Is Randy Johnson the greatest left-hander of all-time?

After an incredible 22-year career, the Big Unit has decided to hang it up.

Randy Johnson announced his retirement on Tuesday night and just like any sports fan or columnist does, we can’t just enjoy his career: We have to dissect it and compare it to others.

SI.com’s Tim Marchman broke down the battle between Johnson and Sandy Koufax while posing the question: Is the Big Unit the greatest left-hander of all-time?

During his five-year peak, Koufax ran up a 111-34 record with a 1.95 ERA, striking out 1,444 in 1,377 innings. From 1998-2002, Johnson’s record was 100-38, with a 2.63 ERA and 1,746 strikeouts in 1,274 1/3 innings. Koufax won five straight ERA titles, leading in strikeouts and wins three times and innings twice. Johnson won three ERA titles and four strikeout crowns while leading in innings twice and wins once.

Taking these numbers at face value, you’d say that as marvelous as Johnson was at his best, Koufax was that much better. But then Koufax pitched in a great pitcher’s park in a great pitcher’s era, while Johnson pitched in good hitter’s parks in a great hitter’s era. Going by ERA+, which adjusts for park and league effects and indexes them on a scale where 100 is average, Johnson actually has the better of it over their five-year primes, 175-167. Perhaps more impressively, he led his leagues in ERA+ four times during his best five year run. Koufax did that twice.

What makes Johnson so special isn’t that he had a five-year run to rate with Koufax’s prime, though; it’s what he did outside of it. Leave aside that run from 1998 through 2002 and Johnson’s career record is 203-128 with a 3.28 ERA –essentially Curt Schilling’s entire career, Hall-worthy in its own right. Add Koufax’s prime to that and you have something unfathomable, something that I’d say rates as the best career any left-hander has ever had.

This is a great debate, but I’m going to stay out of it because I never saw Koufax pitch and therefore, it would be unfair for me to proudly boast that the Big Unit was better. All I’ll say is that Johnson was one of the greatest pitchers I have ever seen in my era and I’m going to miss what he brought to the mound every fifth day.

The thing that often gets overlooked when people gush about Johnson is that he was a great student of the game. Even over the last couple years as injuries started to take their toll on his performance, nobody studied opposing hitters more than the Big Unit did before he took the hill.

Yes, he was a great intimidator with an electric fastball and outstanding strikeout ability. But the guy also loved the game of baseball and in an era of steroid abusers and cheaters, fans can appreciate what the Big Unit brought to the table.


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Randy Johnson wins No. 300 in front of rain soaked crowd

It was a moment that had been hyped up since the start of the season, but due to Mother Nature (that whore), Randy Johnson won his 300th career game in front of a rain soaked crowd of about 10 people.

Nevertheless, he’s now a part of the illustrious 300-win club.

Johnson pitched six innings on Thursday, allowing just two hits and one unearned run in the Giants’ 5-1 victory over the Nationals. He got a fair amount of help from his bullpen, who pitched three scoreless innings in a steady rain to preserve the Giants’ lead, which had been 2-1 until the ninth inning when San Fran scratched across three more insurance runs.

With the win, the Big Unit became only the 24th pitcher to get to 300 victories and is the second-oldest pitcher to achieve the milestone. He’s also the first pitcher to get his 299th and 300th win in consecutive starts since Tom Seaver did it in 1985.

One moment that’ll surely be overlooked from this game is an amazing defensive play by Giants second baseman Emmanuel Burriss in the fifth inning. With the Giants up 2-0, Johnson gave up a hit to Elijah Dukes, who advanced to second on a passed ball the very next batter.

Johnson then walked Austin Kearns, which brought the leading run to the plate in Ronnie Belliard. Belliard then scorched a pitch that ricocheted sharply off the mound and looked to be heading into center field for a base hit. But Burriss made a diving stop and flipped the ball with only his glove to shortstop Edgar Renteria, who got the force out at second and then completed the double play by throwing out Belliard at first. Johnson then got Will Nieves to ground out to Burriss to end the inning and preserve the Giants’ 2-0 lead.

Even though nothing can take the moment away from the Big Unit, it’s a shame that not more people were in attendance to enjoy the victory. That said, his family was front and center and that’s all that matters. It’s a fantastic milestone for Johnson, a player that never cheated the game. (At least as far as we know, that is.)

Will tonight be the night the Big Unit wins No. 300?

Randy Johnson will go for career win No. 300 when the Giants take on the Nationals tonight at 7:05 p.m. ET. Johnson hasn’t won back-to-back starts all season and he’s coming off a win over the Braves on May 27.

Some believe the Big Unit is a shoe-in to win No. 300 tonight because he’s taking on a Washington team that’s just 14-36 on the year and lost six straight before beating San Fran 10-6 last night. But the Nats have scored the 12th most runs in baseball and are ninth in home runs, which Johnson has served plenty of this season (10 in 10 starts to be exact).

Johnson’s performance so far this season matches his stats line, which is to say he has been very average. He’s currently 4-4 with a 5.71 ERA and while he’s pitched well his last two outings, he also hasn’t reached the seventh inning in eight of his 10 starts. He simply runs out of gas when the game reaches the fifth and sixth inning, which means the Giants bullpen has often been the deciding factor in whether or not the Big Unit is victorious.

I don’t want to piss on his parade, but I don’t see Johnson winning tonight. Jordan Zimmerman is throwing for the Nats and the Giants don’t have a good enough offense to jump out to a big lead early and allow the Big Unit to cruise. As much as I would love to watch history tonight, I’ve got a gut feeling Johnson will be stuck at 299 by the end of the night.

Still, the Giants are always in tight ball games, so it would be cool to see Johnson throw six strong innings and then watch as the bullpen tries to preserve the victory for him. As much as SF closer Brian Wilson gets jacked for games, it would also be sweet to see him have to come in for a save in ninth with Johnson’s No. 300 hanging in the balance.

Big Unit wins No. 299

With the Giants’ 6-3 win over the Braves on Wednesday night, Randy Johnson earned career victory No. 299.

Johnson breezed through the first five innings, retiring 15 of the first 16 batters he faced, striking out five and allowing just one run and three hits. But he ran out of gas in the sixth and had to be relieved by Brandon Medders, who got out of that inning but allowed Atlanta to score two unearned runs to cut into San Fran’s lead at 4-3.

But the Giants managed to add two runs in their half of the seventh and gave the bullpen enough of a cushion to preserve the win for the Big Unit, who will now go for career win No. 300 next Wednesday on the road against the Nationals.

If Johnson claims victory, he’ll join amazing company in Cy Young, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine as other pitchers who have 300 career victories. It would have been nice for the home crowd in San Francisco if the Big Unit went for 300 at AT&T Park, although I think they’ve already seen a great moment or two in baseball history over the past couple years. (Even if a lot of baseball fans think that moment was tainted.)

Randy Johnson pitches no-hitter through seven

Today we got more proof of the beauty behind an athlete’s battle against time. Last week, I wrote about Tom Glavine and a shoulder injury which may end his 22 year career. On the other side of the coin, there’s news today about an even older pitcher still getting the job done. As reported on Yahoo! Sports:

Johnson took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against his former team, and the San Francisco Giants held on to beat the Diamondbacks 2-0 on Sunday.

“Sometimes you have to put blinders on when it comes to certain teams,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to pitch well. It’s nice to go out there and feel like I’m contributing after the last two starts.”

Johnson, who allowed one hit in seven innings, was perfect through four. He faced the minimum through six and stranded Augie Ojeda at third base after the shortstop doubled to open the seventh.

A no-hitter through seven is nothing to scoff at, even if it did happen against a team not especially known for their hitting. It’ll be interesting to see how the now 1-2 record of Johnson grows, and how soon it’ll be before he reaches his 300th win (his win today puts him at 296). Again, from Yahoo! Sports and Brian Wilson, one of Johnson’s Giants teammates:

“It was beautiful,” Wilson said. “It was a nice day and Randy was out there dominating. He proved he can still do it.

“You watch him working the hitters, working the count and you realize not all of us can go out there and do that.”

I’ve never been much of a Randy Johnson fan, but regardless of what team he’s on now I think it’s worth our while to keep an eye on a future hall-of-famer before he’s finished actively playing ball.

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