Randy Johnson doesn’t think it’s fair to compare Chris Sale to himself.
That’s because Johnson, who will enter the Hall of Fame later this summer, didn’t enjoy the kind of success Sale — who told USA Today he looked up to Johnson growing up — is having in his mid-20’s.
"I'm flattered that he thinks of me that way,'' Johnson told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. "But considering the fact he's just 26, he's light years away from where I was at that age. I didn't have that kind of success that early. I didn't have that control.”
Johnson made his major league debut as a 24-year-old with Montreal in 1988 and in 1989, his first full season, he walked 96 in 160 2/3 innings with a 4.82 ERA. In 1990, Johnson issued a league-leading 120 walks, though he was more effectively wild that year for the Mariners, posting a 3.65 ERA in his age-26 season.
In Johnson’s first 406 1/3 innings in the majors (between his age 24 and 26 seasons) he walked 223 batters. Sale, in 748 2/3 innings since debuting as a 21-year-old in 2010, has issued 190 walks.
The Sale-Johnson comparison is largely based on their tall, lanky builds, power fastballs and biting sliders. Johnson led the league in walks in 1991 (152) and 1992 (144), too, before getting his command under control by about his age 30 season.
That’s when Johnson’s career took off. From 1999-2002, Johnson won the Cy Young every year and averaged a 20-7 record, 258 innings, 354 strikeouts and a 2.48 ERA per season.
Johnson’s 12 complete games in 1999 were the most in baseball — and even though that was only 16 years ago, it was a different era. Sale led the American League with four complete games in 2013.
Sale has established himself as one of baseball’s best pitchers over the last four seasons, compiling a 2.82 ERA with 719 strikeouts in 654 1/3 innings since being moved from the White Sox bullpen to starting rotation in 2012. He’s earned bids to three consecutive All-Star games and finished in the top six in AL Cy Young voting from 2012-2014.
“He’s right up there with Johnson,” manager Robin Ventura, who faced “The Big Unit” 45 times in his career, said. “We do that because he’s left-handed but he’s right up there with any of those guys.”
Over Sale’s last four starts, he’s racked up 49 strikeouts against four walks in 30 2/3 innings. Narrow that down to his last three starts, and he joined Dodgers great Sandy Koufax as the only pitcher since 1900 to have 12 or more strikeouts and allow fewer than two runs in three consecutive starts.
Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson. Those are pretty lofty left-handers to be compared to, but Sale’s doing his part to justify it.
"If I had to name the best five pitchers in the game, he’s one of them for sure,” Johnson told USA Today, “right along with Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez. He's just a very dominating pitcher right now."