Is Randy Johnson done?

One win shy of the 300 mark, many people are asking the question of questions: is Randy Johnson done? With regards to the big unit, is there any remaining or relevant value to either fantasy and real baseball teams alike? The minds over at Fangraphs think so.

So far this season, Johnson has posted career lows in ERA (5.71), FIP (4.68) and HR/9 (1.73). His BB/9 (3.27) is the worst its been in over a decade. Since his breakout season in 2003, Big Unit has only thrice posted a K/BB below 3 -- in 1994, with the Yankees (he previous career worst season) in 2006 and now this season. Furthermore, Johnson's BABIP of .321, though slightly unlucky (Career .302 BABIP), and 83% LOB (very lucky -- league average is 72%) is no sign of relief and better waters to come for those expecting a bounce back in Randy Johnson's numbers.

Even below the surface, the 45 year old strikeout pitcher, who is chasing his milestone mark in wins this season, seems to be on a rapid decline and on the quick train to retirement by the end of the season. All hope for recovery is lost and you should drop/salvage any value you can for Randy Johnson, right?


The Big Unit's slider may be down 1.5 MPH from two seasons ago, but the rest of his repetition is still in fine shape. Johnson's K/9 (9.35) has improved compared to last season (8.46 mark in 2008) and it is the second highest its been since 2004. The walks rate for the season may look "ugly" (if 3.29 BB/9 can truly be called ugly), but 13 of Johnson's 19 free passes this season came in the 19 innings (6.16 BB/9) he threw during the month of April. Since, the beginning of May, Johnson has walked just 6 in 33 IP (1.67 BB/9) and posted an unsustainably unlucky .394 BABIP (Big Unit's xBABIP for the season is .306). In fact, Big Unit's K/BB for the month of May has been a robust 5.5, nothing to sneer at.

But what about the home runs? Sure as rain, the long ball has been Randy Johnson's biggest enemy this season. With a HR/9 of 1.73, only a handful of pitchers (10 to be exact) have given up more homers per nine than Big Unit (and among them, we find the likes of Brett Myers (2.40) and Scott Baker (2.39)). However, Randy Johnson isn't exactly a flyball pitcher. In his long and illustrious career, 8 seasons of which he spent in the Arizona desert, Randy Johnson has never (before this season) given up more than 1.28 HR/9. Even in the home run inflating heat and humidity of Chase Field, Johnson's HR/9 rate remained within reason at an even 1.0 HR/9 (163 HR over 1630 IP on the Dbacks).

This season, Big Unit's GB/FB rate is up a full 33% (1.36, the highest since 2002), but the balls are still flying out of the yard with more frequency -- despite the move from hitter friendly Chase Field to the significantly more neutral AT&T park. This, combined with a 20% HR/FB rate (league average is 11%) screams one thing: Randy Johnson is getting ridiculously unlucky and is incredibly undervalued. The 4.68 FIP may be scary, but the 3.47 xFIP (which normalizes HR rates) is not.

Unlike Ricky Nolasco (4.3 xFIP), whom fantasy owners and fantasy analysts still believe in (thanks to a 3+ K/BB and .400 BABIP) and value (believe me, I've tried aggressively to acquire him), Randy Johnson is getting no confidence from anyone (including ZiPS, who predicts a 4.63 ERA and 1.43 HR/9 rate going forward).

If there's anyone in baseball whose bound to get better and can be had at a deep discount, it's Randy Johnson.


Sexy Rexy said...

where do you find these xBABIP and xFIP stats?

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

xBABIP is approx. LD%+.120, but there is a more advanced formula available on the hardball times that is SIGNIFICANTLY more accurate and corrolatory.

xFIP is available on THT as well.