Nolan Ryan Apologetics

Benjamin EdwardsCorrespondent IAugust 6, 2008


We received an interesting email recently from “Plunk”, one of our members, that asks:

“From 1957 to 2007, which MLB pitcher has allowed two hits or less in the most games?”

We talked this one over before jumping on and couldn't agree on an answer.  

Second on the list is Jim Palmer with 17. First is Nolan Ryan, with 37.


That's just ridiculous.

Seven no-hitters and 30 one-hit or two-hit games gives Nolan a 20-game lead over the next best player in that category.

It’s time to find out just how good Nolan really was.

Nolan Ryan is as close to a Texas legend as one man can be. He came here in 1980 at the age of 33 and won 157 games as an Astro and a Ranger. 11 times, in that span, he won at least 10 games, and three times he won over 15.

He threw three no-hitters and struck out 2,805 batters while averaging almost seven K's per game. That and all those Cy Young awards...

But wait...Nolan never won a Cy Young.

In fact, Nolan had a 20-game season only twice in his illustrious 27-year career. Sure, he won 324 games, but he also lost 292. He was an All-Star in only eight of his 27 seasons and never got higher than 14th in the MVP voting.

But he has an excellent career ERA of 3.19.

He led the league in strikeouts 11 times and is the all-time leader in the category with 5,714, which is almost 1,000 more than any other pitcher in MLB history. He ranks first all-time in wild pitches, which would make sense considering his career length, but then again, he led the league six times in wild pitches.

He’s the all-time leader in walks (by about 1,000), and he led the league eight times in that category. The guy started 773 games, and of those, he completed 222. You just don’t see that anymore. Greg Maddux has 109 complete games, and Clemens has tallied 118, and Roger has pitched 24 years.

Nolan is also the all-time leader in fewest hits allowed per 9 innings. But shouldn’t Nolan Ryan be higher than 511th in the rankings of career W-L percentage? There is no way that he should be below Tim Wakefield and Hideo Nomo (who are tied for 481st on the list).

A 22-year-old Ryan played in the ‘69 World Series as a member of the champion New York Mets and registered a save in the series but never again appeared in a World Championship.

This leads me to the first assumption: “Nolan never played for good teams.”

Nolan played for teams that were over .500 in 14 of his 27 years. However, only seven times did his team finish 10 games over .500.

The best team he ever played for (as far as regular-season standings) was the ’69 Mets, who won 100 games. Only twice more did his team win 90+ games. But conversely, he only played for six teams that ended up 10 games below .500.

His four team’s combined record over his career was 2,171-2,143. Not good, not bad. A lot like Ryan’s win-loss total.

So where does that leave us? On one hand, seven no-hitters and 30 one or two-hitters shows his utter dominance. (I’ve said for years that Ryan would have been the greatest closer in history.) But why isn’t Nolan talked about seriously in the “greatest pitcher of all time” conversation?

When I am asked about the greatest of all-time, I mention Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Koufax, Clemens, and Feller. I never think of Nolan. Is it the losses? Is it the walks?

Toby Harrah once said that, “Nolan would load the bases with walks and then strike out three guys in a row.” Is that the most effective pitcher?

What are your thoughts?


Benjamin Edwards is the lead writer for