When you look back upon the long history of strikeout artists in MLB history, a few names pop up a lot. Guys like Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Steve Carlton, and many more. But the one man who always seems to be glossed over in conversation is none other than the Big Unit himself.
*Quick Disclaimer* I’m not saying that Randy Johnson is overlooked, underrated, or anything of that nature. Statistically, he is a top 5 pitcher all time. But, think about it, you always forget about him. “Who were the best pitchers of the 1990s?” You would probably say names like Pedro, Clemens, Maddux, maybe even David Cone and Kevin Brown before you got to Randy Johnson. He was lost in the shuffle in an era he flat out dominated.
Well, during one of my spells of boredom I began to wonder, “How good was Randy Johnson?” And, as it turns out, he was very VERY good.
For this look back in time, I’m going to be focussing on the five-year stretch from 1998 to 2002, AKA the greatest five-year peak in pitching history. Now, before you Pedro fans come in my mentions and say “PEDRO FROM ‘97 TO ‘03 WAS WAY BETTER”. First off, relax—I love Pedro, too, and am not questioning his greatness. Secondly, Pedro was in his late 20s. The same thing goes for Greg Maddux from 1992 to 1995. Maddux was shredding the league in his late 20s.
Randy Johnson was 38 in 2002. He was putting up the greatest string of strikeout seasons in his late 30’s. At an age when most guys, especially Johnson’s size, should be deteriorating, Johnson was only getting better.
Starting in 1998, where Johnson was traded from the Mariners to the Astros at the deadline, He embarked on a stretch where, for five straight years, he would never have less than 320 strikeouts, 11.5 K’s per 9, 240 innings pitched, 17 wins, or a FIP higher than 3.00.
He was in his 30’s, and he was leading the league in almost all of these categories each and every season.
After signing with the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999, Johnson would take his freakish dominance into the stratosphere. For four straight years, he led the league in strikeouts, ERA+, and strikeouts per 9. For three straight years, he led the league in FIP. In all four years, Johnson would eclipse 240 innings, and lead the league with 260 innings pitched at the age of 38. Imagine if Jered Weaver came out of retirement and lead the league in innings pitched. Now imagine that he did that two years in the future because Jered Weaver is only 36 years old and that really puts into perspective how mind-boggling Johnson’s feats were.
He won 4 consecutive Cy Youngs, won a World Series, and was named World Series Co-MVP along with Curt Schilling. He won three ERA titles, averaged 12.3 K’s per 9 over the five years, and earned 4 all star nods. Between 1998 and 2002, Johnson would eclipse 1700 strikeouts. That’s in a 5 year period. Clay Buchholz has been pitching for 12 years and has yet to break 1000.
He was purely dominant. And should’ve been collecting social security.
If I really wanted to make a claim I could say that Randy Johnson’s 12 year stretch from 1992 until 2004, where he won another Cy Young and finished in the top five a whopping 9 times and racked up over 3000 strikeouts, is the greatest run in history, but that would require a lot of research.
It’s indisputable how much of a killer Randy Johnson was in his prime. He was a snarling, 6-foot 10-inch, 100-mph-throwing, bird-killing nightmare.
Photo: Rob Schumacher/Azcentral sports