Starting pitcher Randy Johnson agreed to a one-year, $8 million contract with his hometown San Francisco Giants Friday, December 26. Johnson will likely finish his career in the City by the Bay as he strives to earn his 300th career victory; he currently is lodged at 295.
The Giants now have a rotation stacked with three Cy Young Award winners in five-time winner Johnson, 2002 American League recipient Barry Zito and last year's National League winner in Tim Lincecum.
At 45 years old, Johnson is rapidly approaching the status of a mythological immortal amongst baseball's growing collection of gods that have left their everlasting mark on the game. With the Giants, Johnson will be embarking on his 22nd season with his fifth Major League Baseball club in a career that spans back to the first time he took the mound for the Montreal Expos in 1988.
What makes the 6-foot-10, 225-pound left-hander so intriguing is the fact that at nearly a half-century old, he still produces the numbers of a 26-year-old hurler entering his prime.
With two back surgeries finally left in the dust, the stringy veteran made 30 starts in 2008. He finished 11-10 with 173 strikeouts, 44 walks, a 3.91 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP and a .260 opponents' batting average in 184 innings. He also added two complete games for good measure.
A true Giant
As age sets in, players' attributes tend to decrease as well. Johnson's fastball is nowhere near what it used to be, but as with many great pitchers, he has morphed into more of a complete hurler rather than a pure power arm.
In 2008, he posted 8.46 strikeouts per nine innings - his career mark is 10.67. He also notched a 3.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a number that was 66 points above his lifetime ratio of 3.27.
Johnson allowed hitters to post a .306 on-base percentage (OBP) against him in 2008, which was a mere nine points higher than his career mark of .297. He also conceded a .422 slugging percentage to opposing hackers, which was 73 points over his lifetime .349.
He also allowed opposing hitters to amass a .722 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) against him, which was 78 points above his lifetime .644 mark. Johnson's 2008 ERA (3.91) was also well above his career 3.26 mark, but his WHIP last season (1.24) was just slightly above his lifetime 1.17.
The increase in his numbers are a direct result of him not being as dominating as he used to be, but since the numbers aren't totally in the next stratosphere, it indicates that he has grasped the ageing process and learned to adapt to his strengths and thoroughly harness his pure talent as a big league pitcher. However, he's becoming increasingly vulnerable to contact.
His arrival to the team he grew up watching as a boy from nearby Walnut Creek, Calif. gives the Giants one of the deepest rotations in the NL West, if not the entire league. With another year under the belts of young promising hurlers Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, plus the veteran presence of Johnson and Zito, San Francisco has the ability to resoundingly surprise its vast array of naysayers.
San Francisco's AT&T Park has become friendlier to hackers in the last two years, especially when you consider the liquid welcome mat for hitters that pools over the right field wall. However, in seven career starts inside his new home, Johnson is 3-2 with 48 strikeouts, 14 walks, a 2.14 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and a .236 opponents' batting average in 46 1/3 innings.
Also, his former home, Chase Field, has ranked among the top hitters' parks in the majors in recent years. Though AT&T Park is trending more toward hitters in recent seasons, it favors hurlers slightly more than Johnson's old digs.
Another thing to consider in Johnson's transition is that he comes from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were tied for the fifth most errors amongst MLB teams with the Detroit Tigers with 113 in 2008. The Giants last year were tied with the Kansas City Royals for the 17th most with 96 miscues.
Fantasy baseball outlook
The 45-year-old Johnson can at best be a No. 4 fantasy starter as his name value could inflate his draft day position. It's only a matter of time before he breaks down for good and putters to a complete halt, but if you're looking for a depth starter test your luck on the classic. Just make sure you have contingency plans like drafting extra pitchers and compiling a list of waiver wire targets if you plan on selecting "The Unit."