Talkin' Randy Johnson, 300 wins and history, with Bill James
For the record, this has been a banner decade for 300-game winners.
This hints at a larger point, which we'll get to in a moment. First: This has been a painful slog to 300 for Johnson. He went into the 2007 season needing 20 victories to get to the big number, but he was hurt for most of that year and only won four games. He won 11 last year with Arizona, though he deserved better: He had 10 quality starts that turned into losses or no-decisions. The Diamondbacks could have helped him out.
And this year with the Giants he has three victories ... but he also has a 6.86 ERA. When he's been good -- like his seven-inning, one-hit performance against Arizona or his seven-inning, nine-strikeout game against Colorado -- he's been vintage Johnson. The other six times out he's been hard-to-watch bad, as in
So I watched him closely. And he was a freak -- and I don't mean that in the current, sporting, "freak of nature" sort of way. No, he was a freak, as in circus freak; he had this crazy, daddy-longlegs-trying-to-get-out-of-the-sink sort of wind-up, and he seemed to have only passing interest where the pitch was going.
He did not have his first 200-inning season in the big leagues until he was 26 (and he turned 27 before the end of that season). He led the league in walks that year, as he would in each of his first three seasons. He did not have his first really good year until 1993, the season when he turned 30.
And then he just kept getting better. That's the amazing part. He has struck out more than 4,000 batters -- and won 249 games -- since the season when he turned 30. His ERA+ (which measures his ERA against the league average) is a ludicrous 147. If he's not the greatest old pitcher in baseball history, he's right there with Lefty Grove and
His first four years his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 1.5 to 1.
The second four years it was 3.4 to 1.
The third four years it was 4.3 to 1.
In the fourth four years it was 5.3 to 1.
Why? It's funny: I think it's because while everyone will talk and talk about all the steroids and home runs during the Selig Era, and everyone will talk about how offense dominated the last 15 to 20 years, the truth is that the last 15 to 20 years have given us four of the best pitchers in the history of baseball.
And I just find that richly ironic: I don't believe there has ever been an era in baseball history that gave us four pitchers as good as Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux,
But yes, if you're going to argue that Clemens or Pedro or Maddux is the greatest ever, I think you kind of have to include Randy.
I have a system of "ranking" seasons by pitchers. It's not a perfect system, I suppose -- my point system considers: wins, losses and saves; strikeouts and walks; innings pitched and ERA -- but one of its virtues is that it is not made up to make Randy Johnson look good, or to make Roger Clemens look good, or anything like that ... it's just made up to compare seasons.
By this system the best season by any of these four pitchers (Randy, Clemens, Maddux and Martinez) was Pedro's in 1999 (23-4, 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts, 37 walks).
However, the second-best season by any of the pitchers was Johnson's in 2002, the third-best is Johnson's in 2001, and, of the 10 best seasons by these four pitchers, Randy has six. (Pedro and Clemens have two each.)
Then I looked at every two-year stretch by any of these pitchers, every three-year stretch, every four-year stretch, etc., up to 15 years.
The best two-year stretch by any of these pitchers, by my method, is Randy's in 2001-2002 (45-11, 2.31 ERA, 706 strikeouts).
The best three-year stretch by any of these pitchers was Randy's from 2000-2002 (64-18, 2.39 ERA, 1,053 strikeouts).
The best four-year stretch was Johnson's from 1999 to 2002 (81-27, 2.39 ERA, 1,417 strikeouts). This is the only four-year stretch by any of these pitchers in which he won 80 games. Clemens won 100 games over a stretch of five years (as did Johnson), but never won 80 over a stretch of four years.
The best five-year stretch was Johnson's from 1998 to 2002 (100-38, 2.54 ERA, 1,746 strikeouts). Clemens also won 100 games from 1986 to 1990, but his winning percentage was lower (100-42), his ERA higher and he had 500 fewer strikeouts.
The best six-year stretch was Johnson's from 1997 to 2002 (120-42, 2.49 ERA, 2,037 strikeouts). Johnson was the only pitcher in the group to win 120 games over a stretch of six years, and this was the longest stretch of seasons averaging 20 or more wins by any of these pitchers.