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Today, it is almost incomprehensible, but what is unbelievable is that when it was happening, it was not thought of as unusual. From 1972, his first season with the Angels, through 1974, Nolan Ryan averaged 314 innings pitched, 1300 batters faced a season, 174 walks, and 360 strikeouts. In 1974, Nolan Ryan pitched 332 2/3 innings, struck out 367 batters and walked 202, which means that 569 batters Ryan faced didn't hit the ball.
"Just Another Out"
In 2008, Roy Halladay led the American League with 246 innings pitched and 987 batters faced. A.J. Burnett led with 231 strikeouts in the modern era when there are many more strikeouts than in the 1970s, and Daisuke Matsuzaka led in walks with 94. Strikeouts are now viewed as "just another out," which is a dangerous view when a team has a runner on third with one out. When Nolan Ryan pitched, especially during the first half of his career, batters tried to avoid striking out, and many would change their hitting approach with two strikes, which in no longer the case.
At Least One Walk in Every Game Started
The most batters Nolan Ryan ever walked in a season was 204 in 1977, which is second only to Bob Feller's 208 in 1937. Nolan Ryan rarely started a game in which he didn't issue at least one walk. Over his career, he averaged 232 innings a season, yielded an average of 120 walks, and had 245 strikeouts a season. In 1973, he set the strikeout record with 383.
Nolan Ryan's ERA Compared to Other Greats at the Time
Now it gets interesting. Nolan Ryan's ERA was 3.19, compared to the league's 3.56, which is good, but not outstanding. Ryan's good friend, Tom Seaver, had a 2.86 ERA compared to the league's 3.64. Steve Carlton's numbers were 3.22 and 3.70, Bob Gibson's were 2.91 and 3.71, while Ferguson Jenkins' were 3.34 and 3.84. The point is that these two measures for some other great pitchers of Ryan's era were quite similar to his, but only Carlton came close to Ryan with respect to walking hitters. Nolan allowed 2795 walks, while Carlton is a distant second with 1833.
Ryan Was the Most Difficult Pitcher to Hit
WHIP (walks + hits divided by inning pitched) is a good measure of a pitcher's effectiveness. Pedro Martinez leads all active pitchers (or at least he will remain the leader if a team signs him for 2009) with 1.0512. Ryan's WHIP is 1.2473. which is good, considering his walks. The reason Ryan's WHIP is respectable is that he leads all pitchers by allowing only 6.555 hits per nine innings.
If Ryan Were a Young Pitcher Today
The Mets traded twenty-four year old Nolan Ryan because they became impatient waiting for him to harness his almost unlimited talent. If Ryan started his major league career today, he would face many more obstacles because he would not be given the opportunity to pitch much. Imagine a twenty five-year-old pitcher, which was Ryan's age in 1972, being allowed to work 284 innings, followed by 326 and 333. All one must do is state that the New York Yankees told the press a few days ago that twenty three year old Joba Chamberlain would be limited to 140 innings in 2009. Incredible.