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.


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