I like how two people mentioned Sandy Koufax even when he wasn’t part of the question. I’d be interested in seeing who would pick Koufax vs. Pedro, because I see them as being similar in repertoire and career arc.
Koufax must have been pretty good. Loved the Perkins response.
Maybe I’m too much into stats but I’m not sure Ryan is even in the top 5 for all-time pitchers. Longevity is his only legitimate claim to being the greatest (people place too much value on no-hit games).
Koufax would win going away. Baseball guys seem to love Koufax, the lore of him even if they never saw him. We’re still too close to Pedro’s peak to have that same sentimental feeling about them. And I think people have a hard time separating environment from results; Pedro put up video game numbers in the greatest run environment in baseball history, Koufax did the same–maybe better, and over a longer peak–but in a pitchers era, in an EXTREME pitchers park.
All that said, I’d like to see the results as well. For my money I’m taking Pedro, but unlike this Pedro vs. Ryan question (which seems pretty clear-cut to me) Koufax merits some serious consideration.
I don’t want to take anything away from Ryan but I wouldn’t put him in my top-10. People love the flashy stats–the no-no’s and the K’s–but forget the almost 300 losses and the very, very average advanced metrics (like his 112 OPS+, good for 271st all time). Pedro’s second in OPS+ all-time, only trailing the greatest reliever in history (Mo).
I would say that pitch for pitch that Pedro was the best of all time, even over Koufax. You really can’t go wrong though. Pedro put up some of the gaudiest numbers ever while pitching during in an insane hitters’ era. To me that even beats what Koufax did to put teams on his while pitching over 300 innings several times.
Yeah that’s why this question is so fun. Pedro unquestionably had the better peak and overall career rates. But a difference of 3000 IP is massive. How bad would Pedro’s rates be if he even came within 2000 IP of Ryan? It’s an amazing feat to complete 5386 solid innings over a major league career.
Pedro’s performance in the 1999 All Star game in Boston defines his career. He was on one of baseball’s brightest stages against some of the best offensive performers of all time and mowed them down with overpowering stuff. It is one of my favorite baseball memories ever. I would have loved to have seen Koufax pitch, or Ryan in his prime, but having truly enjoyed watching Pedro pitch was a priveledge and convinced me that he is the best.
Which is better, oatmeal or chocolate? Oatmeal is better for you, chocolate tastes better. Pedro had a greater peak value, but Ryan had a greater career value. If you put their average seasons side by side it’s Pedro in a landslide. If you compare their career totals it’s Ryan. Compared to the run-scoring environment he worked in, Pedro was “more better” than the average pitcher of his time than, perhaps, anyone ever was. Although when you look at the numbers it’s hard to discount the accomplishments of Greg Maddux over an overlapping period. In fact, if you throw in Randy Johnson, it may be the case that there have never been three pitchers who were so much better than the rest of the league at the same time. That’s truly remarkable, considering the time they played in. Prime rib or spareribs? Depends on my mood.
Comment by metsfaninparadise — June 26, 2013 @ 10:33 am
that is a pretty compelling argument for Pedro. Personally, I think there is a good argument that both Phil Neikro and Gaylord Perry were equal or better pitchers to Ryan, who really is more of a top 20 pitcher all time by career stats.
IMO Pedro was far better. The numbers simply speak for themselves. In my mind, no-hitters, while memorable, really don’t matter and are a product of sample size, luck and skill combined.
I’d go as far as saying that Pedro Martinez is the best modern day starter to ever play the game. Also it’s easy to argue that Pedro’s 2000 season was the most dominant season ever pitched by anyone. I’m throwing a lot of hyperbole in here because he was just that good.
This is an awesome series. I would go with Pedro based on his peak value but I think it is unfair to dismiss Ryan as a mere “compiler.” What he did for as long as he did it was bordering on superhuman. Put it this way: it is conceivable that we see another pitcher match Pedro’s performance but it is hard to imagine someone replicating Ryan’s career.
Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in ’83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He’s been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor.
It really just comes down to whether you prefer Pedro being dominant over a short time in the steroid era or Ryan being very good over a very long time. I’d give Pedro the edge, though I consider Maddux the best pitcher of my lifetime (I’m 24).
Huey Lewis’ music is worth missing. He can construct simple, formulaic songs (which is what he set out to do), but as far as albums are concerned, he is extremely lacking. My option (C) for the Stones vs. Beatles argument is usually The Clash, Pink Floyd, or Radiohead. Arcade Fire if I want to argue in a more contemporary light.
I really don’t think you can go wrong. If I was a GM and told I could have Ryan’s career for the next 20+ years, I’d probably happily take that and not have to worry about one of my starting pitching spots for a generation. As good as Pedro was, he wasn’t that durable and it’s a fair knock on him. It’s also tough to figure out how each would play in the different era. Could Pedro pitch on a 4 man staff? Would Ryan put up those sort of innings in the modern era? I’d probably vote Pedro but it’s really close.
Comment by Hunter Pence's Thorax — June 26, 2013 @ 12:38 pm
Since we’re comparing two pitchers, I read the question of “Who was better?” as who was the better “pitcher”. As intimidating as Ryan was, Pedro was still the far superior pitcher considering his command and repertoire of secondary pitches. As a hitter against Pedro you couldn’t sit on a pitch no matter what the count or game situation. I’ve never seen a pitcher so consistently make the best hitters look so unbalanced.
If you read the question as to who was the better “athlete”, well then Ryan probably gets the nod given unmatched combination of strength and durability.
I saw all three pitch (Koufax, Ryan and Pedro) I was at the 10 inning no hitter/perfect game Pedro pitched against the Padres. (which has since been invalidated by the rules) I saw Ryan pitch many times, and saw Koufax against the Giants many times. Who is better? Who knows, but it was a privilege to watch them pitch.
Comment by Hurtlockertwo — June 26, 2013 @ 1:20 pm
Pedro’s top end was better than Nollie’s, but I think Monsieur Rene’s comment was right on. I watched Nolan in person a lot in the 80’s in the Dome, and even when he was sub .500 for the Astros, it seemed like EVERY start had the possibility of being a no-no.
Next question. Best pitcher of the 60’s? Seaver, Koufax or Gibson?
This type of question should be directed at hitters that faced both of them, like Dave Martinez. I have no idea why a current player’s thoughts on the matter would interest anyone. Is there a single hitter left playing whom faced Nolan Ryan?
Comment by Phantom Stranger — June 26, 2013 @ 1:30 pm
Comment by Wrapping up the list — June 26, 2013 @ 2:10 pm
I hear you there. And just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to conflate Huey Lewis musically to Sandy Koufax as a pitcher, or put Lewis on the same plane as the Beatles or Stones. I just like that he went totally off the board when picking between two options.
“You want peanut butter and jelly for lunch, or a ham sandwich?”
“Mom, you know what I really enjoy is pizza rolls!”
I deplore Dave Martinez’s punt: “But again, I can’t pick. They were both too good.”
We’re not asking you whether or not to drop a nuclear weapon on a large population center. We’re not asking you whether or not to continue with the Fed’s QE policy. Lives don’t hang in the balance. No one will get butt-hurt. JUST PICK ONE!
No, but Darren Oliver was Ryan’s teammate with the Rangers in September 1993.
Comment by Barney Coolio — June 26, 2013 @ 2:50 pm
This is a dumb question.
Ryan K/BB: 2.14
Martinez K/B: 4.15
Comment by GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat — June 26, 2013 @ 2:50 pm
Ryan might throw a no-hitter at any time, but you sure as hell wouldn’t want him starting a game 7.
Comment by GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat — June 26, 2013 @ 2:53 pm
You solved it!
Comment by Alexander Nevermind — June 26, 2013 @ 3:00 pm
It’s good that this whole article prefaced itself that “better” is so open-ended to begin with, which is why there is no right answer.
If you go by the quality of the pitcher, though, there is a very strong argument to be made that Pedro was the best pitcher of all time, given the raw numbers, the qualitative mix of stuff, power, and control, and the context of the era he pitched in.
Seriously, he basically parroted what I would have said myself. He brought up the two most important considerations: Ryan’s ridiculous longevity, and Pedro putting up dead-ball numbers in one of the great hitter eras in baseball history.
Hope he’ll end up on the MLB Network one day, I suspect I would enjoy hearing him on a semi-nightly basis.
I can’t say I’m undeserving of snark, but seriously, Nolan Ryan has got to be the most overrated pitcher of all time.
He was magical at times, but overall, far more likely to walk in the winning run than to throw a no-no.
Comment by GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat — June 26, 2013 @ 3:14 pm
I think the only response that actually made me go “what???” was Rene Lachemann’s. Especially this: “I think the biggest difference is that when Pedro went out there, you didn’t always get the feeling he had a chance to throw a no-hitter.”
I’m not sure Mr. Lachemann was watching the same pitcher I was…I went into every game looking for something special from Pedro. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I actually reached a point when I would yawn at a double digit K night from him (to be fair, I was only 13 in 1999, and Pedro did hurl 10+ K’s in 19 of his 30 full starts that year).
Sure, there has never been a pitcher more equipped to throw a no-hitter than Nolan Ryan…but has there ever been a pitcher more likely to throw a perfect game on a given night than Pedro Martinez?
I agree. One thing that really irks me is the tendency for people to disregard durability. Durability is just as much a talent as speed, eye, stuff, “baseball-sense”, power, or anything else. If you could have one or the other, whether for their prime or whole career, you would have to consider the fact that Pedro could get injured. Ryan wouldn’t. You wouldn’t have to worry about his arm blowing out mid-season. That said, Pedro’s peak was ridiculous.
They were wrong on Bonds vs. Ruth, and they’re wrong on this one. At least the ballots are consistent.
Here’s my hypothesis, feel free to test it: pick any good/great player from the 90’s – now, vs any of the greatest players from earlier eras, and the more recent player will win virtually every time. Two reasons: 1) people have short memories, and 2) people mention how much harder it is to play now.
What isn’t harder now is to be “great” — it was just as hard to tower over your baseball peers in earlier eras as it is now.
Comment by Scott J Marcus — June 26, 2013 @ 5:37 pm
I am fond of saying, “In the eternal Beatles/Stones debate, I am firmly on the side of the Who.” That was the first thing I thought when I saw Korach’s response, so I find it absolutely hilarious that you then used the Beatles/Stones comparison.
However, bringing up Huey Lewis was far funnier, and led to quoting “American Psycho,” of which I am always in favor.
I’d take the Big Unit from his Diamondback days. 9.6, 9.5, 10.4, 8.0, 2.4 (injury), and 9.5 WAR. That is a heck of a contribution from a starting pitcher over 5 years (excluding his injury season). I don’t know if another pitcher has put an AVERAGE of 9+ WAR when looking at 5 out of 6 consecutive seasons. Martinez or Koufax aren’t particularly close. Nolan Ryan had 1 season above 7.3 WAR.
The Big Unit was just a freak of a pitcher and played during the same steroid filled era as Martinez.
Pedro Martinez was the best pitcher I’ve ever seen. I say that as a Yankees fan who absolutely cannot stand Pedro the person. However, as a fan of baseball, watching Pedro Martinez pitch at the height of his powers was something to behold. He had power, unbelievable command, unhittable secondary pitches, an uncanny pitching sense, and the balls to throw any pitch in any situation.
He was so amazing to watch pitch that I didn’t even mind him dominating the Yankees that much. …of course, it helped that in those days the Yankees were a much better team than the Redsox.
I got to see the tail end of Ryan’s career, and he had the stuff. But not the command or the pitching sense.
The better comparison would be between Pedro and Maddux, or Pedro and Randy Johnson, or Pedro and Koufax, or Pedro and Bob Gibson.
I agree that if I had to choose between them, I’d take Randy Johnson. Reason being: 1) Johnson threw way more innings, and 2) Johnson completely changed the way the opposing team approached the game, with even the best lefthanders sitting in favor of any living soul that could stand up there from the right side.
However, I still think that Pedro was the better pitcher when he was in there.
Also, you might think about Greg Maddux’ peak being comparable to Randy Johnson’s. He is undervalued by Fangraph’s FIP based WAR quite a bit because of the strikeouts, but he gave tons of innings and never gave up any runs.
You do know that Nolan Ryan also has the lowest Hits per 9 innnings in the history of baseball? He walked a boat load of batters but they also didn’t get any hits off him. His lifetime ERA is 3.19, he averaged 0.5 HR per game over 5,000 innings. The walks mar his record for sure, but he still was one of the greatest pitchers ever.
Comment by Hurtlockertwo — June 26, 2013 @ 6:33 pm
I think this question would have been better:
Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez?
From what I’ve seen (video of older pitches; seeing these two live/on TV), I would put Randy Johnson and Pedro Matrinez 1/2 in some order.
Tossing in (in re: Pedro) one of my favorite quotes of all time, from Bill James:
“Seven factorial–that is, seven times six times five, etc.–is 5,040. Ten is not much larger than seven, but ten factorial is 3.6 million–seven hundred times larger. Stephen Jay Gould once expressed the thought that, when the time comes that we finally understand the difference between the mind of a man and the mind of a monkey, it will turn out to be something simple like this–that a man’s mind is not vastly different from a monkey’s mind, but rather, the human is capable of vastly more because some small advantages for the human create enormous differences by making combinations with one another, and with the other parts of the mind.
“I think of that in connection with Pedro. How can he be so much better than the other pitchers? His fastball is good, but there are 20 or 50 people in the league who throw just as hard. His curve isn’t better than anyone else’s, his control isn’t. But he is vastly better in toto because he has some additional factors–his ability to change his arm angle, his ability to change speeds on all of his pitches without losing control–which interact to make geometric combinations.”
Pedro pitched in the toughest offensive environment in history in a hitters park with juiced balls and juiced hitters, and had to face the best team of the era 4-5 times a year. As a little guy it was David vs Goliath. Obviously, he did not have the durability. Kind of like a Bobby Orr vs Gordie Howe comp at the time.
No hitters for the most part are just well pitched games with BABIP luck. Sad to see so many players focused on that as a barometer for how good a pitcher is.
It absolutely wasn’t. Only a handful of stars back in the day could afford to so completely and utterly devote themselves to baseball as every single player does now. Almost every modern player reads scouting reports, works out year round, and is to some extent analyzing their own play. Half a century ago, only the biggest stars could afford to do stuff like this.
I can see the argument for Ryan. But for me, it is no question that Pedro Martinez was the best. He was simply absurd. 1999 and 2000 are almost unreal, especially considering the run enviroment.
Toughest matchup I can think of? Maddux vs. Pedro (Barring someone from a totally different era like Cy).
Comment by Ruki Motomiya — June 27, 2013 @ 12:32 am
I’m a Red Sox fan who started following baseball religiously in 1984. I’ve watched a lot of baseball since that point Gooden was excellent in 85, Nasty Curve fastball. Clemens Fastball, splitter in 86 and other years. Maddux was a magician but I wish we had pitch fx for his career. Randy Johnson was awesome for a decade their with fastballs and sliders. Pedro was never the horse those other guys were but for a five year period whenever he took the mound it was just brutal for the other team. And this was the greatest offensive era of all time. The numbers speak for themselves. It’s historical to get to 10 WAR without 300 innings. I never saw Ryan in his prime and my most vivid memories of him are during the 86 NLCS in which he was overshadowed by Mike Scott. But if I had to choose one pitcher for one game with his best stuff I take 97-01 Pedro over all of them. He threw hard with extreme movement on his fastball. His changeup was just crazy. His command was unmatched, His breaking stuff was above average. He just made hitters look silly. Ryan if he was on was great but his approach was a little different and less effective. When he was at his best Seaver was better.
Nolan Ryan was my favorite player growing up, but I’d still have to go with Pedro. At least in part because after I grew up, I realized walks were really, really important. With that said, Ryan is still a legend and I’ll always cherish the partial set of Texas Express cards that I have, no matter how worthless they were/are monetarily.
I would have to check this, but I don’t think their repertoire was similar. As I recall, Koufax was a 2 pitch pitcher with a fastball and curve. I don’t think he had any changeup or any other off-speed pitch. In fact, I think he threw just one kind of fastball, what was called a rising fastball at the time. Pedro threw at least 4 quality pitches with variations on his fastball and had one of the best changeups ever.
I also think they had rather different career arcs. Koufax was very erratic his first 6 years, walking over 5/9 4 times and never getting 30 starts. By his second season, Pedro was already a solid starter winning the ROY, and he won his first Cy Young in his 5th full season after being an all-star the previous year.
On the other hand, Koufax retired after a brilliant season and his 3rd Cy Young while Pedro continued pitching well past his prime.
For what it is worth, Pedro had ERA+ of 219, 243, 291, 202 and 211. Koufax’s two best were 186 & 190. Again, on the other hand, Pedro never threw more than 241.1 innings in a season while in 3 of his last 4 years Koufax threw 311, 335.2 & 323.
I loved that performance, but the game I would choose is his relief appearance against Cleveland in the final game of the 1999 ALDS. Pedro was hurt and had no fastball. He entered with Cleveland ahead 8-7 after 3 innings and pitched 6 no-hit innings for the Boston 12-8 win. The only blemish were the 3 walks which were semi-intentional as he tried to navigate without his full arsenal against a tough Indian’s lineup that included Lofton, R. Alomar, Manny and Thome.
To me that game represents his pitching smarts and his precision. The cliche about the pitcher as surgeon absolutely fit him that day. I don’t think that was something either Ryan or Koufax could do.
Could you imagine, during 1999-2001, if someone could have had Randy Johnson AND Pedro on their team? They would have combined for almost 60 WAR in just 3 years!
Comment by Ruki Motomiya — June 27, 2013 @ 10:37 am
I like your answer: it made me ask myself some questions. Won’t peak performance almost always be preferred? It’s the shiny bling to the indiglo watch of durability and longevity. Isn’t that preference exaggerated in these days (i.e. since FA) of greater player movement? Guys like King Felix, Gwynn, Ripken, Jeter, etc., seem to be the exception to the rule of movement anymore. That’s part of what makes this series so fun. When contrasted to today, pre-Curt Flood players moved infrequently.
What is the effect on a players’ value if he had mini-careers with 3-6 teams, like Ryan (CAL, HOU, TEX)? Isn’t Pedro’s value almost exclusively Hub-centric? Pedro was very good with MON and the NYM, but if his entire career had been at that level he wouldn’t be in the discussion.
Perkins’ answer is terrific but the guy who managed and coached against both of them picked Ryan (nerdy vs. experience). His reason? At any given time, he could shut a team down completely. Perhaps forgotten in our focus on the seven no-hitters is that Ryan also threw 12 CG one-hitters and 18 CG two-hitters.
Wondering about Lachemann’s point, I looked at Ryan in 1972 and Pedro in 2000. 1972 was nothing special for Ryan other than his first year in CAL. 2000 was one of Pedro’s career years. Ryan had 9 games of 3 or fewer hits (7 CG; 2 games of 7+ IP); Pedro had 7 games of 3 or fewer hits (2 CG; 5 games of 7+ IP). Ryan set the modern ML record, allowing only 5.26 H/9; Pedro allowed only 5.31 H/9. Ryan allowed 0.4 HR/9; Pedro allowed 0.7 HR/9.
The thing is that Ryan’s ’72 season is more-or-less interchangeable, in terms of low-hit games of 7+ IP, with ’76 (11) or ’79 (6). His pace slowed with HOU (3 in both ’86 and ’87), but he was back at it with TEX. His 8 low hit games in 1990 included a no-hitter vs. OAK, but didn’t include 5+ no-hit IP vs. TOR in his first start of the season, when he was 43.
Illustrating Perkins’ point, a major difference, of course, was walks: Ryan had 5 BB/9 in ’72, Pedro had 1.3 BB/9 in ’00. Ryan didn’t get his BB/9 under 5 until his final year in CAL. This sets the base runner issue strongly in Pedro’s favour. Interestingly, BOS was 5-6 when Pedro pitched against the AL East, but 16-2 vs. everyone else.
Ryan was a lumberjack with a big blue bull and a two-bladed axe, who hacked his way through the bush. Pedro was a micro-surgeon with a scalpel who navigated the perilous terrain of heart and brain surgery. One clear-cut; one incised. Both were adept at cutting, but they were cutting in very different ways.
All that said–puff, puff, wheeze–if I had them both on the same team, I’d pitch Ryan as the 1a and Pedro as the 1b. It seems to me that Pedro would likely perform better following Ryan (fewer BB) than Ryan would following Pedro.
It probably means that I think Pedro is a better pitcher. And that surprises me a little. :)
I found this to be an odd article. What can I learn from the insights of players who never saw one (or both) of these pitchers? Very odd.
Edited to add:
I just asked my 12-year-old who plays baseball. He picked Pedro. He’s never heard of Nolan Ryan. Thought you all might like to know.
Comment by Headscratcher — June 27, 2013 @ 6:31 pm
That came off a little snarkier than I’d intended, sorry.
Here’s a more serious take:
I saw the second half of Ryan’s career, and all of Pedro’s. Ryan’s velocity had made him a living legend by then – at the time, few people came close to his velocity, and most were nothing more than novelties.
But even so, I clearly recall arguments that, while he was very good and a highly unusual pitcher, he was not the BEST pitcher in the game, not by a long shot. Some of these claims were from flawed logic (e.g., he lost too many games), while others seemed pretty legit (mediocre control; gave up too many runs; his great K numbers were further inflated by having to face a lot of batters).
From the late 60’s to mid-70’s, guys like Seaver, Palmer, and Gibson seemed an echelon higher than Ryan; from the mid-70’s to mid-80’s, it was guys like Carlton, and then from the mid-80’s onwards guys like Maddux, Gooden, Clemens, and then Pedro and Randy were in a distinct class ahead. This is ignoring other contemporaries that had a run of only two or three great years, like a Hunter or Hershiser or Stieb or Saberhagen.
Eventually, he added a second layer of living legend status by sticking around for so long, possibly even becoming a better pitcher. But by that time, he was in the shadow of guys in their prime.
Conversely, I don’t Pedro was ever NOT in the conversation of highest echelon while he was active. He was in every conversation, and his career wasn’t really even that short.
Comment by Headscratcher — June 27, 2013 @ 7:22 pm
I think you have that backwards. The Stones lasted forever and The Beatles had a short spree of Ruthian production.