Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Unit - ty!


The New York papers are filled with articles heralding the demise of "The Big Unit". Apparently Randy Johnson is done according to the New York press. He's been smacked around in his last four starts and abused by the likes of Mark Loretta and so the Yankees (who owe him approximately $28 million over the next two years), appear to be stuck with an ace who has lost his stuff.

There a couple of things to consider when it comes to Randy. First of all he's almost 43 years old. Most premiere athletes lose their dominant ability in their late thirties. He had managed to maintain that ability into his forties. Secondly, he's clearly been blessed with almost supernatural ability. Most normal humans cannot throw the ball 100 MPH and certainly most of us cannot throw that hard into our middle aged years. Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens are pretty much the only people that come to mind.

So we don't have a lot of history to fall back on as to whether he has hit some kind of wall or not. Nolan Ryan was throwing as hard in his forties as he was in his twenties. His demise came from injuries to his legs. His arm never gave out. In fact, I'm sure that Nolan Ryan could throw 90 today even though he's pushing 60. Roger had one of his best years in 2005 and I'm sure the batters he faced would say that he hadn't lost anything off his fastball. He had added a split fingered fastball to his arsenal over the years and that allowed him to be just as effective as he had been in his younger years.

So what's the answer for Randy? His arm is clearly sound (The Yankees gave him an MRI after his last start to prove that to him), he still throws in the mid nineties and I'm sure can still touch 100 on a good day. Does he have to come up with another pitch, like Clemens? I think it's a little too late for him to start experimenting with another pitch (and he already throws a split fingered fastball; just not with the success that Clemens does). The truth is that I don't know what the answer is. I just know that his arm still posses more ability than 95% of pitchers in the major leagues.

The Yankees pitching coach, Ron Guidry, is working with Randy to try and correct the problem. I'm fairly confident that they will be able to make him into a successful pitcher again. Will he be the dominant, intimidating pitcher that he once was? I don't know, but I don't think that's necessary for him to be successful. He has to learn to trust his stuff again. I was at Yankee stadium when Tom seaver won his 300th game. He wasn't the power pitcher he used to be, but that didn't matter. He knew how to get hitters out. Randy is more than capable of making that transition. Perhaps he'll never strike out 20 in a game or throw a perfect game again, but remember you heard it here first; He will be an effective starter again.

Of course this may just be all wishful thinking on my part, but honestly, I really don't think so.

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