Comments on: Justin Verlander joins the short list of pitchers with multiple no-hitters This and that about baseball stats. Tue, 16 Jul 2013 17:01:55 +0000 hourly 1 By: John Autin Tue, 10 May 2011 02:39:36 +0000 @55, Fireworks suggested that "you can't really blame Ryan for his wildness--he did what was asked of him early in his career and trying to have more command over his fastball by slowing it down just made it hittable."

I'm not familiar with this story, but I'll assume it's part of the accepted Ryan history.

But I can't help wondering -- was that the only time he ever tried to make that adjustment? And is there perhaps contrary evidence to be found somewhere in Nolan Ryan's career stats?

So I compared his overall stats to his bases-loaded splits.
-- Overall, Ryan walked 12.5% of all batters who did not execute a sacrifice bunt.
-- With the bases loaded, he walked 9.2% of all batters.

A 26% decrease in walks suggests that he did make an adjustment to improve his control with the bases loaded. So, how did that affect his hittability?
-- Overall, Ryan allowed a .204 BA and .298 SLG, with a 25.5% K rate (of all non-sacrifice batters).
-- With the bases loaded, he allowed a .191 BA and .294 SLG (when you count sac flies as AB), with a 28.7% K rate.

The bases-loaded data is just over 500 PAs, so those batting numbers are not necessarily a perfectly accurate reflection of the impact of Ryan adjusting for control.

But it strongly suggests that Ryan could have cut down his overall walk rate without a significant increase in hittability. He chose to pursue unhittability.

Now, this is not a mortal sin. Many great players are selfish in some way, even to the occasional detriment of their team. Supposedly, Ted Williams rarely tried to take advantage of the infield shift by slapping the ball to the vacant left side. And certainly, the weak Angels teams Ryan played for in his first few years did not provide a strong incentive to let the fielders do more of the work.

But I'm certainly not buying the notion that Ryan could not have reduced his wildness without becoming ordinary.

By: Ed Mon, 09 May 2011 23:51:04 +0000 @63 - I think that is fair on Ryan. make a 25 man team of the Hall, he isn't on that staff IMO. Top 10,12 pitchers all time. No. There are about 60 starters in the HOF. There are not 60 pitchers better than Ryan.

By: Ed Mon, 09 May 2011 23:46:03 +0000 @59 - I only said may - and I think a proof needs more controls than you propose. Organizations who are geared towards pitching often prize defense highly as well. Ryan was mentioned, at the time he came up the Mets were known for developing pitchers - Ryan, Seaver, Koosman, Mc Graw all pitching until they were 40 or better. They faced the Orioles in 1969 - another fine staff, also with a young HOF pitcher. Seaver/Koosman/Gentry overCueller/Palmer/McNally. There was another similarity - the shortstops. Harrelson was a good defensive player, weak hitter, and the Orioles had an even better defender and worse hitter in Belanger. Good pitching teams may carry better gloves, lowering BABIP more than teams who club you into submission, who use wilder pitchers and heavier bats.

@61 - yeah, the guys who kept it in play kept me more alert at 1B, and especially in the OF.

By: Dan W Mon, 09 May 2011 22:19:29 +0000 Ryan was overrated. However he's definitely a worthy Hall of Famer.

The thing that irks me is when I see common folks off the street in baseball forums claim he is the greatest or one of the greatest pitchers ever. Not remotely. Not in the top 20. People just hear "7 no-hitters" and that's that, he must be the greatest. It's annoying.

By: John Autin Mon, 09 May 2011 21:58:19 +0000 "Wild and unhittable is better than hittable."
-- Cliff Lee begs to differ. From 2008-present, Lee has averaged a 139 ERA+ without ever cracking the H/9 leaders; in fact, he averages about a hit per inning. In Ryan's six 300-K seasons, he reached Lee's average ERA+ just once, a peak of 141; Ryan averaged a 122 ERA+ for those years. Ryan led the league in H/9 each of those 6 years -- but he never led in WHIP, ERA or ERA+. Led led the AL in ERA & ERA+ in 2008, and led MLB in WHIP last season.

"he's the guy who is the least hittable in MLB history"
-- But that's not the objective of pitching, is it? The goal is to prevent runs. There's nothing wrong with expressing awe of Ryan's "unhittability"; I freely share that feeling. But we can't let that affect how we assess his effectiveness.

"you can't really blame Ryan for his wildness--he did what was asked of him early in his career and trying to have more command over his fastball by slowing it down just made it hittable."
-- A similar argument could be made for Milton Bradley's temper. Both arguments are bunk.

I think Ryan was a terrific pitcher for a lot of years and clearly deserves his spot in the HOF. Baseball is richer in many ways for his long-time presence. I just don't go in for the larger-than-life mythologizing.

By: Bastaducci Mon, 09 May 2011 21:42:12 +0000 I personally have no problem with the "defenders seem to play better behind a guy like Maddux who works fast and throws strikes" idea.
I know at SS I loved a faster moving pitcher who threw strikes. a guy who was wild and slow on the mound made the game seem..well unorganized. I mean I know this is in my with the fast moving guys who threw strikes you knew you the ball might be hit at you.but it just seemed more comfortable to me . anyone else who felt the same way?

By: Fireworks Mon, 09 May 2011 20:39:35 +0000 @55 That's exactly the sort of thing I was thinking. Of course to really know if Ryan was unlucky you'd have to do some good statistical analysis, which isn't my forte.

But looking at it, I didn't see too many instances where you thought he had a record that was better than he deserved, but he seemed to often be a win or two short of what you'd expect, especially during his California years, when he was, of course, most wild.

Part of me believes that if he was in the right environment in this era and wasn't throwing 175 pitches so often it might've accelerated the honing of his pitching skill rather than relying purely on his given talent. But that's just speculation of course.

Given the length of his career I think if he had fulfilled his potential for dominance he'd be #3 in wins all time and maybe made a run at Walter Johnson.

By: Al Dimond Mon, 09 May 2011 20:35:13 +0000 @58: This hypothesis is easily testable with data that's easily available. Do wild pitchers tend to exhibit higher-than-expected BABIP given their batted-ball profiles? I have never seen a study suggest this. Given the current consensus about what pitchers can control, the burden of proof is on you if you're going to make claims like this.

I warn that if you try to observe that "defenders seem to play better behind a guy like Maddux", this is a story you've been told before, and you may be biased toward observing it. Many people have misconceptions about successful pitchers that don't rack up enormous strikeout totals -- I sure did before I read the DIPS paper.

By: Ed Mon, 09 May 2011 20:07:50 +0000 I think being wild may carry another small penalty - defenders seem to play better behind a guy like Maddux who works fast and throws strikes. They stay alert better. look at most no hitters. It may not be scientific, but how many times does it seem they have a really good defensive play to save it?

To test that, though, you'd have to have the same defenders behind a Maddux who could throw a 100-110 pitch CG, and someone who throws at the pace of a 150-160, and compare range factors, etc... Hard to set that up

By: Al Dimond Mon, 09 May 2011 18:42:07 +0000 @55: As to there being "hidden disadvantages to being wild or inconsistent". A starting pitcher that's unusually inconsistent game-to-game won't necessarily have W/L records all that closely tied to aggregate stats like ERA (I assume you looked at ERA and IP vs. his teammates each year to determine who got lucky with wins). He'll give up more meaningless runs than most pitchers and save more meaningless runs than most pitchers. His W/L record will have more to do with the number of good starts against the number of bad starts, and generally he'll probably have a record closer to .500 than than a pitcher with similar aggregate stats that's more consistent.

The same is true of a guy like Blyleven that threw a ton of shutouts... I just commented that Blyleven and Ryan are probably slightly overrated by their aggregate context-neutral stats (for all fellow saberdorks, I mean everything from K% to ERA to FIP to WAR but not WPA... but don't even think about tallying career WPA without at least considering all its other issues), so this should probably start a big blog argument or something. They still both had ridiculously impressive careers... Ryan's longevity is just mind-boggling. Being too young to remember seeing either, they both strike me as monumental pitchers just based on numbers.