Moving back to the mound in our series on free agent bargains, we find an interesting name – the tallest player in baseball and a sure fire Hall of Famer, you wouldn’t think Randy Johnson would fly under too many radars. But that’s the state of the game – overemphasis on ERA as a tool to evaluate pitching, and for whatever reason, a premature willingness to put great talents out to pasture.
Sure, Randy Johnson may not be what he once was, but he’s still a pretty terrific starting pitcher. Check out his standing among his peers this year:
8.46 K/9, 6th best in NL
2.15 BB/9, 11th best in NL
3.9 K/BB, 3rd best in NL
3.76 FIP, 15th best in NL
Or, if you prefer, his closest comparable pitcher in the NL this year was Cole Hamels – their walk rates are nearly identical, Johnson’s got a slightly higher K/9, and Hamels has a slightly lower HR/9, but the final product is almost exactly the same. Can you imagine what kind of money Cole Hamels would get if he was a free agent this winter? Now, obviously, there’s a huge age difference, and Johnson’s not going to be pitching for another 10 years like Hamels will be, but their current value is almost identical.
Despite all this, and the fact that he’s unlikely to ask for a long term deal given his age, the D’Backs are still talking about only being interested in Johnson if he takes a significant pay cut. That’s just nutty.
Even if we expect Johnson to regress significantly, giving up about 4.5 runs per nine innings, and only throw 150 innings next year, he’d still be 25 runs above a replacement level starting pitcher. He’s easily worth $10-$15 million a year for a single year, and considering how well he’s fought off decline, a two year deal shouldn’t even be out of the question.
Randy Johnson’s still a pretty terrific pitcher, and teams who just see him as an old guy with back problems are going to miss out.