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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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Is the Big Unit’s career finished?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Giants’ starter Randy Johnson has been diagnosed with a slightly torn left rotator cuff.

Johnson suffered the injury a couple of weeks ago during an at bat. He swung wildly at a Roy Oswalt pitch and was in obvious discomfort while he clutched his shoulder. He attempted to go out the next inning to pitch, but couldn’t stay in as the pain increased.

He was supposed to begin a throwing program with the Giants soon, but now he’s been ordered to rest for three weeks and might not return at all this season. At 45 years old, this could spell the end of the Big Unit’s career.

If it is the end, what an ending it was. Earlier this season, Johnson became the fourth 300-game winner this decade and amassed 4,867 strikeouts over his phenomenal career. He also has racked up 100 complete games, compiled a 3.28 ERA and would finish with an amazing record of 303-165.

Even though his chances of returning this season (and next for that matter) look bleak, I don’t want this to be it for the Big Unit. I would love to see him in the postseason just one more time and get a chance to win another World Series. He’s a true student of the game and he’s the ultimate competitor.

But if he doesn’t, Johnson has nothing left to prove to anyone.

Giants to trade Zito? Fat chance.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News is a little delusional.

Either that, or my man has been getting high on peyote, because in one of his recent articles he actually suggested that the Giants have to trade Barry Zito.

And the Giants have to very seriously consider trying to trade Zito to any suitable team that will take some of his money (Zito has a no-trade clause); or they have to think about releasing him in the off-season.

Of course, at the end of this season, Zito will still be owed a guaranteed $83 million. Which is a lot.

Releasing him in the offseason might be a viable (expensive, but viable) option with Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson tearing up the minor leagues and possibly being ready to join the big league club next year. But what team would be stupid enough to trade for Zito and take on some of his contract as Kawakami is suggesting? Even the win-at-all-cost, spend-at-all-cost Yankees wouldn’t touch Zito, especially with Roy Halladay on the market.

Truth be told, Zito hasn’t looked as bad this year as he has the previous two seasons. When he’s supplying souvenirs to the fans sitting in the left field bleachers, he can be serviceable as a fourth or fifth starter. Of course, he’ll still be the highest paid fourth or fifth starter in baseball history, but at least the Giants will be getting something back on their brutal investment.

Either way, nothing is going to happen this year. No team is going to trade for him and with Randy Johnson on the DL the Giants aren’t going to release Zito during the season, no matter how bad he pitches the rest of the way. They could potentially move him to the bullpen (which they tried to do for about a millisecond last year), but don’t forget that he’s typically a good second half pitcher and with the Giants in contention, they’d be better off rolling the dice and leaving him in the rotation.

Better yet while the Big Unit is on the DL, the Giants could pit Zito against Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Sadowski for the last two spots in the rotation. Loser either goes to the bullpen (Zito/Sanchez) or Triple-A (Sadowski).

Giants can’t be quick to trade Jonathan Sanchez now

If you were to have gotten Giants general manager Brian Sabean all liquored up in a private setting (I know you’re probably weirded out by the start of this sentence, but stay with me here) and asked him which players he wouldn’t mind giving up in a trade to acquire a bat, he almost certainly would have uttered this name: Jonathan Sanchez.

Hell, there’s a great chance he would have uttered that name first. But that was before Sanchez’s no-hitter against the Padres on Friday night, when he struck out 11 batters and was a Juan Uribe-error away from throwing a perfect game.

The Giants had been waiting for that kind of performance all season out of Sanchez. Granted, they weren’t expecting that good of a performance, but they did have high expectations for him coming into the 2009 season.

He did show flashes of brilliance earlier this season, most notably in a two-hit, 2-0 win over the Diamondbacks on April 17. But ’09 has mostly been a season of massive frustration for not only Sanchez, but also a Giants organization that had hoped the 26-year-old lefty would be the third leg of a tripod that also featured pitching sensations Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.

Sanchez has always been a strikeout pitcher, but for much of this season he struggled mightily with his control and he seemed to be racking up K’s only because he was wildly effective. And when he would start to struggle during games, he appeared to be a mental midget on the mound and could never recover.

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Giants’ Sanchez throws a no-hitter against Padres

A San Francisco Giants’ starter has thrown a no-hitter.

It must have been Tim Lincecum right?

Nope.

Matt Cain?

Nope.

Randy Johnson?!

Nope.

It wasn’t Barry Zito was it?

Absolutely not.

One night after Lincecum flirted with a similar feat, 26-year-old Jonathan Sanchez, coming off a recent demotion to the bullpen, threw a no-hitter against the Padres on Friday night as the Giants beat San Diego 8-0 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. It was the first no-hitter of the 2009 Major League season and the first Giants’ no-hitter since John Montefusco threw one in 1976.

In his nine innings of domination, Sanchez struck out 11 batters in obviously his most dominant performance of his career. He did allow a base runner, but it was due to a Juan Uribe fielding error in the eighth inning. Had Uribe not booted the play (he misplayed a bad in-between hop), Sanchez could have had a perfect game.

Speaking of fielding, Sanchez got an amazing gift from centerfielder Aaron Rowand in the ninth as he went back on a ball that was crushed by Edgar Gonzalez, leaped against the wall and made a terrific catch. Shortstop Edgar Renteria also made a fine play in the hole the play earlier.

What’s amazing is that Sanchez wasn’t even supposed to pitch tonight (relatively speaking, that is). He was taken out of the starting rotation at the end of June and replaced by Ryan Sadowski after he started the season 2-8 with a 5.54 ERA. But an injury to Johnson gave Sanchez a start tonight and he obviously took full advantage of it.

This was supposed to be Sanchez’s breakout season, but instead he struggled considerably with his control and would often get flustered after bad innings. His strikeout numbers have been consistently good, but he has been more wildly effective than anything. His name has even come up in numerous trade rumors, although considering Johnson’s injury and the fact that the Giants are in the thick of the NL Wild Card chase, they might hang onto Sanchez for the second half.

No matter what Sanchez’s future holds, this was an amazing accomplishment. The Padres don’t exactly have the most potent offense, but Sanchez isn’t exactly Cy Young either. He was absolutely phenomenal and for a young man who has had so many struggles this season, he deserved this tonight and maybe he’ll use this performance as a stepping-stone to turn things around and have a great career.

On a personal note, I was fortunate enough to watch every pitch of this game and it was absolutely thrilling as a baseball fan. They said on the broadcast that Sanchez’s dad, who had never seen his son pitch in the majors before tonight, flew to San Francisco yesterday to watch the game and was able to celebrate with Jonathan in the dugout afterward. It was a great scene.

Congratulations to Jonathan Sanchez.

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