rj2004

This wasn’t my intention, I assure you. When I set out to write this post, I was trying to cleanse the Hall of Fame palate with some idle speculation. Some innocent thought experiments. “Will we ever see another 300 strikeout pitcher?”, the headline was set to wonder.

There would be pseudoscience and bad projections and all sorts of fun. “But YU!”, they’d shout. “Max effort!”, others exclaimed. Good clean fun. Just what we all need.

But a cursory look into 300 strikeout seasons lead me down a dark path. It sent me to a dangerous place – Randy Johnson‘s baseball reference page.

For fun, a game:

  • Player A – 42.6 WAR, 1752 K, 0.94 HR/9, 12 shutouts
  • Player B – 40.7 WAR, 1671 K, 0.79 HR/9, 6 shutouts
  • Player C – 48.3 WAR, 1832 K, 0.85 HR/9, 14 shutouts

Behind door number 1 we have Cliff Lee‘s career numbers. He has one Cy Young to his name. Player B? 2012 Cy Young AND MVP Justin Verlander‘s numbers to date. Player C is Randy Johnson…between the ages of 35 and 40.

During the years when most power pitchers are long put out to pasture, Randy Johnson won four straight Cy Youngs and struck out more hitters in five years than one of the best pitchers in baseball managed in his entire nine year career. Fewer than 10 active players have more strikeouts in their careers than Johnson totaled between 1999 and 2004.

Randy Johnson, eligible for Hall of Fame induction next year, owns the greatest late-thirties run in baseball history, He struck out 300 hitters four years in a row. His 300K season of 2003 represents the last time anybody struck out that many. He was 38-years old. His age-40 season stands out as the best ever for a pitcher that age.

Rk Player WAR Year Tm GS IP R SO ERA+
1 Randy Johnson 8.5 2004 ARI 35 245.2 88 290 176
2 Phil Niekro 7.6 1979 ATL 44 342.0 160 208 119
3 Cy Young 7.6 1907 BOS 37 343.1 101 147 129
4 Pete Alexander 6.1 1927 STL 30 268.0 94 48 160
5 Nolan Ryan 5.4 1987 HOU 34 211.2 75 270 142
6 Bartolo Colon 5.1 2013 OAK 30 190.1 60 117 141
7 Tom Seaver 5.0 1985 CHW 33 238.2 103 134 136
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/8/2014.

It is astounding, really. Yet for all the late career resurgence, no PED cloud hangs over Randy Johnson. The BBWAA will rightfully honor Johnson for his superlative career while Roger Clemens receives less support than Lee f#%king Smith. Because he didn’t hit home runs, there is no need to worry.

There is no obvious reason to suspect Randy Johnson of anything and hopefully nobody does. It is just so odd the way these accusations get thrown around and even more baffling where they stick. The number one way to avoid steroid suspicions is to be a pitcher. Number two – stand 6’10 with skinny legs that seem to go on forever. You’re pretty much good to go after that.

I doubt very much any such roadblocks will trouble Randy Johnson next year. Despite a prickly personality and rocky relationship with the media of his time, his dominance will carry him through to the Hall. It will go through unquestioned mostly because it doesn’t appear anybody ever bothered to ask.

So will there be another 300 strikeout season in baseball? There sure are a lot of Ks to go around, but will one pitcher throw the required innings to pick them all up? Doubtful.

Does Yu Darvish have another 25 strikeouts in him after setting down 277 hitters in 2013? That doesn’t seem like too big an ask until you think about it. If not Darvish, who? Strasburg? Scherzer? He fell sixty short in his career year. Let’s go with “no” and be happily surprised if it ends up happening.

Important Read of the Day

CUBS SOSA AND CARDINALS MCGWIRE EMBRACE BEFORE GAME.

There is so much to like about this, the story of PED proliferation told from the perspective of a feckless group of cheerleaders dressed as reporters. From the writers happily pleading ignorance to the “company man” spin on many current columnists, it’s a joy to read.

Sadly, like most things, baseball management gets another pass here. No mention of La Russa’s permissive environment, just a bunch of writers who didn’t do their job. Same as it ever was.

Put on Your Remembering Hat

Speaking of hats, how is your memory of Cooperstown hats? Mental Floss has a quiz if you’re willing to test your knowledge of team caps on Hall of Fame busts. Certainly worth a look at some of the stranger decisions made by both the Hall committee and the players themselves.

Then check to see if you remember the 90s. Sam Page of SI’s Extra Mustard sure does. They were awesome. The best baseball ever played? You can easily make that argument.

Fan First

It isn’t fair to expect baseball players to be baseball fans. To reach the game’s absolute peak, the game has to choose them as much as they choose the game. Most ball players aren’t historians of the game and probably spent more time worrying about their own exploits growing up than the local nine.

Brandon McCarthy isn’t most ball players. Standing nearly 6’8, one could certainly argue the game chose him, too. But on Twitter Brandon McCarthy has the uncanny ability to come across as a fan of the game as well as a practitioner. From his comments on the day of Roy Halladay‘s retirement to this tweet from yesterday…

…it is at the very least nice to see a player who enjoys baseball like McCarthy does. It doesn’t make him right and the other automatons wrong, but there is no shorter path to my heart than outward displays of wanton humanity, like a player going out of his way to salute a former teammate.

McCarthy isn’t the only one, but he’s one of the only players I follow on twitter for this very reason. It’s fun to see somebody willing and able to have fun some times, even while acknowledging how much he has at stake.

Comments (4)

  1. I like wontons. But not if they’re made of people. I think Charlton Heston might have, though. Or maybe not.

    Good article. I like reading anything about Randy Johnson. Awesome Baseball Reference page indeed.

  2. I wouldn’t assume steroid use nor non-steroid use as a default position. I think it’s worth examining on a case-by-case basis. Given the era, the non-testing, and the one-in-a-million historically outlier of performances by RJ in his age 35-40 seasons that are not even close to anything anyone has ever done before, not even factoring in he was a bit “testy” (pardon the pun), but including the fact that people who cover this stuff on a daily basis have willingly turned a blind-eye to what was happening, and I ask you how you can say one shouldn’t question those stats and #’s. At least ask the guy the question, no? Or ask if he can explain why he historically dominated to such a ridiculous level… new work out program? Dorfman’s ABC’s of pitching? I mean, c’mon. And let’s not think that it’s only Minor Leaguers & a handful of guys in the Majors who are using non-legal/non-approved “supplements”… Let’s just not be naive here.

    Great article though, much appreciated. Thomas, Maddux, & Glavine were awesome talents indeed. Johnson too.

    • Actually from the link in the article, it sounds like some sports-writers were keen to know & write about the truth, but couldn’t really get it published. It’s easy to forget that there were days when the flow of information was not as free as it is today, and there were channels of approval, as is still the practice to varying degrees at different institutions… Unless you think we get an unfiltered & honest portrayal of world events, in which case, I would say “keep dreaming”

      • Nightengale’s July 15, 1995, story, “Steroids Become an Issue,” announced, “Anabolic steroids, the performance drugs of the 1980s in football, track, weightlifting and some other sports, apparently have become the performance drugs of the ’90s in major league baseball.” You could see an editor’s jittery hand in that “apparently.”

 “It’s like the big secret we’re not supposed to talk about,” Gwynn told Nightengale, “but believe me, we wonder just like the rest of people. I’m standing out there in the outfield when a guy comes up, and I’m thinking, ‘Hey, I wonder if this guy is on steroids.’”

        Today, Nightengale’s piece would have rounded the bases on Twitter and social media. “Back then, in ’95, there was no Internet as we know it today,” said Ken Rosenthal, then a Baltimore Sun columnist. “Even reading an out-of-town story was hard to do.” There were few follow-ups.

        Gwynn seemed to understand the trickiness of the reporting task. “I think we all have our suspicions who’s on the stuff,” he said, “but unless someone comes out and admits it, who’ll ever know for sure?”

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