What if… Randy Johnson never left the Seattle Mariners
There was big news in Seattle once the Seahawks started their rebuild after they traded Russell Wilson and released Bobby Wagner. I’m also huge fan of MLB The Show, and it’s one of the highlights of the Spring whenever it comes out. So, when news came out that Randy Johnson was finally going to be in the game, it brought up a bunch of memories and thoughts of The Big Unit back when he was on the Mariners.
Those two connected by forcing me back into the past, and thinking about the prime Mariners and faces of the franchise that left the team, like Randy Johnson.
Depending on when something comes into your life, and the age you are at, they can hold your heart in a different way than it might for others. In the 90s, my dad had the long hair and stern face like The Big Unit, and they were even the same height (my dad might’ve been a bit taller), so seeing someone out on the mound who was so similar to my dad was awesome. I loved watching him pitch, as did many other Mariners fans of all ages.
It also made me think, what if Randy Johnson never left the Mariners?
It’s 1998, and Randy Johnson is in the midst of his 10th season with the Mariners. He’s having a down year if you are only going off of W/L record and ERA, as he sits at 4.33 and 9-10. However, his FIP is 3.35, his BB rate is decent, and as always he is striking people out like crazy.
Whether it was money or a lack of communication and relationship with the front office (quite likely with that group back then), Randy was traded at the 98 deadline to Houston, and the team acquired Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama. Halama had one nice year, and Guillen and Garcia were good for quite a while.
However, Randy Johnson would go on to have one of the greatest runs by a starting pitcher… ever.
After going 10-1 in Houston with a 1.28 ERA in 84.1 innings and 116 Ks, Johnson would sign with the Diamondbacks. Those first four years in Arizona were something out of a video game. All the Bold numbers are what he led the league in. He also led the league in batters faced twice, WHIP once, H/9 once, SO once, and win% twice, all while never missing a start (139 total).
- 1999 – 271.2 IP, 2.48 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 17-9, 12 CG, 364 Ks, 184 ERA+, Cy Young
- 2000 – 248.2 IP, 2.64 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 19-7, 8 CG, 347 Ks, 181 ERA+, Cy Young
- 2001 – 249.2 IP, 2.49 ERA, 2.13 FIP, 21-6, 3 CG, 372 Ks, 188 ERA+, Cy Young (13.4 K/9)
- 2002 – 260.0 IP, 2.32 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 24-5, 8 CG, 334 Ks, 195 ERA+, Cy Young
- Total – 1030 IP, 2.48 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 1.044 WHIP, 81-27, 4 Cy Youngs, 1417 Ks, 187 ERA+
Now, imagine that he would’ve stayed in Seattle through all of this. Yeah, it means that the Mariners would have been able to have Garcia in the rotation (who in their right mind would want him over Randy Johnson) and that they would’ve needed a shortstop instead of Guillen. They could’ve played Mark McLemore there once A-Rod left, as he was sneaky good.
Do you know what else it means? That the team would’ve had Ichiro and Randy Johnson at the same time. That during that 2001 season, they would’ve had the Big Unit leading the way on the mound. IF, and it’s a large IF, he pitched the way he did in Seattle as he did for Arizona, Johnson might’ve broken the modern-day record for wins in a season.
I’m not kidding when I say that. The team had a +300 run differential that year and a Pythagorean W-L of 109-53. Robin Roberts had 28 in 1952, and Steve Carlton had 27 in 1977. Could Johnson have gotten into that range in 2001? With a fair amount of conviction and believability, I think that he could’ve. He averaged over 7 IPs per game, so a record of 28-5 or something similar doesn’t seem that crazy when you pair the Mariners offense and Randy Johnson’s dominance together.
It would’ve been incredible to see Randy Johnson stick around with the Mariners through all of this. He pitched until 2009, appearing in 11.5 seasons once he left the Mariners. I sit here and think of what could’ve been, and how important it is for Dipoto and crew to foster good relationships with the current Mariners going forward.