A super-brief post today. I’ve been sitting on a few things that I’ve been meaning to talk about but I haven’t had the time. We all know how amazing Randy Johnson’s career has been but it’s a career that started on shaky grounds. During his first few years Johnson was walking almost as many guys as he was striking out. For example: from 1990-1992 Randy walked 120, 152, and 144 hitters per season. Think about that for a second. In 1991 Randy Johnson walked 152 hitters.* He also struck out 228 hitters that season. The stuff was insanely good but the control was historically bad.
*It’s not surprising, that from 1980 to the present, Randy Johnson sits at #1 and #2 on the Top-10 list for most walks issued by a pitcher in a season for his 1991-92 seasons. Guess who rounds out the top-10 at #10? Russ Ortiz for his 1999 season and the 125 free passes that came along with it.
Starting in 1993, something happened with RJ and his control. It drastically improved.
This graph is really simple — but I really like it because it sums up what became a Hall of Fame career for Randy Johnson. His control plummeted from 6+ walks per every 9 innings in 1991-1992, to below 4 walks per every 9 innings for 17 straight seasons. Meanwhile, he never lost his ability to strike out hitters. It actually got better if you can believe it. Check out the 1995-2001 stretch on this graph. Johnson was striking out 12+ batters per 9 innings for 7 straight years culminating with a K/9 of 13.4 in ’01. That’s a truly dominant stretch of baseball and it’s during this 7 year period that Johnson won 4 of his 5 Cy Young Awards. During the back end of his career, Johnson has still retained the ability to post above-average strikeout rates. If you’re still striking out 8.5-ish hitters per game at 45-years-old you’re a freak of nature.
Here’s the last graph. It’s Randy Johnson’s ERA+ by his age with a rolling average (every 2 seasons) included.
Pure dominance from 30-years-old to about 40-years-old. Johnson was hurt in his age 39 season and only threw 114 innings but returned the following year at age 40 and tossed 245.2 innings with a 177 ERA+. How’s that for an old guy? In fact, it’s the most dominant pitching performance in a single season by a 40-year-old starting pitcher, ever. It bests seasons by Dennis Martinez, Nolan Ryan, John Smoltz, Tom Seaver, Warren Spahn, Phil Neikro, Gaylord Perry and even Cy Young.
When the history books close on Randy Johnson his Giants career will most likely be a happy footnote. A place where he collected his 300th win on the way to the Hall of Fame. Although the RJ we’re seeing today is quite different from the flame-thrower that relentlessly dominated hitters in the 90′s and early 2000′s, it’s been a pleasure to watch Johnson take the mound and do his thing. Even at 45-years-old.