible results that Ryan had in his career, is he the greatest pitcher of all-time? Well, he definitely is one of the best, but his career FIP- was only 83 and his ERA- was only 90. Both of those numbers are very good (especially the FIP-), but many other pitchers can dwarf those totals. That, combined with his walk total does limit where he can rank historically. Pitchers like Seaver, Koufax and Gibson, while not throwing as many innings, probably threw better quality of innings overall, while Walt Johnson and Christy Mathewson had better results than Ryan did. So, yes he is one of the 10 best pitchers ever, but he isn’t the absolute best. That doesn’t take away from what he is-a phenomenal pitcher that should be looked at as such, instead of a guy that just hung around forever.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/26/16:
#49- Along with Bill Terry, this player was also chair of the Veterans Committee at one point.
#48- This player died tragically by falling off a train into Niagara Falls