Tuesday, July 29, 2014

2015 Early Keltners: Randy Johnson

One of my favorite memories of baseball is watching Larry Walker turn around to bat right handed against the big unit, complete with helmet on backwards, during the all star game. It was hysterical, and a throwback to when baseball was an entertaining sport. Now that we have the taint of replay, baseball is becoming less human and more systematic. We need another knuckleballer to screw up DIPS: we need another unique player. Maybe we need another Big Unit.

1. Was he ever considered the best player in baseball?

Certainly the best (or on the short list) of the best pitchers in baseball. But, was he the best player? Johnson could not hit, and like many power pitchers did not field his position well. For much of his career, however, he was considered one of the best pitchers.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

For several seasons in Seattle (1989-98) you could put Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez in a box (strange image) and pull out one and answer a "Yes" to this question. With the D-Backs, he was the ace pitcher and likely the best player.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the League at his position?

From 1990 to roughly 2006, with several different teams, and several other HoF calibre pitchers as teammates (Schilling, Pettit possibly) he was the ace, and that was unquestioned. Much like Simmons alpha dog, Johnson and his scary facial hair was The Man. Or, at least The Man and 1/2 after Maddux. If you forced me to choose, I may take Maddux. But Johnson would absolutely make me think about it. In his league between 1990 and 1998, he most certainly was the best player at his position.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

The 2001 post season was the magnum opus of Johnson's career: a 5-0 record in the NLCS and World Series, allowing only 19 hits in 33 and 1/3 IP. Oh yeah, 38 Ks in those innings.

In the Northwest he is most remembered for the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees. Johnson came back with 3 IP in relief in game 5, striking out six and winning the deciding game after staving off elimination for the Mariners in game three.

In 1998, he was perhaps the most dominant trade deadline acquisition of all time. Traded to the Astros, Johnson went 10-1 with and ERA of 1.28 after August 2nd to solidify the Astros as the central division champs. Up 4.5 games when hey acquired Johnson, the Astros wound up winning the division by 13 and 1/2 games.

His career record in September and October is 51-17.

5. Was he good enough to contribute past his prime?

Johnson is 21 games over .500 after the age of 40. He did not make the majors until age 25 and won 222 games after his 30th birthday. That qualifies as contributing past his prime.

6. Is he the best player in history not in the Hall of Fame?

I would still go with Barry Bonds, but now that Greg Maddux is inducted, I would vote Johnson the best pitcher who is not in the Hall of Fame.

7. Are most players with similar stats in the Hall of Fame?

No player has a comp score with Johnson over 850, which is a definite mark in his favor. Of the 10 best comps for Johnson, 8 are in the Hall, with one being worthy (Roger Clemens) and the other being close (Mike Mussina).

The comp list reinforces the idea of the Big Unit as one of a kind; not only physically, but in performance as well.

8. Do the players numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

On the Hall of Fame monitor, Johnson has the third highest score of all time behind Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens. On the Hall of Fame standards, he is 13th highest of all time for a pitcher with the 12 people in front of him already in the Hall of Fame. The numbers undoubtedly reflect a hall of fame career.

9.Is there evidence to suggest he was much better or worse than his statistics?

I would argue that Johnson was one of those pitchers that was better than his statistics. He was intimidating as hell against left handed hitters. With his long arms, the slider which was so effective was coming from the right field seats. With his reach at 6'10 he appeared much closer to the plate than other pitchers.

Reputation stands for a lot, and Johnson had it. He was the most feared pitcher in baseball, if not the best. That stands for something in my book, as fear goes a long way into getting into the habits of the opposing team. Johnson could have a positive effect on a short series even if he was not pitching. When he was with the Diamondbacks, Johnson and Schilling turned into pick your poison.

10. Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?

No, as that would be Barry Bonds. I would argue that he is the best pitcher who has not been inducted.

11. How many Cy Young type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an Cy Young Award? If not, how often did he come close?

Johnson won 5 Cy Young awards, and finished second twice. He deserved it in 2004, but I would have gone with Kevin Appier in 1992. He won four consecutive awards from 1999-2002 and was deserving of each. He was in the top five three other times, finishing second on three occasions.

12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?

 Johnson was selected for 10 ASG and started four games.

13. If this man was the best player on his team, could they win the pennant?

Any team with Johnson as the ace could be in contention.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Johnson did provide the most incredible video ever, when his pitch hit an unfortunate bird: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwpRHrAh3pk.

He is also the trade deadline acquisition to which all others will be compared.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?

As far as I know, yes. Johnson has a reputation as a good teammate. His episode with Walker at the ASG was, in my opinion, keeping with the ballplayer reaction to most of the press nonsense that accompanies the game.

In an interview with ESPN, Johnson stated that the best thing that a player could have was two functioning ears.  He cast a very large shadow (no pun intended). He was one of those pitchers that you thought could throw a no hitter any time he took the mound. He was possessed of a mean streak and electric stuff. He was a singular pitcher in an era of "power pitchers". He and Maddux ( and Schilling post sock) were the only pitchers that I would say had a mystique about them. First ballot without a doubt.


2015 Early Keltners: John Smoltz

John Smoltz was on the team that broke my heart in 1992, but I'll forgive him. He remains one of my favorite pitchers, and one of my favorite players of the 1990s. It's funny how making the playoffs last year has mellowed me about the Braves.

1. Was he considered the best player in baseball?

I would argue that until the mid 1990s, Smoltz was viewed as the third best pitcher on his team. He won 24 games in 1996, and everyone went "Hey! Who's that guy with the beard?!?!?! The one 24 games over .500 for his career? The third guy behind that Maddux and Glavine?" Smoltz was an excellent athlete, and according to Maddux and the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers possessed the best stuff of any of the big 3.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

I would argue that Smoltz was....the best pitcher on the Braves staff. This is a terrible risk, considering the chocolate covered awesomeness that was Greg Maddux. However, Smoltz was power with the "you will not get a pitch to hit" mentality; his two seamer was explosive and his slider was known to remove the hats of hitters. And he had excellent control; Smoltz fanned 200 hitters five times in his career, but walked 100 only once, in 1993. His 12 IBB had something to do with that. As a fan, I feared for the dignity of my teams hitters when he pitched.

3.Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Again, perhaps, but Randy Johnson enters the argument in the 2000s. Between 2002 and 2004, he was the best closer in baseball. I told my brother in 2001 that Smoltz was going to be the "next Dennis Eckersley". I was right for three years.

4. Did he have a significant impact on pennant races?

Smoltz had a reputation as a money pitcher. In 5 games when the Braves faced elimination from the playoffs (Game 7 of the 1991 NLCS and World Series, the 1992 NLCS, game 4 of the 1999 World Series and game 5 of the 2002 NLDS) here is Smoltz's line:

31 1/3 IP, 23 H, 5 ER, 9 BB, 30 K, 1.033 WHIP, 1.43 ERA.

Smoltz made 8 starts in the world series. Some may quibble with him winning only two of those starts, but try this on for size: the Braves scored 33 runs in those starts, with 19 of them coming in two games. For 6 other World Series starts, Smoltz had 14 runs to work with, and lost 1-0 twice: once to Jack Morris in 1991, and to Andy Pettite in 1996.

His overall postseason record is 15-4 with 4 saves, 199 K in 209 IP. Yeah, that's money.

5. Was he good enough to contribute past his prime?

Smoltz had Tommy John surgery in 2000 at age 33, and won 14 games as a 40 year old in 2007 and made his final all star team. He pitched pretty well in only 6 starts in 2008 and was terrible with the Red Sox in 2009. He led the NL in wins with 16 at age 39 in 2006.

6. Is he the best player in history not in the hall of fame?

No, that would be Barry Bonds. He may be the second or third best pitcher, behind Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens.

7. Are most players with similar statistics in the Hall of Fame?

No players are "truly similar" to Smoltz, a mark in his favor. Of the ten, three are in the Hall (Jim Bunning, Catfish Hunter and Don Drysdale), two of whom a borderline candidates in my opinion. His best comp, Curt Schilling, in my opinion should be in the hall (http://cansofcool.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-keltner-list-curt-schilling.html). So, there is a favorable argument here.

8.Do the player's numbers meet hall of fame standards?

Smoltz hits 167 on the HoF monitor, with a likely Hall of Famer scoring 100. For standards, he comes in at 44 with an average Hall of Famer at 50. So, yes. His numbers as a starter are not as robust due to spending four seasons as a closer where he notched 154 saves. That's 38 per year, Holmes!

9. Is there evidence to suggest that he was better than his statistics?

I think so, as he was consistently said to own the best pure stuff on a staff that will eventually include three hall of fame starters. Craig Kimbrell passed him as the all time leader in saves for the Braves franchise earlier this month; Smoltz held the record despite being in the closer's spot for only three plus years.

10. Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?

No. See question #6.

11. How many Cy Young type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an Cy Young Award? If not, how often did he come close?

Smoltz won the 1996 Cy Young Award, and finished in the top five in 1998 and 2002. In 2006 he was 7th, and 2007 he was 6th. Brandon Webb deserved it more than Smoltz in both seasons, along with Jake Peavy, the winner in 2006.

12. How many All-Star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?
Smoltz made 8 ASG, and started the game in 1996, which he won. His first ASG selection was in 1989...he was 11-6 in the first half that season, and went 1-5 in 11 starts after. Of the 6 other starting pitchers who made 8 ASG, four are in the Hall and  two (Pedro Martinez and Roy Halladay) will certainly merit consideration.

13. If this man was the best player on his team, could his team win the pennant?

Certainly, any team with Smoltz as its ace would contend.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Smoltz was part of the three headed monster, the best rotation of the 1990s and quite possibly the best rotation in the history of major league baseball. It seemed Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz had been pitching together since Moses wore short pants in 1993, but it was just getting started. Unlike Eckersley, he made a successful return to the rotation in 2005, going 24 games over .500 for the next three years as a starter. When you think about it, that maybe the most impressive part of Smoltz's career. To make the switch once is difficult, but to go back to the rotation, at age 38 on a team perennially in the playoff chase, is quite a damn accomplishment.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?

As far as I know he did just that, being a well respected if not beloved teammate.

For my money, Smoltz is a first ballot hall of famer.