Randy Johnson Retires

Randy Johnson announced his retirement today. There are thousands upon thousands of words that could, and should, be written about Randy Johnson. His career numbers are remarkable. The mark he left on the fan bases of Seattle and Arizona, huge. I don’t have the time or skill to do justice to either.

Instead, I just wanted to point that, personal reasons Randy might have aside, there’s little baseball reason for Johnson to be retiring at this point. The average Major League pitcher allows about 6% of his non-ground balls to go for a home run. Last season, Randy had twice that amount on his way to a 1.78 HR/9. That such an extraordinary rate was a completely new phenomenon for Johnson suggests that going forward, regression back toward league average would be reasonable to expect. Granted, it might have been the case of him simply not having Major League skill anymore, but given that none of Randy’s other stats struggled, I deem that unlikely.

The fastball velocity dipped a bit more, as to be expected as he ages, but his swinging strike rates didn’t dip and his batted ball rates actually improved a touch. Aside from the obvious health concerns impacting him in 2010, and they should not be trivialized, I am hard pressed to find a reason why he would not have continued to be useful as a starting pitcher.

Randy’s xFIP was 3.79 last season. His regressed tRA was above average. He was a four-win player as recently as 2008. If he was healthy, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to look forward to three wins or so. He’d also be 46 years old for most of the season. That he was as good of a pitcher as he was, and likely could be, at that age, is flabbergasting. It’s too bad that his health, or motivation, or whatever has pushed him to retirement, because, who knows, he might have held on into his 50s in a relief role should he have wanted one.



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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


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David MVP Eckstein
Guest

Earlier today, it was reported that Big Unit is retiring. My question is why.

Johnson reached the superfluous 300 win benchmark last season with the Giants, all but solidifying his resume for the Hall of Fame. Johnson achieved this feat while posting a gruesome 4.88 ERA (96 IP) and spending half the season on the DL. Perhaps, at age 46, it makes some sense for Johnson to retire. He is all but guaranteed a Hall of Fame spot; he is comfortably rich ($100.2 million in salary from 2002-2008); he has a family; he is aging and injury prone.

However, there are two great reasons for Randy Johnson to keep playing. First and foremost, Johnson has 4,875 career strikeouts and is a stone’s throw away from the 5,000 K plateau (a feat so far only accomplished by Nolan Ryan). Secondly, and most importantly, Randy Johnson is still very good at pitching.

Put the 4.88 ERA and 1.33 WHIP out of your mind. Look below the surface. Sure, Johnson’s strikeout rate slipped to 8.04 per nine, his lowest mark since 1990, and sure, Johnson HR/9 spiked to 1.78, despite the move from Chase Field to AT&T Park. However, Big Unit’s peripherals remain strong, even if he has not been effective as he was a decade ago. Big Unit’s 8.04 K/9 rate ranks well above the MLB average of 6.59 per nine, Johnson’s walk rate (2.91 BB/9 last season) is solid (MLB average is 3.46), and his GB% spiked by five points last season (45.4% GB%, 1.28 GB/FB ratio).

So why the poor season? It was not the BABIP (.297 last season, .303 career) or the LOB% (72.5% last season, 71.9% MLB average). Rather, Johnson’s bad luck came in the form of long balls. Despite the fact that Johnson moved to a home run suppressing park this season and that Johnson burned the most worms he had since 2002, Big Unit’s HR/9 rate soared. His 19.2% HR/FB mark was the second highest the majors amongst all pitchers who tossed 90+ innings in 2009. Randy Johnson’s 3.79 xFIP* (a metric that analyzes a pitcher’s defense-neutral pitching ability based on strikeouts, walks and xHR’s [adjusted to a league average HR/FB ratio based on a pitcher’s FB%) last season paints a much more optimistic picture of what Randy Johnson is still capable of than his ERA.

*xFIP clearly has its limitations, as a league average HR/FB rate does not account for park dimensions. However, it is a better predictor of future success for a pitcher than FIP or, god forbid, ERA. The theory behind xFIP is that pitchers have some control over how the batter will make contact with the ball (thereby inducing GBs and FBs), but that once the ball is out of the pitcher’s hand, he has no control over where the ball lands, the defensive positioning or ability of the fielders, or even how strong of contact the hitter will make with his offering (and thereby how far the ball will travel).

Plain and simple, Randy Johnson is still very good. He is not the 1993-2004 Big Unit we will all remember, but he is still a quality #2/#3 guy. It is quite surprising to me that Johnson is not at all interested in reaching the mythical 5,000 K plateau. Whereas many pitchers (relatively speaking) before him have reached the 300 win mark, only one other has even touched the plane of 5,000 strikeouts. At 8 K/9, Johnson would only have to toss 141 innings to reach the 5,000 strikeout mark in 2010. If his innings were to be managed properly (a la Rich Harden), Johnson could surely stay health enough to attain this achievement.

After 22 seasons of effective pitching, Johnson retires atop his game. He’s not the best of the best anymore (that reign has been passed on to teammate Tim Lincecum), but his career did not fizzle out. Randy Johnson will go down as not only one of the best pitchers of his generation, but as one of the best pitchers of all time. He has achieved more than almost everyone else and is guaranted as a first round Hall of Famer. Still, it’s a shame he just won’t get this one last achievement.

http://gameofinches.blogspot.com/2010/01/why-is-randy-johnson-retiring.html

David MVP Eckstein
Guest

Oops, didn’t mean to toss the whole article in…

Regardless, I think we’re on the same page here. Johnson is still a very good pitcher and if you disagree you are wrong (or probably named Dayton Moore)

The A Team
Guest
The A Team

There’s two things I think are being forgotten in the knee jerk reaction of “why retire”? First, it’s quite possible that RJs 46 year old body simply can’t hold up over the course of a season and he knows it. He’s been a little prone to injury for quite a few years now, having been injury prone myself for the last 6 years of my playing days, I can attest to the weariness of constantly battling at 60% with a handful of Advil in my stomach. This is obviously speculation, only those close to Johnson (and the Giants) could know how his baseball health is.

The second point that I would suggest is that most pitchers aren’t very familiar with peripherals. Johnson could be looking at a ballooning ERA and remembering he got shelled via the longball without being remotely aware that his FIP and tRA are palatable.

David MVP Eckstein
Guest

Makes sense in terms of Johnson thinking he’snot as good as he actually is; however, that 125 Ks to 5000 is still there..

DavidCEisen
Guest
DavidCEisen

Why retire? He is 46, has been in the league for longer than some of his teammates have been alive, has been battling injuries, and has what is colloquially referred to as “butt loads of money”. The guy can pitch, sure, but most people can continue to do their jobs competently at the time they retire.

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