For a lot of people, Randy Messenger threw his last pitch on October 4th, 2009 with the Seattle Mariners. That was the day he walked off a Major League Baseball mound for the last time. Were this many years ago I could forgive people for thinking Messenger’s career ended on that day. It’s not though, it’s the year 2019 when it is easy to figure out that the tall righty from Nevada went on to have a great career in Japan.
The former Mariner arrived in Japan for the 2010 season. He had a rocky first year for his new team, the Hanshin Tigers. There were performance issues, and his command appeared to have completely deserted him. Come the next season Messenger would establish himself as one of the top pitchers in the Central League. He would hold onto that status until the beginning of this season. The key to Messenger’s turnaround was his decision to trust his ability to locate more.
When he first started playing in Nippon Professional Baseball Messenger had the look of a pitcher who expected his raw stuff to dominate lineups. That didn’t happen, because while Messenger’s raw stuff is good it’s not any better than what the rest of NPB has to offer. When Messenger was able to take it to another level was when he finally realized that to succeed in Japan he needed to pitch and not just throw. He became a pitcher who approached hitters methodically, working them over with his repertoire of pitches. His career NPB K/9 of 8.3 may not wow, but he still managed to use his improved control to have multiple seasons at or near the top of the strikeout leaderboard.
Big Mess ended his NPB career with a 3.13 ERA, 17 complete games, 1,474 strikeouts, and 1.230 WHIP. DeltaGraphs has only tracked dWAR since 2014. From that point until Messenger’s last full year, 2018, he contributed a total dWAR of 23.7. He was top 10 among pitchers in dWAR every single one of those years. Using dWAR as the barometer, his best season was 2014 when in 208.1 innings he had 226 strikeouts, a 3.20 ERA, and a FIP- of 76 for a total dWAR of 5.7.
Throughout his tenure in NPB Messenger was never thought of as the best pitcher in the league. In many ways, his performance was emblematic of Messenger as a person. His quiet and understated approach led to great results but also meant he was usually outshined by a few other pitchers. Never the flashiest or most dazzling pitcher, Messenger simply got the job done at an elite level for a Tigers team that desperately needed a pitcher like him. The only way Messenger’s career didn’t live up to his own expectations is that he never brought a title to Nishinomiya. He came close in 2014, but ultimately lost to a dominant Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks team. Messenger lost the deciding game 5, but it was a loss where he gave up 1 run in 8 innings. Even in defeat, Messenger was the pitcher the Tigers needed him to be.
Messenger toed the rubber for 10 years in Japan, all with the Tigers organization. His last pitch came on September 12th, 2019. He was down on the Tigers’ Western League farm club trying to work his way back from an injury. As had been the case much of this year Messenger just couldn’t find the competitive gear that had served him so well for many seasons. When he kenw it was time Messenger quietly stepped away from the game. That game is a little bit less now that the 38-year-old is no longer on the mound.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Kyodo News