In my mind, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan are linked. Why? Partly because of this story:
Although his final numbers did not suggest it, Randy finally started pitching the way everyone knew he could. Mired in a losing streak, he sought the advice of some legendary flamethrowers, including Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. The 45-year-old Ryan, in his next-to-last season with the Rangers, mentioned to Randy that he was landing on his heel when he strode toward home plate and that he might try landing on his foot. Texas pitching coach Tom House concurred. This, they said, might be the key to the consistency that had eluded him.
After tinkering for a couple of weeks, everything began falling into place. At one point, Randy hit 102 mph on the radar. With his fastball hitting spots and his curve and slider bending over the corners, Randy finished the year strong. Over his final 11 starts he was 5-2 with a 2.65 ERA, giving up a mere 47 hits while averaging 10-plus strikeouts a game. His last start was an eight-inning performance against the Texas Rangers in which he fanned 18.
And, partly because Ryan is the greatest right-handed strike out pitcher of all-time and Johnson is the greatest left-handed strike out pitcher of all-time.
Now, what is becoming interesting is the way that both Ryan and Johnson pitched in the seasons where they were ages 40 and 41 – and then how Ryan did at ages 42 and 43.
In 1987, at the age of 40, Nolan Ryan had a great pitching season for a team that finished 14 games out of first place.
In 2004, at the age of 40, Randy Johnson had a great pitching season for a team that finished 42 games out of first place.
In 1988, at the age of 41, Nolan Ryan had one of his worst seasons ever – in terms of his pitching effectiveness. By many standards, he was a below average pitcher that year.
And, we know how Randy Johnson has been this season, where he is 41-years-old, in terms of his pitching effectiveness.
So, how did Nolan Ryan do after that 1988 season? Well, in 1989, at the age of 42, Ryan was one of the ten best starters in the American League. And, in 1990, at the age of 43, while Ryan was not as good as he was in 1989, he was still one of the more effective starting pitchers in the league.
Therefore, history shows us that it is possible for a 41-year-old “future Hall of Famer” power pitcher who is having a so-so year to comeback and pitch effectively the next season, and the one after that.
Will this happen to Randy Johnson in 2006 and 2007? While I would not bet on it, I will root for it. And, if Johnson can be a good pitcher for the Yankees after this season, I would not be shocked.