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Monday, June 21, 2010

Way too soon to bury Johan Santana

Johan Santana's velocity is down and he's not the pitcher he was a few years ago. But he's still pitched well this season, and the Post's Kevin Kernan has no business pointing to Santana's won-loss record to argue that he's no longer an ace:

[CC] Sabathia moved to 8-3. Florida's Josh Johnson upped his record to 8-2 with a 1.80 ERA. Those are ace numbers. If Santana (5-4) and the offense came through yesterday, the Mets would have produced an 8-1 road trip.

Santana has four games this year in which he has pitched at least seven innings and given up no earned runs - and only ended up with a no-decision. Think about that - four games, 29 innings (he went eight innings in one of the games) NO runs and NO wins. If Santana had won three of those games, he would have eight wins, just like Sabathia and Johnson.

Santana's 3.31 ERA and 1.22 WHIP are good numbers, but not quite ace material. But they compare favorably with the numbers so far for two-time defending Cy Young Tim Lincecum (3.11 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) and Braves phenom Tommy Hanson (3.38 ERA, 1.22 WHIP).

Santana's numbers are actually pretty good, with one big exception - strikeouts. Santana is striking out only 5.69 batters per nine innings, down from 7.9 in each of his first two seasons in New York, and way down from 9.7 in his last season in Minnesota. Lincecum's 2010 K/9 is 10.29, Hanson's is 9.36 and Sabathia's is 7.36.

In April, Santana struck out 28 in 30 1/3 innings - an ace pace. In May, he struck out 26 in 41 innings, a more mixed result. But in June, Santana has only struck out 8 in 26 2/3 innings, while also walking 12.

Santana had a great month in April but has been mediocre in June, for overall good results. It's way too early to dismiss him for the year, much less for his career.

Will Santana end up being worth his contract? Probably not. But most long-term pitching contracts work out a lot worse than Santana's has so far. In fact, you don't have to look any farther than the two other starting pitchers the Mets gave big contracts to in the last few years in the last few years - Pedro Martinez and Oliver Perez.

Something to think about when debating over whether to mortgage the farm system to rent Cliff Lee.

1 comment:

Uncle Mike said...

Lack of run support happens to the best of pitchers. I did a piece about that on my own blog, citing some big names, including Nolan Ryan, who, in the year I cited, pitched a complete-game three-hitter, at age 40, with me and 58,000 others in the house, and still lost, 2-1.

Johan Santana is still one of the top ten pitchers in baseball. But in this just-completed series, he did not pitch as well as CC Sabathia, or Phil Hughes (famously NOT traded for him), or Hisanori Takahashi, or (arguably) Javier Vazquez or Mike Pelfrey, both of whom pitched very well in defeat.

The Mets do need to hit better for him. But Met fans also need to consider that they are not getting what their team paid for: A difference-maker. Sabathia turned out to be a difference-maker. Today, on WFAN, Mike Francesa said that Santana was the best 2nd-half pitcher in baseball. No, he's not. Has Sports Pope seen CC in the 2nd half the last few years?

It's time to face the facts: Johan Santana has not -- yet -- been what the Mets thought they were getting. The difference between one of baseball's Top 10 pitchers, and one of its Top 3, is bigger than you might think. And getting him more runs might not make all of that difference.