|This season has been filled with examples of aging pitchers finding their stride and showing up their younger competition. Schilling, Maddux, Mussina, and Glavine all have ERAs lower than the likes of young Zito, Santana or Smoltz. Batters are hitting just .220 off Mussina, .196 off Glavine, and .240 off Schilling. Even Kenny Rogers is 6-2 with a 3.23 ERA this season! These are guys that seemed past their prime last year, yet this year they are leading their respective teams with their off-speed pitches and carefully cultivated patience.
Then, of course, there’s Randy Johnson. 2006 has not proved kind to Ol’ Unit. Though he started the season with a win, we haven’t seen much more than a glimmer of the greatness that used to surround Randy Johnson. His last 4 starts (against the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Red Sox, and A’s) have been miserable—he has a 7.17 ERA in those 4 games—and his season ERA is now up to 5.13. He hasn’t had a worse April-May since his last year with the Mariners back in 1998, when he ended up going 9-10 in 23 games with a 4.66 ERA before being traded to Houston.
The good news is that everyone has slumps, even Randy Johnson, and he was able to turn around his 1998 season after having a similarly slow start (he finished the year with a 3.28 ERA and won 10 games in Houston). He has proved his talent year after year and has earned the respect of most every batter he has faced in his long career.
The bad news, of course, is that no pitcher can dominate forever. Randy will be turning 43 in September, an age at which many fastball hurlers’ careers are long over. His fastball has slowed and his off-speed pitches have been erratic; even sadder is the fact that he’s no longer able to intimidate opposing batters just by being “The Unit”. Does he have it in him to adjust to his advancing age and the accompanying physical limitations a la Maddux and Glavine? Or is it time to hang up the size XXXXL jersey and take his place in Cooperstown? It’s only May, and the Unit has defied the odds before. Our fingers are crossed for one final comeback.