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Worst of the Best: Randy Johnson’s Lost Year with the Yankees and 5.00 ERA

Interesting

Previously: Ted Williams.

When you hear the name Randy Johnson, your mind immediately envisions an intimidating mound presence who delivered a terrifying fastball and wicked slider (or a pigeon with the worst timing).

The Big Unit was a 300-game winner who struck out 4,875 batters, won a World Series ring and took home five Cy Young awards en route to being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.

He also put up a 5.00 ERA for baseball’s most storied franchise.

*record scratch*

Wait. What?


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The year was 2006 and Johnson, 42, was in his second season with the Yankees – who acquired him in January 2005, in an attempt to boost a starting rotation that couldn’t put away the Boston Red Sox with a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS three months earlier.

2006 Line: 17-11, 5.00 ERA, 205 IP, 172 K, 60 BB, 194 H, 10 HBP

Winning 17 games is nothing to sneeze at, but how many of those wins were truly deserved when your ERA is at 5.00? More importantly, how do you end up with an ERA of 5.00 when you’re one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time?

Let’s find out.

For one thing, clean-up hitters knocked Johnson around to the tune of a .407/.443/.849/1.292 slash line. Yes, you read that right. Batters in the fourth spot slugged .849 against a pitcher who limited opponents to a .353 SLG% in his career. The Big Unit also gave up his fair share of big home runs, 28 to be exact – the third highest single-season total of his career.


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And while allowing home runs to Frank Thomas, Carlos Beltran, and Manny Ramirez is forgivable, you know something has gone terribly wrong when you allow long balls to Damon Hollins (28 career home runs), Jason Michaels (59), Eli Marrero (66) and Omar Infante (82) too.

On the other hand, if you’re Antonio Perez and one of your six Major League home runs came against Randy Johnson, you might just cherish that memory for a lifetime. And yet, that’s not even the most unexpected of homers Johnson has allowed. This is. But it wasn’t just sluggers and homers doing him in:

The 2006 season was very un-clutch for Johnson as well.

Johnson allowed opponents to hit .346/.414/.590/1.004 with runners in scoring position and two outs. The high-leverage numbers are painful to look at too, with opposing batters slashing .361/.402/.567/.969. And slow starts, well those were common place.

22 earned runs in the first innings of 33 different starts left Johnson with a first-inning ERA of 6.00 in 2006. He also posted a 5.99 ERA and 1.425 WHIP in 18 starts against teams with winning records – how could that happen to the 2001 World Series co-MVP.


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In hindsight, perhaps we should have seen this two-year funk coming from Day 1 as Johnson didn’t get off to a great start in New York as he shoved a cameraman on his first day in the Big Apple.

Ironic, considering he has taken to photography since retiring from baseball in 2009. And go figure, the images he has captured are quite good.

Definitely better than his 2006 season with the Yankees, that is for sure.


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