Will Nolan Ryan Change How Pitchers Are Treated?

texas_rangers_logoOne of my new favorite organizations in baseball is now the Nolan Ryan led Texas Rangers! I’m still a Red Sox fan, but I absolutely love what the Hall of Famer is trying to do in Texas. I just hope that the new management, whoever that may be, will be on the same page.

For a detailed look at the new approach to pitching and how pitchers are to train and be handled by a coaching staff, please read the ESPN Magazine article (if you can) by Tim Keown dated September 7th, 2009.

From that article, Ryan’s goal was simple, “I want to build a well-rounded ball club, not one based on just hitting”.

When Ryan was asked about how the babying of pitchers came to be, this is what he told Keown, “All this outside crap came into play,” Ryan says. “All of a sudden you have people who haven’t pitched and haven’t played and don’t understand baseball driving the front offices to come up with a number. ‘Oh, he’s at 100 pitches. I need to take him out.’ No, he should be getting one more out to get out of the inning.”

After a season in 2008 that saw the Rangers allow the most runs in the majors they had allowed the fewest in 2009 up to mid-August (when the article was written). This fact alone should open up some eyes and begin to break down the barriers teams have that prevent pitchers to throw more and train more effectively. If Ryan’s methodology is implemented I think that teams will get more for their money out of these high priced pitchers than they currently do.

Before the 2009 season began, this was the new team philosophy/edict that was laid out before the Rangers, “A pitch count is a limit. You have no limits.”

To help reinforce this new (or rather old) methodology, Ryan hired former pitcher Mike Maddux as the rangers new pitching coach. This is an insight into the Ranger’s new team philosophy under Ryan as is preached by Maddux, “If you throw 10 pitches an inning, you can throw 15 innings,” Maddux says. “But a 10-pitch inning when you give up a two-out double is a lot different from a 10-pitch inning when you give up a leadoff double. We’ve had to reeducate guys to understand a perfect inning isn’t nine pitches and three strikeouts; it’s three pitches and three outs.”

Now with that being said, there will be some exceptions to the rule. Players who just don’t have the physical make up to withstand a grueling 162 game season without the current babying/codling that we’ve seen over the last 15-20 years in baseball.

Since Ryan has been in the Rangers organization in this capacity the team has gotten rid of players who do not accept the new methodology.

Futhermore, Ryan’s claimed that pitchers are not conditioned in a way to exceed expectations. He is quoted as saying, “These guys weren’t conditioned to go deep into games,” Ryan says. “They had to change their mind-set. We had to get them in shape, make them throw more. Once they bought into it, they realized we weren’t asking them to do something they couldn’t do. They got tougher. They realized mental toughness is a result of physical toughness.”

But don’t take my word for it, let’s see what some of the players who have been in this environment have to say about it!

“At first, I didn’t know if my arm was going to hold up,” Feldman says. “Now, more than halfway through the season, I can see where it helped.”

Upon Ryan’s insistence that pitchers throw live batting practice in spring straining (before the 2009 season) brought on the following comments from both Ryan and 13 year veteran Kevin Millwood. “That’s how you learned to read hitters,” Ryan says. “That’s how you learned what works and what doesn’t.” “I was working on some things and just felt good,” Millwood says. “I lost track of time. And I was getting so much out of it, I just kept throwing.”

They have also changed the menu in the clubhouse to once that is more nutritional that they think will help players beat the Texas heat and provide them with more endurance, too.

They have also created a new “unofficial” baseball term/position, the utility pitcher which might be similar to a spot starter. Here’s that the player who held this position in 2009 for the Rangers, Jason Jennings had to say about the new position. “If the starter pulls a hamstring after one pitch, I’m the guy. And if a game goes 14 innings, I’m the guy. The only ‘utility’ I’d heard of in baseball was ‘utility infielder,’ ” says the 31-year-old Jennings. “But I’m glad to have the job. It’s kept me in the big leagues.”

So after reading this and the original Keown article, what are your thoughts on what Nolan Ryan is trying to do with the Texas Rangers pitching staff. Do you think the other MLB teams will copy cat the idea if it works? Do ou think it will work at all? I for one hope it does!

I look forward to the ensuing discussion…

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  1. Andy Swenson

    January 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    I concur with Nolan Ryan’s philosophy as I am the same way on the diamond. I need for my starters to go deep into games and give me 100% effort for as long as they can. They run more and throw more to develop arm strength and durability for a season. Flat ground is key and bull pens are not as important these days.
    Pitchers need to throw long toss and flat ground to develop strength and resting an arm is the wrong thing to do unless trying to recover from an injury.

    Andy “Swens” Swenson
    Owner, Swenson Baseball Co.
    Associate Scout, Cincinnati Reds
    Owner/Field Manager, Meridian Outlaws of the Continental Baseball League

  2. Rob A from BBD

    January 22, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I thought you were going to say, ‘start making pitchers take steroids so that they can pitch until they are almost 50 just like Nolan Ryan.’ I was way off.

  3. Anup Sinha

    February 28, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Nice article, Pete. I believe this is the Holy Grail of Baseball. Whoever figures out how to keep pitchers healthy and durable is going to blaze quite a trail.

    We address the issue in our book (see link) CHARACTER IS NOT A STATISTIC: The Legacy and Wisdom of Baseball’s Godfather Scout Bill Lajoie.

    It’s baffling to me that with all our medical and technological advancements, pitchers in 2010 throw fewer innings and suffer more injuries than they did in 1975 or 1925, for that matter. I ask pitchers and coaches “why?” all the time and I get different answers.

    If you look back through baseball history, there was a steady decline in individual innings pitched between 1900 and 1980, then much more drastic the last three decades.

    We’ll all be watching Nolan Ryan’s Rangers closely, that’s for sure!

    • Peter Schiller

      March 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Anup! I hope to see your insight in these comments from time to time.

  4. Tobias Wadel

    March 7, 2010 at 4:31 am

    following the blog, good stuff!

  5. Play Lead Guitar

    March 16, 2010 at 1:05 am

    The Rangers will need a “utility” pitcher this year. The media is talking a bunch about the Rangers depth at starting pitcher but have largely ignored that Millwood and his 189 innings aren’t back this year. I can’t see Feldman, Harden or Lewis pitching anywhere close that many innings.

  6. max steingrout

    May 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Did Nolan Ryan use PED?
    Compelling (maybe not so) evidence:

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