Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Would Nolan Ryan be a relief pitcher today?

On another website a couple of comments on one of my recent posts got me thinking.  The comments were about this:

Nolan Ryan, power pitcher into his 40s. Did he use steroids?  Saturday, August 9, 2014

One person mentioned that if Nolan Ryan were pitching today he would probably be removed more often in the sixth inning as his pitch count would be watched.  Then another person followed up by writing that Ryan would probably be moved to the bullpen today.  I laughed.

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Ryan might be required to fill the relief role.  Early in his career Ryan threw very few different types of pitches.  That's something that helps define a relief pitcher today.  Ryan could enter a game and blow away the opposing batters with his fastball.

As a Yankee fan I was concerned about something like that when the Yankees played the Atlanta Braves for the championship in 1996 and 1999, that the Braves would bring starter John Smoltz out of the bullpen and that Smoltz would just blow away the Yankees batters.  Smoltz never relieved against the Yankees and the Braves lost both series.

Ironically, after missing the 2000 season with an injury, Smotlz at age 34 returned as a relief pitcher for four seasons, leading the league with 55 saves in his second of those four seasons.  Then at age 38 Smoltz went back to starting for three more seasons, leading the league in starts and wins in the second of those three seasons.  Smoltz remained a starter for two more seasons but with only 21 appearances.

Aroldis Chapman in Baltimore June 26, 2011
by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons
In the next Hall of Fame election Smoltz will be eligible for the first time.  Many people simply assume that he will be elected after the momentum established by his longtime Braves pitching mates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were elected on the first ballot and inducted this summer.  However, I think that Smoltz will have more difficulty than conventional wisdom assumes and part of that will be his tour of duty as a relief pitcher.

Ryan would have the same difficulty in establishing impressive credentials and he might simply become lost in the shuffling of the bullpen deck.  The Reds immediately moved Cuban defector and starting pitcher Aroldis Chapman into their bullpen five years ago at age 22, his 100 mph fastball never to be tested for more than about an inning at a time in no more than 68 games a season.

What a waste.  Would Nolan Ryan be wasted like that today?

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