Why Randy Johnson May Have Saved Jonathan Sanchez' Career

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IJuly 12, 2009

Let's just be honest, nobody around baseball figured Jonathan Sanchez would be the first San Francisco Giant to throw a no-hitter since 1976.

If anyone was willing to venture a guess, the most likely Giant would be either Tim Lincecum or perhaps Matt Cain. Even double-A prospects Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson were more likely to throw a no-hitter than Jonathan Sanchez.

But, a good chunk of credit has to be given to Randy Johnson, the pitcher in which Sanchez most closely emulates on the Giants' roster.

Therefore, it doesn't seem too surprising that the first Giant to throw a no-hitter since 1976 most closely emulates a pitcher who has thrown two no-hitters of his own, one of which was a perfect game.

In fact, Sanchez' performance could not have been better. He induced every single hitter he faced in what should have been 27 hitters and 27 outs without a single batter reaching base.

From a pitching perspective, that is perfect. Only an error from Juan Uribe in the eighth inning prevented the perfect game.

But in examining the gem that Sanchez threw on Friday night, one cannot help but make parallels to the great Randy "Big Unit" Johnson.

It would be one thing if it were just the simple fact that Randy Johnson went on the disabled list allowing Sanchez back into the rotation. However, that doesn't make an intriguing story.

Not only was Sanchez starting on a day that was meant for fans to see the 300-game winner start, but the way in which their careers are freakishly similar.

In Johnson's case, his first team gave up on him due to his wildness in two short stints during 1988 and 1989. The current 300 game winner went 0-4 in just six starts to start 1989 and had an era of 6.67 before being traded to the Seattle Mariners.

After being traded, Johnson went 7-9 in 22 starts for Seattle, and brought his season era down to 5.13 but a final win-loss record of 7-13.

Meanwhile, last season was Sanchez' first full season as starter. His 2008 numbers were as such: 9-12, with a 5.01 era.

In fact, Sanchez had more strikeouts in his first season as starter (157) and less walks (75) than Johnson's (130) and (96).

However, Johnson followed up his first year as starter with an enormous jump in production.

In 1990, in his second year as a big league starter, the 6' 10" lefty threw his first career no-hitter on June 2nd against the Detroit Tigers. On the year, Johnson finished with a 14-11 record and a tremendously improved 3.65 ERA.

And wouldn't you know it; Jonathan Sanchez just threw his first no-hitter in his second season as a starter.

Coincidence? Maybe, but why not take a look at some more numbers?

With the no-hitter, Sanchez dropped his season era from 5.54 to 4.69 in just one start. If he can figure out some consistency, it’s not too far-fetched to think that Sanchez could drop the number down to Johnson's 3.65 or even better.

The Giants' young lefty may not reach the 14 wins that Johnson posted in his second season, but the overall numbers come the end of the year may end up being drastically similar.

But not only do the numbers match-up, the styles are nearly dead on as well.

With the exception of Johnson having eight inches and 36 pounds on the young lefty, their repertoires of pitches are nearly identical.

Both throw in the mid-to-high 90's, both are left-handed, both have a devastating slider, and both have an odd delivery that makes it difficult for opposing hitters to pickup the ball.

The only real difference between them is that Johnson is 19 years further along the path than Sanchez, including 287 more victories.

However, not only is there a pitcher out there who is the perfect role model for a player like Sanchez, but this year they are teammates.

Kudos to Giants GM Brian Sabean, and for those who know me, I don't give kudos to Sabean very often.

But despite Sanchez's struggles, Randy Johnson has been able to talk to him throughout the year, as the "Big Unit" declared on the post game that Jonathan was the pitcher he’s talked to "the most on the team."

Johnson has gone through these struggles already, and his presence may have just saved the career of a pitcher who might just end up following a similar path.

To paraphrase what Giants post-game Analyst J.T. Snow said after Friday night's no-hitter, "Lefty's with this type of stuff don't just fall out of the sky."

Well, since they don't fall out the sky, then good thing Brian Sabean decided to keep him grounded.

Only time will tell if Sanchez can consistently pitch at the big-league level, and as one of his most critical fans, I still have my reservations on whether or not he has the composure to do it.

But, even though he is nowhere near 300 wins, for one article and one article only, Sanchez deserves to be compared to the future hall of famer, and 300 game winner, Randy Johnson (aka Randy Unit Big Johnson).


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