Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dominance, Thy Name Is Randy Johnson

  • Randy Johnson retires:

Is Randy Johnson the greatest pitcher ever?

People often wonder what it was like watching some of the greats like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver to name some off the top of my head, but no one----no one----had the full complement of tools that the now-retired Randy Johnson had. Combining the era with the way he blew people away year-after-year very possibly makes Johnson the best pitcher ever. Let's take a look at the reasons why:

Dominance despite the era:

Dealing with juiced up players for the majority of his career and still blowing them away puts Johnson ahead of the pitcher of yesteryear. One can only imagine what he would've done had he been pitching in the 1960s with the higher mounds, generous strike zones and cavernous ballparks.

The game transformed into something similar to slow-pitch softball while Johnson was in his prime with the Mariners and Diamondbacks and he was still unhittable when he was on his game. Very few pitchers have been able to have that appellation applied to them----big league hitters are big league hitters for a reason; they pounce on mistakes, but Johnson's stuff was so vicious that he got away with not being on his game and still leaving a path of destruction in his wake like Godzilla.

Durability and longevity:

Sandy Koufax is the only comparable pitcher over a short period of time that had any kind of argument to say that he was as devastating as Johnson; Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton had similar records of putting up the innings and starts every year; but none had the combination of durability, longevity and dominance as Randy Johnson.

Koufax, for a five-year period was the best pitcher ever. Ryan racked up the strikeouts and it was a waste of time even going up to the plate with a bat when he was dealing. Seaver lasted because of flawless mechanics; dedication to his craft; and ability to adapt. Carlton pitched the same way for his entire career with little change in his strategy----power breaking stuff----the hitters knew the slider was coming and still couldn't hit it.

The differences between these pitchers and Johnson are clear.

Koufax endured great pain in his elbow because of his over-the-top motion----Johnson was more durable.

Ryan's control was spotty and despite all the broken records, he just missed being legitimately placed in a class with his contemporaries Seaver and Carlton; that can't be blamed on the quality of his teams because when Carlton started to establish himself as one of the greats with the Phillies, the Phillies were a horrible team; and Seaver was with the offensively-challenged Mets for much of the 70s.

Carlton was a Cy Young Award contender into his late-30s, but as his stuff declined, he held on, bounced from team-to-team in what became a somewhat embarrassing display of not knowing when to quit and was unable to maintain his greatness despite a dedication to physical conditioning that was second-to-none.

Seaver was able to get hitters out into his 40s not because of his great stuff, but because of his brains. As he aged, he became a different type of pitcher; one who relied on his defense, knowledge and precision.

Johnson never became anything different; he didn't hang on when he should've retired; and he still blew people away. His body broke down last year, but that had more to do with the fact that he's 45-years-old and his knees and back were going rather than his arm. If you look at his numbers from 2009, he still struck out close to a batter an inning and was hard to hit. He maintained his intimidation.

There's no doubt that if he decided to keep pitching in 2010, he could help someone as a back-of-the-rotation starter who could re-discover his greatness at any time.

He got his big league start late; he learned to pitch late; he was mean and scary:

Johnson didn't establish himself in the big leagues until he was 26.

He didn't start to evolve as a pitcher until he was 29.

One can only wonder what his production would've been like had he been able to bridle his talent; hone his mechanics; and learn to stop walking everyone when he was 22 rather than 29.

Part of Johnson's fear-factor was his lack of control, but even when he learned to throw strikes, he was still wild enough and mean enough that no hitter----righty or lefty----could feel entirely comfortable facing him. Lefties had almost no chance against him at all.

With a release point slightly above sidearm, a body like a lever and his 6'10" height making it appear as if he was standing in front of the plate by the time he released the ball, even the sturdiest batters had reason to be afraid.

And he was mean.

As great as Greg Maddux was; as willing as he was to throw at people; there was an unsaid, "Yeah? So?" at the threat of a Maddux brushback pitch. It's a bit different when a Greg Maddux fastball is coming at a batter's head and he has to get out of the way or sustain a nasty bruise and potential headache for a day or two and if a pitch got away from Randy Johnson. Johnson's fastball literally could have killed someone. He knew it and used it to his advantage.

He came up big and was gutty in the post-season:

There were times when he didn't pitch well in the playoffs, but moments that are unforgettable in the post-season career of Randy Johnson came when he entered penultimate games in relief. Anyone who saw the 1995 ALDS series between the Mariners and Yankees; or the 2001 World Series in which Johnson emerged from the bullpen with Guns-N-Roses's "Welcome to the Jungle" blasting across the stadium should get chills from the mere memory regardless of team allegiance.

Johnson won five Cy Young Awards; had three second place finishes in the voting; one third place finish; a World Series MVP; two no-hitters (including a perfect game); a wide swath of wreckage left in his wake; and he did it without the help of PEDs during a time that a massive chunk of players couldn't function or keep a job without them.

Forever known as a mercurial personality, Johnson was difficult with teammates; umpires; media and fans; but looking at his entire career, comparing it with other greats from his and the bygone eras and realizing his pure brilliance makes Randy Johnson perhaps the greatest pitcher in the history of the game.

There'll likely never be another like him.


  • Hilarity, thy name is Twitter:

Here are a few examples of the trending topic on Twitter entitled #FakeJasonBayQuotes and other snideness goofing on yesterday's introductory press conference as Bay joins the New York Mets.

"A big factor in my decision to become a Met was the Mariners not offering enough money"

"As a kid in Canada nothing drew me to baseball more than the Mets of the early 80s lead by the great George Bamberger"

"Well, it's not ALL about the money. Omar said I can shack up at his house. He has a hot tub."

"I was sick of Papelbon following me into the shower"

"I'm looking forward to learning the ins and outs of LF in Citi Field from Dan Murphy"

"Breaking News: Jason Bay tripped over a wire at his press conference and tore his ACL. He's out for the season."

Har, har, har, de, har har.

Unfortunately, I wasn't around the offer my laser-precise retorts to the above comments. And they mysteriously ceased when I arrived. At the very least, the originators of such comments were bright enough not to test my control of the Dark Side.

All (half) kidding aside, did Bay truly prefer to be a Met? I don't think anyone can argue that he did, but so what? C.C. Sabathia wanted to remain on the West Coast last year and joined the Yankees for the exact same reason that Bay is joining the Mets----they offered the most money.

This is not new.

Neither Bay nor Sabathia nor any other player has anything to apologize for for going to take the best financial deal out there. In the end, the Mets got the player they wanted and needed and Bay got his money. The jokes are tolerable because of that fact and the Mets are now better than they were a week ago because they have Jason Bay in the middle of their lineup.

  • Viewer Mail 1.6.2009:

Joe at Statistician Magician writes RE the Red Sox:

See this argument is entirely to your advantage. If the Red Sox don't win it all, then you will say you were right, but the odds are that they don't win it all. I would take "the field" over any team in baseball to win it all this year. Who wouldn't? The Red Sox improved drastically their very poor defense from a year ago, where they finished close to last in total D. Sure, it would be nice to have a Miguel Cabrera, but do you know what one of those bats would have cost? Not just a few decent prospects, multiple *good* prospects. They signed two stopgaps, Beltre and Cameron, until they can make a play in a better free agent market and/or until players such as Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, and a few others are ready.

You've read me for how long, Joe?

Do you actually think I'm hedging my bets in the hopes that I'm right? I calls 'em as I sees 'em. And we'll see how long they hold onto those blue chip prospects as they're eight games behind the Yankees and are in a dogfight for a playoff spot in July/August and they need that bat so desperately that the fans and media are in such an uproar that the club panics.

No one's going to want to hear the spin doctoring if Bay is raking and playing decent enough defense for the resurgent Mets. You'll see how fast those top prospects (and Anderson had a rotten year in 2009) are included in a deal for a basher.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Adrian Beltre:

Adrian Beltre remains as the greatest thief of all time, snagging that mega-deal from the Mariners after his one and only epic season (2004, as noted here). Like you, Prince, I'm wondering what was going on behind the scenes for Beltre that year. At the time, I lived in L.A. and saw a lot of that season... he was an animal. An absolute animal. Then *POOF*... back to his quietly modest self. If I were the Mariners I'd be outraged.

The Beltre free agency period when he left the Dodgers was one of the few documented smart moves from the wasteland known as Paul DePodesta's tenure as their GM. He was right about not paying Beltre.

The guy can field; he's a leader in the clubhouse; and by all accounts, a good guy, but does he answer the Red Sox problem for a bat? No.

And this idea that they're clinging to that it's a 1-year deal and it's cheap has no meaning to me. Why is everyone so obsessed with the money the Red Sox spend? They're big market, big money and they've screwed up this winter---accept it.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees and Red Sox:

The Yankees are better than the Red Sox? That's all I need to hear.

They're not just better. They're a lot better.

Anonymous writes RE the Red Sox:

The Red Sox were scrambling to make excuses after a guy they already replaced signed elsewhere? I must be missing something.

Ah muck beasts, will you never learn?

Coming onto my site and leaving anonymous comments is a sure way to get a nice backhand. Take a lesson from those that attack me elsewhere----do it elsewhere unless you'd like to leave your name!!!

As for the "scrambling for excuses", the fans and media are just as frightened at this new tack on pitching and defense with an aging and declining offense and some remaining contracts that can only be described as "prohibitive". And if you consider Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro as suitable replacements for Bay's offense then I admittedly can't help you----anonymous.

And yes, you are missing something----a pair of balls to leave your name. You choose to comment here? You leave your name.

John Seal writes:

Apologies Prince, but the mantra bears repeating: A's...basement...NL West...NL West...NL (NATIONAL LEAGUE) call me pedant, I call me maize!

By the way, I can't tell you how relieved I am that the A's did not dump a bunch of money on Beltre. The fan-base is currently wailing and gnashing their teeth (spurned again! oh woe is us!), but I'm not a Beltre believer and would much prefer to see Dallas McPherson get one last shot.

I think they should cast Woody Harrelson as the grizzled scout/zombie killer in Moneyball.

You're a tough grader John!!! I didn't even notice I'd written NL West. Then again, a couple years ago, I suggested a dissolution of the American and National Leagues into separate conferences to have the natural rivals all in the same divisions; so my error could bemanifesting that desire subconsciously. (Uh, yah.)

The A's would be better off in the NL West anyway; at least there they'd have a chance of finishing ahead of the Padres. A chance...

I thought my response regarding the utter absurdity of Billy Beane keeping Geren when he dispatched both Art Howe and Ken Macha for no reason other than just feeling like it was worthy of props anyway. Seriously, what happened to "objective analysis"? And I don't think Geren is a bad manager; but the same standard that led Beane to get rid of Howe and Macha should apply to Geren, best friend or not.

Woody Harrelson does the borderline psychotic quite well; he'd fit into my zombie-hunting crew very neatly.


Jeff said...

Not sure I'd put Randy Johnson as the best ever -- but he's certainly in the conversation.

Come on, Prince. Let's hear your take on the Holliday deal. I am happy they signed him though I worry 7 years may be too long. The Cardinals signed him knowing full well they're gonna have to give Albert the moon in 2011 (and they will) and I think if things go right the Cardinals have to be seen as THE team in the NL Central for a long time to come.

She-Fan said...

Randy Johnson the best ever? He was certainly intimidating but being 7 feet tall didn't hurt.

Joe said...

I believe that Pedro has a case, a serious case, for being the most dominant pitcher over a short period of time. But maybe that is just me...