Cleat Geeks

Is today’s game just that different? Or was Ryan just a different man?


James “Big Game” Shields

James “Big Game” Shields is on the free agent market now that the Giants have claimed their 3rd World Series in the last 5 years. He is looking for a big payday, so much so that Kansas City has almost bowed out before the bidding even begins. But, there are rumblings and concerns over his arm, and his velocity and his 6.14 ERA in his 5 postseason starts this season. His “Big Gamesmanship” has taken a bit of a hit.


Detroit Tiger starter Justin Verlander

Let us add Justin Verlander to the conversation. His ERA the last 3 seasons has been on a steady climb. In 2012 it was 2.64 in 2013 it rose to 3.46 and in 2014 it continued to climb to 4.54. In coherence with his rising ERA also came his drop in velocity and strikeouts. In 2012 he struck out an impressive and league leading 239 batters, in 2013 the number regressed to 217 and in 2014 the number plummeted to 159.

Why do I bring up these 2 pitchers? Because no 2 pitchers have thrown more innings in the past 8 years than them. Verlander has thrown 1780.2 while Shields has thrown 1785.2 innings. Verlander has averaged over 222 innings pitched while Shields has averaged over 223 innings over the same 8 year period.

Now for historical perspective, lets interject Nolan Ryan into the conversation. He pitched in the big leagues for 27 years and averaged 232 innings per season! In 9 of his 27 years Ryan pitched more innings in a single season than either Verlander or Shields have averaged over their last 8 years (and remember they are #1 and #2 in that time span). In their careers the most batters Shields ever struck out in a single season was 225 while the number is higher for Verlander at 269. Yet Ryan topped 269 five different times in his career with his highest single season total being 332 in 1974.

In an excerpt taken from an interview Ryan did with the New York Times earlier this year he said, “It’s because pitchers simply don’t throw as much as we did,” Ryan replied. “That’s the real issue here. When I pitched, we pitched every fourth day and guys would pitch 300 innings and it wasn’t considered a big deal. If you don’t get on the mound and develop stamina, you’re risking injury. This whole thing with the 100-pitch count limit — I have a real problem with that. Pitchers are all different and when you put standard limitations on them, you’re not utilizing their talent.”

So in closing I will ask you, the sports fans, the same question that I titled the article and wait with batted breath for your responses. Is today’s game just that different? Or was Ryan just a different man?

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