Nolan Ryan: “The worst thing a hitter can do is strike out”

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Are strikeouts the worst outcome for a hitter? Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan seems to think so.

In an interview with MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby, Ryan spoke to the command and finesse required to strike out a major league batter, citing standout performers like Clayton Kershaw and Steve Carlton for their ability to catch a hitter swinging with an array of breaking balls. While strikeouts are the calling card of the pitching elite, Ryan also believes that being on the receiving end of one is the least productive play a hitter can make:

I am a believer that the worst thing a hitter can do is strikeout [sic]. A lot of computer guys say it isn’t. The way I look at it, if you don’t put the ball in play there is no chance of doing anything. There’s no hitter. There’s no error. There’s no advancing a runner.

At a glance, Ryan’s logic appears to hold water. Striking out, whether it comes on a called strike three versus Steven Wright’s knuckleball or a whiff on a Felix Hernandez change-up, is certainly not a desirable outcome for any hitter. A batter that doesn’t put the ball in play doesn’t get the opportunity to make a hit or a productive out. On the flip side, a strikeout produces one out, whereas a ball put in play has the potential to produce multiple outs.

In Tom Tango’s comprehensive table of run values, found at InsideTheBook.com, each event is assigned a run value that encapsulates its ability to generate runs or restrict them. A strikeout looking is estimated to be the 38th least-valuable outcome in a game, while a swinging strikeout generates the 42nd least-valuable outcome. The most valuable event by run value, unsurprisingly, is a home run.

If we narrow the list of game events to those under a batter’s control, there are still several plays less productive than whiffing at the plate: line drive, infield fly, grounded into double play (with slight deviations for a non-force double play, double play without grounding out, and fielder’s choice double play) and triple play.

Granted, triple plays are also among the rarest events in baseball. Since 1876, there have been just 708 recorded among all major league teams. Grounding into double plays, however, is far more common, and holds a negative run value of -0.85, several points lower than the negative run value of a called strikeout at -0.28 and a swinging strikeout at -0.30.

Striking out at the plate might be one of the more demoralizing plays a batter can make (says the person who routinely struck out swinging at slow-pitch softball), but contrary to what Nolan Ryan may believe, it’s not nearly the worst thing he can do.

Jones, Maddux, Morris consider Bonds, Clemens for Hall

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris and Ryne Sandberg are among 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee that will meet to consider the Cooperstown fate of an eight-man ballot that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro.

Hall of Famers Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also are on the panel, which will meet in San Diego ahead of the winter meetings.

They will be joined by former Toronto CEO Paul Beeston, former Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein, Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng, Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter and Chicago White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams.

Three media members/historians are on the committee: longtime statistical analyst Steve Hirdt of Stats Perform, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Neal and Slusser are past presidents of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark will be the committee’s non-voting chair.

The ballot also includes Albert Belle, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy and Curt Schilling. The committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A candidate needs 75% to be elected and anyone who does will be inducted on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the BBWAA vote, announced on Jan. 24.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their 10th and final appearances on the BBWAA ballot. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program, just over two weeks after getting his 3,000th hit.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) in 2021. Support dropped after hateful remarks he made in retirement toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the BBWAA ballot in 2019. Murphy was on the BBWAA ballot 15 times and received a high of 116 votes (23.2%) in 2000. Mattingly received a high of 145 votes (28.2%) in the first of 15 appearances on the BBWAA ballot in 2001, and Belle appeared on two BBWAA ballots, receiving 40 votes (7.7%) in 2006 and 19 (3.5%) in 2007.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.

This year’s BBWAA ballot includes Carlos Beltran, John Lackey and Jered Weaver among 14 newcomers and Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner among holdovers.