Exploring a New Statistic: Nolan Ryan Percentage

I know some tiered rankings have come out this week, but I wanted to take you in a little different direction this week. Next week I will have the first base tiered rankings up. This week, I wanted to explore a new statistic I came up with that will probably not help you win your league. It is simply a fun way to look at pitchers in a different light, so I hope you enjoy reading about it as much I enjoyed exploring it.

I am fortunate enough to have Jake Arrieta on one of my teams, so I have been able to look at his starts individually. I started to notice that even though he was giving up very few hits, he seemed to be giving up a lot of walks along with a high number of strikeouts. This got me wondering if Arrieta was turning into a modern day Nolan Ryan, where he was not going to let you make contact even if that meant walking the hitter. Turns out there are better comps to Nolan Ryan, but I’ll get more into that later.

Initially, I thought I could look at contact%, but that looks at every single pitch and that is not really what I wanted. I wanted to see which pitchers allowed the least amount of balls in play on average. So I created the Nolan Ryan percentage (NR% for short). To calculate NR%, you simply add K% and BB%. Nothing complicated. Nothing groundbreaking. Just a fun way to see which pitchers are like Nolan Ryan in terms of either striking out or walking most of their hitters.

Before I get into individual pitchers, let’s look at pitching tendencies per the various eras in baseball history. I broke the eras up according to www.netshrine.com, and I simply charted K%, BB%, and NR%. I was only able to get this data starting with 1916. Here are the eras I used:

  • Dead Ball Era: 1916-1919
  • Lively Ball Era: 1920-1941
  • Integration Era: 1942-1960
  • Expansion Era: 1961-1976
  • Free Agency Era: 1977-1993
  • Long Ball Era: 1994-2005
  • Modern Era: 2006-2016

Obviously, the game has changed over time. Strikeouts are on the rise, as are walks. Let’s look at each era and see how K% and BB% have changed, and if this impacts the NR%.

Nolan Ryan Percent by Era
Era K% BB% NR%
Dead Ball Era (1916-1919) 9.06% 7.53% 16.58%
Lively Ball Era (1920-1941) 8.00% 8.12% 16.11%
Integration Era (1942-1960) 10.59% 9.25% 19.84%
Expansion Era (1961-1976) 14.53% 8.46% 22.99%
Free Agency Era (1977-1993) 14.06% 8.51% 22.56%
Long Ball Era (1994-2005) 16.64% 8.84% 25.49%
Modern Era (2006-2016) 18.73% 8.24% 26.98%

There were no real surprises here, as the Nolan Ryan % pretty much increased in each era, with the exception of the Lively Ball Era and the Free Agency Era. The reason the Lively Ball Era didn’t increase could be because there was a much smaller sample size in the Dead Ball Era, and the dip in the Free Agency Era looks relatively minor. Pretty interesting how the game has changed over time, and even though most baseball fans should be aware of this, I just like when the data supports these notions. Again, nothing groundbreaking.

Ok now to the individuals. I named this stat pretty subjectively. I didn’t actually look to see who is the leader in this statistic, but I just feel like Nolan Ryan embodies this statistic more than anybody else. So let’s see who are the all-time leaders in the Nolan Ryan%. Oh, one more thing…I left off relievers in the individual sorting. When I first ran the data, they pretty much dominated the rankings and I am personally more interested in how starters ranked. Now to the all-time leaders:

All-Time NR% Leaders
Name K% BB% NR%
Yu Darvish 30.10% 9.60% 39.70%
Kerry Wood 27.10% 11.40% 38.50%
Jose Fernandez 30.30% 8.00% 38.30%
Herb Score 22.70% 15.50% 38.20%
Nolan Ryan 25.30% 12.40% 37.70%
Randy Johnson 28.50% 8.80% 37.30%
Sam McDowell 23.40% 12.30% 35.70%
Oliver Perez 22.90% 12.60% 35.50%
Mark Prior 27.30% 8.10% 35.40%
Stephen Strasburg 29.00% 6.20% 35.20%
Jonathan Sanchez 22.70% 12.50% 35.20%
Rich Harden 24.10% 10.70% 34.80%
Clayton Kershaw 27.60% 7.10% 34.70%
Danny Salazar 26.90% 7.80% 34.70%
Pedro Martinez 27.70% 6.40% 34.10%
Francisco Liriano 24.00% 10.10% 34.10%
Tim Lincecum 24.70% 9.30% 34.00%
J.R. Richard 22.40% 11.50% 33.90%
Sandy Koufax 25.20% 8.60% 33.80%
Max Scherzer 26.70% 7.00% 33.70%

Phew. Nolan Ryan is 5th, so it’s not out of line to name the statistic after him. And relative to other pitchers in the eras he pitched in, he does pretty much dominate the category. Two of the four guys ahead of him pitch in the Modern Era where NR% is highest, Kerry Wood also pitched in a high NR% era. Herb Score? Pitched from 1955-1962 so he probably has the most impressive NR% relative to his peers, but the Herb Score % would probably fall on more deaf ears (assuming you haven’t feigned interest as of yet).

Next, I broke down the leaders according to era to see what types of pitchers were leading NR%. Let’s see who the Nolan Ryan’s were for each era:

Dead Ball Era
Name Team K% BB% NR%
Ad Swigler Giants 13.30% 26.70% 40.00%
Carl Ray Athletics 10.00% 28.00% 38.00%
William Pierson Athletics 11.40% 22.90% 34.30%
Molly Craft Senators 20.50% 13.60% 34.10%
Bill Grevell Athletics 4.40% 26.50% 30.90%
George Boehler Tigers 14.00% 15.80% 29.80%
Pat Martin Athletics 11.80% 15.70% 27.50%
Cap Crowell Athletics 8.10% 18.40% 26.50%
Paul Musser Red Sox 16.70% 9.50% 26.20%
Bill Snyder Senators 15.20% 9.10% 24.30%
Neal Brady Yankees 10.80% 13.50% 24.30%
Bob McGraw Yankees 7.10% 16.70% 23.80%
George Baumgardner Browns 10.50% 13.20% 23.70%
Eric Erickson – – – 13.50% 10.00% 23.50%
Weldon Wyckoff Athletics 3.90% 19.60% 23.50%
Slim Love – – – 12.00% 11.50% 23.50%
Walt Johnson Athletics 14.30% 8.90% 23.20%
Tom Hughes Braves 14.50% 8.60% 23.10%
Cliff Markle Yankees 7.20% 15.90% 23.10%
Harry Harper Senators 11.40% 11.30% 22.70%

In the Dead Ball Era, leading this category meant you were not a very effective pitcher. Admittedly, I do not know as much as about the Dead Ball Era as I do other eras in baseball, so I also created a table sorted by WAR from this era to see what the rates were for the top pitchers.

Dead Ball Era SP WAR Leaders
Name K% BB% NR% WAR
Walter Johnson 14.10% 5.30% 19.40% 28.8
Pete Alexander 12.50% 3.60% 16.10% 22.5
Hippo Vaughn 13.20% 6.20% 19.40% 21.5
Eddie Cicotte 10.80% 5.40% 16.20% 20.2
Stan Coveleski 9.20% 6.40% 15.60% 19.1
Jim Bagby 6.50% 5.80% 12.30% 16.2
Wilbur Cooper 9.90% 6.10% 16.00% 13.7
Dick Rudolph 8.90% 4.50% 13.40% 13.7
Dutch Leonard 11.90% 7.00% 18.90% 12.5
Carl Mays 9.00% 7.10% 16.10% 11.9
Fred Toney 8.70% 5.50% 14.20% 11.8
Eppa Rixey 10.80% 6.50% 17.30% 11.5
Guy Morton 12.20% 8.20% 20.40% 11.5
Rube Marquard 11.60% 5.70% 17.30% 11.4
Hooks Dauss 8.30% 7.20% 15.50% 11.4
Jeff Pfeffer 9.60% 5.20% 14.80% 11.3
Claude Hendrix 9.80% 6.50% 16.30% 11.2
Lefty Williams 11.00% 7.30% 18.30% 11.1
Phil Douglas 10.80% 4.60% 15.40% 10.7
Reb Russell 9.20% 4.80% 14.00% 10.2

The game was different and pitchers were not expected to strike out as many players. Looking at the top ten NR% pitchers, seven had BB%’s of at least ten and all had WARs under ten. In the top 20, both Hippo Vaughn and Walter Johnson appear ranked 16th and 17th respectively in NR% and are the only top 20 players with a WAR over 20.

Lively Ball Era NR% Leaders
Name Team K% BB% NR%
Bob Feller Indians 19.90% 13.20% 33.10%
Johnny Vander Meer Reds 16.90% 14.10% 31.00%
Hal Newhouser Tigers 13.80% 15.00% 28.80%
Lefty Mills Browns 14.30% 13.90% 28.20%
Joe Krakauskas – – – 13.50% 13.60% 27.10%
Bobo Newsom – – – 13.40% 11.30% 24.70%
Ken Chase Senators 10.80% 13.10% 23.90%
Jake Wade – – – 9.00% 14.90% 23.90%
Hank Johnson – – – 12.10% 11.70% 23.80%
Lefty Gomez Yankees 13.80% 9.90% 23.70%
Tommy Bridges Tigers 13.60% 10.10% 23.70%
Dizzy Trout Tigers 12.10% 11.40% 23.50%
Dazzy Vance – – – 16.70% 6.70% 23.40%
Van Mungo Robins 14.00% 9.40% 23.40%
Whitey Moore Reds 11.00% 12.40% 23.40%
Ferdie Schupp – – – 10.70% 12.60% 23.30%
Clay Bryant Cubs 11.60% 11.50% 23.10%
Monte Pearson – – – 11.20% 11.70% 22.90%
Jack Wilson – – – 11.50% 11.40% 22.90%
Lee Grissom – – – 12.80% 9.90% 22.70%

The Lively Ball Era provides some names that are more well-known, and in the top 20, there are quite a few accomplished pitchers who also have high NR%. However, being high on this list is still not an accomplishment just yet as quite a few of these players have similar K% and BB%, with 7 of the top 20 having higher BB% than K%. Even though Nolan Ryan has a high BB%, his K% was also high so we are not necessarily getting a clear picture of who the Nolan Ryan’s were of this era. Bob Feller only pitched six years in this particular era, but he definitely embodies Nolan Ryan more than anybody with the highest K% during this era and an over 13% walk rate. Let’s see if Feller carries this on through the next era, the Integration Era.

Integration Era NR% Leaders
Name Team K% BB% NR%
Herb Score – – – 23.10% 15.40% 38.50%
Sandy Koufax Dodgers 22.50% 13.40% 35.90%
Sam Jones – – – 19.60% 11.90% 31.50%
Bob Turley – – – 17.20% 14.30% 31.50%
Juan Pizarro Braves 18.90% 12.40% 31.30%
Ernie Broglio Cardinals 18.70% 11.00% 29.70%
Dick Drott Cubs 15.90% 13.70% 29.60%
Tommy Byrne – – – 12.40% 16.90% 29.30%
Stan Williams Dodgers 17.80% 11.50% 29.30%
Rex Barney Dodgers 12.90% 14.90% 27.80%
Mickey McDermott – – – 13.40% 14.00% 27.40%
Camilo Pascual Senators 18.20% 9.10% 27.30%
Danny McDevitt Dodgers 15.20% 11.80% 27.00%
Joey Jay Braves 15.90% 10.70% 26.60%
Lou Kretlow – – – 12.50% 14.00% 26.50%
Dick Littlefield – – – 14.00% 12.20% 26.20%
Jim Bunning Tigers 18.50% 7.50% 26.00%
Moe Drabowsky Cubs 14.50% 11.50% 26.00%
Don Drysdale Dodgers 18.40% 7.40% 25.80%
Ted Gray – – – 13.90% 11.90% 25.80%

Bob Feller drops off significantly, moving from number one in the Lively Ball Era to 60th in the Integration Era. He also lost almost four years due to the war, and his K rate dropped significantly later in his career. His NR% drops a whole ten percentage points between eras, so he loses the distinction of being the Nolan Ryan of the Integration Era. That goes to the previously mentioned Herb Score who leads the era in K% and is third in BB%, albeit in an 8 season career. Score was really a force in his first seasons and then fell off pretty significantly, particularly when he went to the White Sox in 1960. Still during those first few seasons, he was Nolan Ryan before Nolan Ryan. Also cool to see Sandy Koufax on the list who is the only other pitcher to have a K% over 20 during this era. He is also just getting started in his career, so it will be interesting to see if he will still have a high NR% as his walks rate decreases.

Expansion Era NR% Leaders
Name Team K% BB% NR%
Nolan Ryan – – – 25.50% 14.40% 39.90%
Sam McDowell – – – 23.40% 12.30% 35.70%
Balor Moore Expos 22.20% 12.60% 34.80%
J.R. Richard Astros 19.30% 13.70% 33.00%
Sandy Koufax Dodgers 26.50% 6.40% 32.90%
Dennis Eckersley Indians 21.80% 10.40% 32.20%
Les Cain Tigers 18.40% 13.70% 32.10%
John D’Acquisto Giants 15.80% 16.20% 32.00%
Bob Veale Pirates 21.00% 10.50% 31.50%
Jim Maloney – – – 20.90% 10.40% 31.30%
Dave Boswell Twins 19.90% 10.60% 30.50%
Dave Morehead – – – 17.20% 12.60% 29.80%
Dick Selma – – – 20.20% 9.00% 29.20%
Chuck Estrada Orioles 16.30% 12.80% 29.10%
Tom Cheney Senators 17.70% 11.10% 28.80%
Mike Kilkenny – – – 16.50% 12.20% 28.70%
Dick Stigman – – – 19.10% 9.40% 28.50%
Bill Stoneman – – – 17.20% 11.30% 28.50%
Frank Tanana Angels 21.60% 6.80% 28.40%
Tom Seaver Mets 21.50% 6.80% 28.30%

There’s our hero, Nolan Ryan, dominating in his own statistic by over 4 percentage points. Koufax is also in the top ten, but only because of his insanely high K%. At this point in history, we start seeing players appearing near the top of the NR% in spite of their low walk rates, which in some ways goes against what we are looking for (or at least what I am looking for). The spirit of this statistic is to identify those players who are willing to walk more players than they probably should just to avoid allowing other players to make contact. Or at least that is the narrative I have created in my head. So even though somebody like Koufax is allowing a lower amount of players to put the ball in play, he was very different than Ryan in that he was striking out more players (not much more) with better control (much better). So in order to see who is most similar to Ryan, I have established a walk rate baseline of at least 10% (in my mind). Even though Koufax technically qualifies to be in the top ten, I wouldn’t consider him in my discussion as being similar to Ryan. Sam McDowell? Absolutely, and most of the players in the top 20 I would because they have walk rates over 10%. Just wanted to make this note moving forward as we start to see pitcher’s K rates explode, but not necessarily their walk rates. For the purposes of this discussion, we want to see players with both.

Free Agency Era NR% Leaders
Name Team K% BB% NR%
Randy Johnson – – – 24.30% 13.40% 37.70%
Nolan Ryan – – – 25.20% 11.20% 36.40%
J.R. Richard Astros 24.70% 10.00% 34.70%
Bobby Witt – – – 19.50% 14.40% 33.90%
Juan Guzman Blue Jays 21.20% 10.90% 32.10%
Sid Fernandez – – – 22.40% 9.40% 31.80%
Tom Gordon Royals 19.90% 11.70% 31.60%
David Cone – – – 22.50% 9.00% 31.50%
Mark Langston – – – 20.40% 10.50% 30.90%
Floyd Youmans – – – 18.50% 12.10% 30.60%
Jose DeLeon – – – 20.10% 10.30% 30.40%
Bruce Berenyi – – – 17.90% 12.50% 30.40%
Wilson Alvarez – – – 16.50% 13.70% 30.20%
Jose DeJesus – – – 15.00% 15.10% 30.10%
Roger Clemens Red Sox 22.50% 6.90% 29.40%
Dave Righetti – – – 19.20% 10.10% 29.30%
Mario Soto Reds 20.20% 8.80% 29.00%
Jose Rijo – – – 20.60% 8.40% 29.00%
Melido Perez – – – 19.10% 9.80% 28.90%
Ken Howell – – – 18.20% 10.40% 28.60%

During the Free Agency Era, a new Nolan Ryan emerges. Nolan Ryan still stands his ground at number 2, but Randy Johnson owns the highest NR% during this era and edges out Ryan by 1.3 percentage points. Ryan actually exhibits a little better control than he has in the past. Jorge DeJesus manages to have a higher BB% than K%, which is impressive for this time period. We are also starting to see more pitchers with K% over 20 and the BB% seem to be dropping additionally.

Long Ball Era NR% Leaders
Name Team K% BB% NR%
Randy Johnson – – – 31.80% 7.20% 39.00%
Kerry Wood Cubs 27.30% 11.50% 38.80%
Oliver Perez – – – 25.40% 12.30% 37.70%
Mark Prior Cubs 28.10% 7.60% 35.70%
Pedro Martinez – – – 28.60% 6.30% 34.90%
Johan Santana Twins 26.70% 6.70% 33.40%
Hideo Nomo – – – 22.70% 10.70% 33.40%
Tony Saunders – – – 19.60% 13.20% 32.80%
Josh Beckett Marlins 23.90% 8.80% 32.70%
Roger Clemens – – – 23.90% 8.70% 32.60%
Kazuhisa Ishii – – – 17.50% 14.20% 31.70%
Rich Harden Athletics 21.50% 10.00% 31.50%
A.J. Burnett Marlins 20.80% 10.50% 31.30%
Robert Person – – – 20.20% 10.90% 31.10%
Chuck Finley – – – 21.10% 9.90% 31.00%
Jake Peavy Padres 23.00% 7.90% 30.90%
David Cone – – – 21.40% 9.50% 30.90%
John Patterson – – – 21.90% 9.00% 30.90%
Curt Schilling – – – 25.70% 5.10% 30.80%
Carlos Zambrano Cubs 20.50% 10.10% 30.60%

Randy Johnson pulls a Sandy Koufax during the Long Ball Era. Once seen as the next Nolan Ryan with the high K% and high BB%, he all of a sudden just becomes a beast. His K% during this era is over 30 and his BB% is under 10. Yeah, he’s not Nolan Ryan despite leading the era in NR%. Kerry Wood makes sense and I would give him the nod of being the Nolan Ryan of this era, though Oliver Perez is right on his tail. I give Wood the edge simply because he was more effective than Perez who seemed to be just more erratic than dominant. During this era we are also seeing a lot more players with K% over 20. In the top 20, only two players have K% under 20 and ten players have BB% under 10. The top 28 NR% players all are above 30. The valuable pitchers have taken on a different role and are starting to miss more bats as strikeouts are on the rise.

Modern Era NR% Leaders
Name Team K% BB% NR%
Yu Darvish Rangers 30.10% 9.60% 39.70%
Jose Fernandez Marlins 30.30% 8.00% 38.30%
Rich Harden – – – 26.00% 11.20% 37.20%
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 29.00% 6.20% 35.20%
Jonathan Sanchez – – – 22.70% 12.50% 35.20%
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 27.60% 7.10% 34.70%
Danny Salazar Indians 26.90% 7.80% 34.70%
Tim Lincecum Giants 24.70% 9.30% 34.00%
Francisco Liriano – – – 23.90% 10.10% 34.00%
Max Scherzer – – – 26.70% 7.00% 33.70%
Chris Sale White Sox 28.10% 5.50% 33.60%
Oliver Perez – – – 20.70% 12.90% 33.60%
Brandon Morrow – – – 23.70% 9.70% 33.40%
Gio Gonzalez – – – 23.00% 9.80% 32.80%
Chris Archer Rays 24.40% 8.30% 32.70%
Erik Bedard – – – 23.10% 9.20% 32.30%
Tyson Ross – – – 22.90% 9.30% 32.20%
Matt Moore Rays 21.90% 10.30% 32.20%
Trevor Bauer – – – 21.50% 10.70% 32.20%
Rich Hill – – – 22.40% 9.60% 32.00%

Over to the Modern Era, where the top 20 is comprised mostly of high K guys and some pitchers with walk rates over 10. Out of the top 20, only six pitchers had walk rates over 10%, once again moving away from the spirit of this statistic. Yu Darvish and Jose Fernandez are missing the most bats, but Rich Harden might be our Nolan Ryan of the Modern Era with the third-highest NR% and a walk rate above 11%. Harden, however, is like the bizarro Ryan in terms of durability as he never seemed to stay on the field, so giving Harden this title might also be a bit disingenuous. Even more players are posting NR%s above 30 as 45 players were at 30% or higher.

So we’ve gotten to see how these numbers look over time. Let’s see who are the NR% leaders this season (as of yesterday):

2016 NR% Leaders
Name Team K% BB% NR%
Jose Fernandez Marlins 35.90% 11.10% 47.00%
Danny Salazar Indians 30.30% 11.80% 42.10%
Drew Pomeranz Padres 28.30% 11.80% 40.10%
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 32.00% 6.70% 38.70%
Max Scherzer Nationals 31.50% 6.70% 38.20%
Chris Archer Rays 27.30% 10.90% 38.20%
Vincent Velasquez Phillies 28.80% 8.00% 36.80%
Noah Syndergaard Mets 32.60% 3.90% 36.50%
Rich Hill Athletics 27.30% 8.80% 36.10%
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 33.70% 1.80% 35.50%
Francisco Liriano Pirates 22.40% 12.90% 35.30%
Madison Bumgarner Giants 27.90% 7.30% 35.20%
Chris Tillman Orioles 24.90% 10.30% 35.20%
Justin Verlander Tigers 26.50% 8.30% 34.80%
Drew Smyly Rays 28.40% 6.30% 34.70%
David Price Red Sox 28.80% 5.70% 34.50%
Cole Hamels Rangers 25.70% 8.70% 34.40%
Jake Arrieta Cubs 25.70% 8.10% 33.80%
Nate Karns Mariners 23.90% 9.40% 33.30%
Adam Conley Marlins 21.80% 11.20% 33.00%

Before I discuss the NR% for 2016, just wanted to point out Clayton Kershaw’s 1.8% BB rate. Good lord. Anyway, Jose Fernandez is clearly the new Nolan Ryan (at least based on this season) with an incredible NR% of 47, meaning hitters are only putting the ball in play against him 53% of the time. He has a BB% over ten and leads the league in K%, so congratulations to Jose Fernandez in earning a completely arbitrary honor. Also cool to see Danny Salazar and Drew Pomeranz pushing their way to the top with NR%s above 40.

Much like my presence at parties and my dating life, I am terrible at closing things out. So I will just leave you with a table of my Nolan Ryan picks per era. Hope you enjoyed, and feel free to ask questions and such in the comments. I’m still working on getting better at responding to those, but I will make a concerted effort to keep a dialogue going about the Nolan Ryan Percent if the opportunity arises. Keep it real.

Nolan Ryan of the Era
Era Nolan Ryan of the Era NR%
Dead Ball Era (1916-1919) Molly Craft 34.10%
Lively Ball Era (1920-1941) Bob Feller 33.10%
Integration Era (1942-1960) Herb Score 38.50%
Expansion Era (1961-1976) Nolan Ryan 39.90%
Free Agency Era (1977-1993) Randy Johnson 37.70%
Long Ball Era (1994-2005) Kerry Wood 38.80%
Modern Era (2006-2016) Jose Fernandez 39.70%

 

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elkabong
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elkabong

Interesting article, made me want to dive a little more deeply… so I did. Took all qualifying starters from 1916 and beyond, compared each years NR% to the league average NR% for starters, and found a career NRI (Nolan Ryan Index) for each player. This only includes seasons where a player qualified for the ERA title, so injury/bullpen seasons don’t count. Career NRI is the IP weighted average of each player’s seasonal NRI.

http://bit.ly/1TFycuc

Great name choice for the stat. Nolan Ryan has the highest career NRI of anyone with more than three qualifying seasons and the highest career NRI of anyone not named Herb Score. There should be filters up on the top (next to where it says “View Only”) for 5+ or 10+ seasons. You can also create your own filters under “Data -> Filter Views”.