I've never been a big fan of Nolan Ryan. I've sort of felt that the number of guys he walked over his career countered his strikeouts and ability to get guys out. I'm sure I've also been influenced by my growing up pre-sabremetrics and being duped by Ryan's lackluster win-loss record. I've even told myself that his extraordinary longevity makes him look more impressive than he really is.
As time goes on I appreciate him more, though, and I came across something today that really struck me which I thought I would share. I was reading an old post on baseball-reference.com that plotted Greg Maddux's Game Scores. For those of you not aware, the Game Score is a statistic created by Bill James which gives a rough indicator of how a starting pitcher pitched. You start with 50 points. Every batter you get out gives you a point. Every inning you complete past the fourth gives you two points. Strikeouts also give you a point each. From there you deduct one point for each walk, two for each hit and unearned run and four for each earned run. The number roughly corresponds to winning percentage. So a Game Score of 60 results in a team winning 60 percent of the time. Not totally accurate but a fun way to gauge performance and very easy to calculate.
So I'm looking at Maddux's graph and see that he only crossed 90 four times in his career. This seemed low to me for a pitcher of Maddux's stature. A complete game gives you 87 points right off the bat. Keep those hits and walks down, throw a shutout with some K's and you've got 90. So I thought I'd see how his four 90's matched up.
Turns out four isn't too bad. For pitchers from 1920 on (since data is incomplete before then), Maddux is tied with 21 other guys for 59th place. Adding pitchers from the Deadball Era would push him down further since low-scoring complete game efforts were more the norm. I mean, consider that Walter Johnson is tied with Maddux including just his starts from 1920 on.
The other names tied with Maddux aren't real stunning. Jimmy Key, Jose DeLeon, Kevin Appier, Luis Tiant, J.R. Richard are the most notable to me. Some strong pitchers but outside of Johnson, no Hall of Famers.
Going up the list, active pitcher Chris Carpenter has 5, Roy Halladay of the Phils has six. Cow Holy, Frank Tanana has seven!!!
Once you get to the top fifteen, it's pretty much all Hall of Famers.
Warren Spahn is tied with Mike Mussina for 15th with nine. Spahn is HOF, Mussina might be one day.
At #13 with ten are HOF pitchers Bob Feller and Jim Bunning.
The brief career of Sudden Sam McDowell is tied with the longer HOF careers of Steve Carlton and Bert Blyleven at #10. They had eleven each.
Tied at #8 with 12 are Pedro Martinez and Jim Maloney. Jim Maloney?!?! That's a name to explore for another rainy day.
Coming in at #6 are Gaylord Perry and Roger Clemens. They each had 13 games with a Game Score over 90.
The top 5 all hold their spots by themselves:
#5 Bob Gibson with 14.
#4 Tom Seaver with 16.
#3 Sandy Koufax with 18.
#2 Randy Johnson with 20.
So, no, four isn't too bad. Not many guys have ten and only two have 20. You can see that a single game moves you up a spot in the standings until the top 5 when the gap is two games.
By now you can guess who #1 is. Based on the rate of increase, how many games do you think Nolan Ryan had that scored 90 or more? 21? 22? Maybe even 23?
Yes, Ryan had ELEVEN more than Randy Johnson. Almost twice as many as Tom Seaver. As many as Steve Carlton, Jim Bunning and Bob Feller put together. 31 starts is almost a full-season for a guy in a five man rotation. Pretty amazing.
Not surprisingly, all seven of Ryan's no-hitters scored 90 or better. He had four games where he scored 100 or better.
Ryan lost one of the games, a game in which he scored 99. The Tigers beat Ryan's Angels 1-0 in a game where Ryan threw 11 innings, going the distance, striking out 19. He allowed runs in two other games.
All totaled, in those 31 games, Ryan threw 25 complete games, 22 of them shutouts.
He went 26-1 with four no-decisions, had an ERA of 0.06. 285.2 innings, 54 hits, 98 walks and 407 strikeouts.
Oh, what the heck, here's the whole list for you:
As for longevity, when he threw his second game of 90, I was probably drinking baby formula. When he threw his last, I was almost legally able to drink alcohol. A string of eight consecutive seasons with a 90+ game. The more I look, the more I see.
I think I have changed my opinion of Nolan Ryan.