From 1990 to 1992, Randy Johnson led the American League in walks three years in a row. In 1991 he ranked fourth, in 1992 he ranked eighth, and he never again finished in the top 10. By 1999, Johnson’s walk total was less than half his 1992 total, despite the fact he threw 60 more innings.
When he announced his retirement this week, Johnson talked about his progress as a pitcher, and his story reminds me of the Yankees’ 6-foot-10, first-round pick Andrew Brackman.
“It took me a while to understand my mechanics, to understand there’s a reason why there’s only been a handful of pitchers over 6-8, 6-9 that have ever had any kind of success in this game,” Johnson said. “This isn’t a tall man’s sport. Basketball is. Pitching, you have to have all of your parts move all at the same time or have some sense of rhythm out there. Early in my career I didn’t have that and I didn’t understand that. here would be a game when I’d go out and dominate, and then five days later I’d go out and walk seven batters and be out after three innings because I’ve already gotten to my pitch count.”
Brackman struggled last season. Coming back from surgery, his numbers in Low-A Charleston were awful, but it might not be time to give up on him just yet. Beyond the surgery — and the fact he was not a fulltime baseball player in college — Brackman has the added hurdle of being enormous. Pitching is about repetition, and it’s tough to repeat with so many oversized moving parts. Brackman might need time to work through those issues.
It’s a bit absurd to expect that he’ll ever be as good as Johnson, but it might be equally absurd to give up on him after one bad year.
“It took a lot of work on my part of work on those things in the bullpen and in games and in spring training,” Johnson said. “But eventually things kind of came together and instead of fighting myself, I was able to put everything that I had into the pitch and know where it was going.”