Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nolan Ryan, power pitcher into his 40s. Did he use steroids?

John Kruk said Nolan Ryan was the fastest pitcher he faced.  Faster than Rob Dibble and Dwight Gooden, whom Kruk also named.  But Kruk was emphatic when asked: Nolan he replied multiple times.  This was during the ESPN Sunday night game in Boston between the Yankees and Red Sox Aug. 3, 2014.

Nolan Ryan 383 SO in 1973, age 26
John Rogers collection
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I wasn't sure when Kruk would have faced Ryan so I looked it up: 1986, 1987, 1988.  But here's the thing.  Nolan Ryan was born January 31, 1947 in Refugio, TX.  So in those seasons Ryan was 39, 40, 41.  Those seasons were Kruk's first three in the majors (ages 25, 26, 27), playing for San Diego against Ryan who was in his final three seasons with Houston before switching to the Texas Rangers 1989 through 1993, ages 42 through 46.

Maybe Kruk was overly impressed by Ryan's reputation and attributes more speed than acumen to Ryan's performance.  Kruk's 21 plate appearances against Ryan are here:

Two singles and one home run in 18 at bats, plus three walks; OPS .619.

Here is the most viewed post on this blog:

Nolan Ryan: more on possible steroid use.  Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How come no one challenges Nolan Ryan? He played long enough to have used steroids. His longevity is suspicious. Jose Canseco has admitted using steriods during his MVP season of 1988. Ryan played from 1966 through 1993 (age 46). Ryan and Canseco were even teammates in Texas for 22 games in 1992 and for 60 games in 1993. Ryan's final seasons leading the league in strike outs were at the ages of 40, 41, 42, 43. His previous age as league strike out leader was 32. Ryan went seven years without being strike out king until he recovered the touch in 1987 at age 40. Ryan pitched a record seven no hitters at these ages: 26, 26, 27, 28, 34, 43, 44. This anecdotal evidence is completely ignored. Did Nolan Ryan use banned and/or illegal stuff to enhance his performance? I have no idea but I find it odd that the steroid zealots have such narrow vision.

Among the comments to that post were two possible explanations for Ryan's unique success in his baseball old age:
- Ryan perfected his changeup around 1987, age 40;
- Ryan's control improved a lot.

The problem with the control theory is that Ryan's control improved in 1979 at age 32.  Why did his SO improve at age 40?  The changeup?  That must have been one whale of a changeup.

Every season Ryan led a league in strike outs (SO) he also led in SO per nine innings pitched (SO9).  In 1991 at age 44 Ryan led in SO9 but not in SO (203).  Since he pitched in both leagues, one with a DH, one without, it makes sense to look at his SO9 compared to the league average.  His first season of 1966 is omitted because he pitched only three innings.  Numbers with only one decimal place were copied from so the result may be slightly less accurate than it could be but should not reduce the overall understanding.  Data for graph below is in this link; also below the graph.

AgePct DifYearLeagueRyanDifLTeam

Nolan Ryan, Tom House and steroids.  Monday, August 11, 2014


Kenneth Matinale said...

10. Rennie's Tenet Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:50 AM (#4768448)
If Ryan had arrived today, how would his career have gone? He must have had many games where he would have had early exits due to game or inning pitch counts today.

11. Ron J2 Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:57 AM (#4768457)
#10 He'd have probably ended up in the bullpen and we'd never have known about his incredible endurance.

Frank Rizzo said...

He likely used steroids.

But nobody will ever know and he retired before we started noticing guys on the gas.