Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Big Unit Shuts Down

So Randy Johnson is calling it a career. And wow, what a career he had. I remember back in '95 when he was on that exciting Mariners team--with Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Edgar Martinez--that made it past the Yankees in the playoffs. I also recall his dominant 2001 season that helped me win my first fantasy baseball championship. There were more than a few times that season when I was working the 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift in a UIUC computer lab and would check his real-time game stats on the west coast; it was usually good news for me.

Both Johnson and Curt Schilling took their games to a whole new level in those 2001 playoffs, capping it off with a Game 7 World Series victory over those same dreaded Yanks. If memory serves me correctly, Johnson pitched Game 6, got the win, and afterward was asked if he'd be available on no rest for Game 7. He said he would be, and I believed him.

Schilling started Game 7 and did well, but after pitching to a 1-0 lead heading into the 7th, he finally surrendered the lead to the Yanks in the 8th. As a fan, I was distressed, and I could see that Schilling was beyond distressed. His team had battled the defending champs for so long and so hard, only to see it all slip away. When Arizona's manager Bob Brenly went to the mound to take the ball from Schilling, I'll never forget him patting Schill on the back and saying, "You're my hero." At that moment I thought to myself, "Curt Schilling's his hero? He just blew the World Series! My hero would be Randy Johnson. He's a better pitcher, plus he was awesome for my fantasy team." (Side note: All these years later I still ponder Brenly's words to Schilling on that pressure-packed World Series Game 7 mound. In hindsight, I think there's a lesson in leadership there, both in what he said and how he said it.)

The call to the pen was made for Miguel Batista. He got one out, and then they brought in Johnson who got the final four outs for Arizona. Johnson picked up his third 'W' of the series as the D-Backs unexpectedly rallied for two against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th for a thrilling 3-2 victory. Johnson and Schilling were named co-MVPs of that World Series.

With Randy Johnson, I'll always think of dominance: 300K seasons, 5 Cy Youngs, a perfect game, carrying teams into the postseason. I'll remember the All-Star Game when Larry Walker jokingly turned his batting helmet around and batted right handed, an admission to how frightening it can be for a lefty to go up against the Big Unit. I'll also remember his 20K game against the Reds and how he battled through back injuries to finally reach and surpass 300 career wins.

But what I'll probably remember most about Randy Johnson is what he accomplished with one pitch in spring training:

Thanks for the memories, Randy.


Pauly said...

So who would you rather have in his prime? Unit, Maddux or Pedro?

Personally, I think Pedro was the most dominating pitcher of the three, and easily the most fun to watch.

Career Stats:
Unit: 22 seasons: 303-166; 3.29 ERA; 1.171 WHIP; 4875 Ks; 5 Cy Youngs.
19 postseason appearances: 7-9; 3.50 ERA and he is 1-0 in the WS with one championship and 1 WS MVP.

Maddux: 23 seasons: 355-227; 3.16 ERA; 1.143 WHIP; 3371 Ks; 4 Cy Youngs; 18 gold gloves
35 postseason appearances: 11-14; 3.27 ERA; 1-2 in the WS (both losses to the Yanks); 1 WS championship.

Pedro: 18 seasons: 219-100; 2.93 ERA; 1.054 WHIP; 3154 Ks; 3 Cy Youngs
16 Postseason appearances: 6-4; 3.46 ERA; 1.080 WHIP; 96 Ks; 1 WS championship with Boston.

Greg said...

Wow, that's a very tough call. Can I just take all three? ;-)

I've looked at their season logs and tried to pick the best year for each of them. That's probably an impossible task because they each had multiple years that were phenomenal, but here's the closest I could find:

Randy Johnson in 2001:
21-6, 2.49 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, 249.2 IP, 1.009 WHIP, 372 K, 13.4 K/9

Greg Maddux in 1995:

19-2, 1.62 ERA, 0.811 WHIP, 209.2 IP, 181 K, 7.8 K/9

Pedro Martinez in 2000:

18-6, 1.74 ERA, 0.737 WHIP, 217.0 IP, 291 K, 11.8 K/9

When I judge pitchers, the first stat I look at is WHIP. In that regard Pedro edges the other two. In Pedro's prime, he was the most likely to have the lowest ERA and WHIP. He also put up bigger strikeout numbers than Maddux.

In terms of year to year consistency, Maddux was probably the best.

But when I look at the 2001 season, including going 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA and 0.692 WHIP against the defending champs in the World Series, I'd have to give a very slight edge to Randy Johnson as being more dominant in his prime compared to Pedro or Maddux.