How Will Randy Johnson Perform in 2008?

The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired one front line starter this winter in Dan Haren. If The Big Unit's back allows him to make 30 starts in 2008, it will seem as though the D-Backs gained two top starters. But how likely is Johnson to remain healthy and effective all year long?

Randy Johnson is 44-years old and coming off of back surgery.  Those are two great reasons to question his ability to take the bump every fifth day.  On the other hand, Johnson has had back issues for at least two years now.  While he only made 10 starts last season, in 2006, he won pitched over 200 innings and won 17 games despite an ailing back. 

One might think that his offseason corrective surgery should make him more effective than he was in 2006 and more durable than he was in 2007.  Can the Diamondbacks pencil The Big Unit in for 150 innings and a sub-4.00 ERA? 

"I'm not saying we can count on him," wavered manager Bob Melvin.  "Based on what we saw last year for a particular time, he was very, very good. One of the reasons that he had the surgery earlier is so he could go through a regular Spring Training and have that much more time to recover.  So I think he's kind of cautiously optimistic right now.  Whether or not we can count on him for 32 starts, we'll see. But you know, he showed last year when he was healthy and pitching that he was still a dominating guy."

The Big Unit foreshadows
his future back trouble

Indeed, Johnson went through a three-start stretch in May in which he fanned 25 batters in 17.2 innings, surrendering just two runs, nine hits, and no bases on balls.  Those were the first three of his four victories for the season, and his only starts away from Chase Field.  Making this stretch even more impressive is that two of these starts occurred in the league's most renown hitter's parks (Coors Field and Citizen's Bank Ballpark) and one occurred in a stadium that heavily favors right-handed hitters (PNC Park), which is usually all that Randy Johnson faces. 

Left-handers went 6-for-33 with one homer and a walk against Johnson last season.  For his career, less than 12% of his total batters faced hit left-handed.  Those who did generally regretted doing so, as they have combined for a .195 batting average and a .286 slugging average.

Of course, park effects are partly neutralized by high-strikeout pitchers like Johnson.  Should this power southpaw combine with finesse lefty Doug Davis, groundball artist Brandon Webb, power right-hander Micah Owings, and the well-rounded Dan Haren, the Arizona Diamondbacks would have the most balanced starting rotation in all of baseball.

Prediction:  There are just too many things that can go wrong with a pitcher of Randy Johnson's age and build for him to make 30 starts or to pitch 200 innings, despite the legendary durability that he has displayed for most of his career.  He will still toss some great games for the Diamondbacks this year, but it's unlikely that the money and prospects the team invested to acquire him will seem fair compensation for his 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Final Line: 7-4, 110.3 IP, 123 strikeouts      

Assuming Johnson indeed makes fewer than 20 starts, who will pick up the balance?  What happens if our prediction is generous?  What if another starter gets hurt?  Premium subscribers can explore the backup fifth starter situation.


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