Tuesday, December 26, 2006
the end of you:
Do it, Brian. Get rid of Randy Johnson. Make it a dignified end. Johnson went 17-11 last season, but with a 5.00 ERA, he probably would have only won, say, 12 games had he not had the offensive explosion of the Yankees carrying him. He's proven himself too far past his prime to be an ace. His six-inning no-hitter in August was as impressive as the way he blew it was heartbreaking. A rotation of Pettitte, Igawa, Mussina, and Wang is a hell of a good one, and chances are we have to start Pavano just so we can shop him around. Of the four real starters, who would you bench for a 43-year old RJ coming off of back surgery and acting surly in the clubhouse?

I passed by Fenway as I took a cab to South Station on Sunday. I'll admit it: it was impressive, and I was filled with respect for the house of my enemy. But it now plans to nurture a rotation of Matsuzaka, Papelbon and Beckett, with Lester -- get well soon, man; seriously -- iffy, no bullpen to speak of and Mike Timlin closing. It makes a lot of sense to unload Johnson's contract and put him back on a club like Arizona, where he can be a sentimental favorite, earn a dignified retirement and improve the rotation. The only losers here are the proper losers: the Boston Red Sox.
--Spencer Ackerman
Word. Time to part ways with Randy. The loss of bad attitude alone should buoy things a bit.
Blogger Eric Martin | 2:21 PM

Joel, I have to say, this analysis doesn't make much sense. The numbers crunching is typically granular, but what it adds up to -- particularly RJ's walk & hit rate with runners on -- is that the guy is unusually, um, "unlucky" with runners on. If we're arguing that Johnson's ERA should be more like a 4.00 than a 5.00, that still doesn't get you number-one-starter status, especially if we're being asked to discount his abysmal recent habit of pitching himself into extra-bases trouble.

Look at the guy's last three seasons: http://www.baseball-reference.com/j/johnsra05.shtml
His innings-pitched declines; his strikeout total falls; his ERA and walk total rises. This is to be expected in a declining pitcher. And he's still good, if not great. But the question is, after sinking so much into RJ and getting less than expected, why not try to cut our losses?
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 4:00 PM

Because if a pitcher yields an unusually high number of hits per balls hit into play during one season, you very, very commonly (almost without exception, really) see that pitcher regress to the mean and improve a lot the year after. (See Bill James on Voros McCracken.)

And (ahem) "Year two-thouu-sand! Clap, clap, clap-clap clap!" Schilling, Dice-K (never thrown in MLB but c'mon), Paps (500 ERA+ last season, park adjusted), Wake and Beckett is nobody's definition of "iffy."
Blogger Unknown | 12:24 PM

"Because if a pitcher yields an unusually high number of hits per balls hit into play during one season, you very, very commonly (almost without exception, really) see that pitcher regress to the mean and improve a lot the year after."

Jack, I've just gotta wonder how well that rule holds for pitchers in their early to mid-40s. At a certain point in a player's career, regression towards his career mean has to be less likely than regression, period.
Blogger low-tech cyclist | 1:12 PM

Well said, Rufus, however I must offer a clarification: Pitchers of Johnson's age do get worse, but the way pitchers of any age tend to get worse is by losing their power and control---walking more batters, striking out fewer, serving up more meat pitches that get hit hard. You can measure this decline in BB, K and HR, and aging pitchers typically see regress in one or more, and especially strikeouts. Groundball pitchers don't typically become flyball pitchers in mid-career, so the ratio of hits per balls hit into play usually reflects quality of defense and chance variations, not the quality of the pitcher.

And in fact when you identify pitchers who have hits/balls-in-play ratios that differ from the rest of their teams' pitchers, it's typically a fluke thing that does not remain constant the next year.

Look at Johnson between 1998 and 2002 (2003 was a shortened season for Johnson): Each season featured more than 300 Ks, 20-30 HR, and about 75 BB. Then see the last two seasons: 211/32/47 in 2005 and 172/28/60 in 2006. What doesn't change is total number of hits: 194 in 2006 (5.01 ERA) and 197 in 2002 (2.32 ERA). Johnson's age is showing up in fewer strikeouts, not in balls in play suddenly turning into hits more often---if anything, he's getting more fielding outs because he can't rely on the strikeout as much.

There's no question that Johnson is a worse pitcher than he was five years ago. But it's likely---very likely, in fact---that this particular aspect of his pitching (yielding more hits with runners on than you'd expect) is a function of poor luck. His extension during his windup is visibly worse, so you might be able to argue that he has a problem pitching out of the stretch that explains the variance. But it's a really tenuous correlation, since you would expect that to hurt him in the full windup just as much, and you don't.

Okay, end pedantic rant.
Blogger Unknown | 2:38 PM