July 6, 2003

JOHAN SANTANA, FREE!


When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"


--- Martin Luther King, I have a Dream

Freedom finally rang for Twins fans Saturday night.

Joe Mays gave up 5 runs in 3 innings against the Cleveland Indians, raising his season ERA to 6.57. After the game, the Twins announced that Mays was no longer a member of the starting rotation and he would instead be pitching out of the bullpen.

Beyond the freedom of Twins fans to not have to watch Joe Mays pitch every fifth day, the more important liberation that took place over the weekend is that of Johan Santana. Santana, aka "The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog," will take over Mays' spot in the rotation, starting with Friday's game against the Angels.

From what I can gather, this does not appear to be a short-term solution. Santana will initially be on a tight pitch-count but, assuming he doesn't pitch as poorly as Mays did, he will be in the rotation for good. This is obviously very good news for Twins fans and it makes me extraordinarily happy.

You see, for the better part of the last year, I have been stressing as much as humanly possible the need for Johan Santana to be in Minnesota's starting rotation. I devoted thousands and thousands of words to him, I have begged the Twins to free him constantly and I even set up a "Johan Santana Liberation Watch" to track his performances while he was imprisoned in the bullpen.

In fact, I just checked and, according to my archives, I have written an entry involving the name "Johan Santana" 72 different times, including today. This blog has only been around for 340 days total and that includes weekends, when I typically don't write new entries. So, by my estimation, I have devoted an entry to Johan Santana in some way on approximately 25% of the days I have been writing entries. That, my friends, is bordering on obsession!

Now, I come to find out that all it took for the Twins to commit to starting their best pitcher every fifth day was approximately 200 horrible innings from Joe Mays, spread over two seasons.

But hey, that is all behind us now and I want to focus on the positives and not the negatives. Sure, Mays has been an awful pitcher for two seasons now and he cost the Twins a ton of games during that time, but the important thing is that the right decision has finally been made and Johan Santana will finally get his chance in the starting rotation.

The expectations for Johan are no doubt very high. It's tough to avoid lofty expectations when I have been endlessly touting him and others have done the same. Is he going to step in and save the Twins' 2003 season? No. Is he going to be a hell of a lot better than Joe Mays? Yes.

Over the last 2 seasons, Johan has been allowed to make 17 starts for the Twins:

GS       IP      ERA      W     L

17 98.1 2.83 10 5

Now, compare those numbers to Joe Mays' stats from the same time period:

GS       IP      ERA      W      L

35 192.2 5.98 12 14

I see no reason why Santana can't spend the rest of this season as a starter and have an ERA somewhere in the 2.85-3.50 range. His ERA as a starter over the last 2 years is 2.83 and his overall ERAs during that time are 2.99 and 2.86.

Even if he struggles in his new role and posts a 3.85 ERA or a 4.05 ERA or something like that, it would be a massive improvement over Joe Mays and, the way Minnesota's starting pitching has been this year, would make him one of the best (if not the best) starter on the entire team.

I, for one, am very excited about the prospect of seeing Johan Santana start games on a permanent basis, instead of seeing him come into one after a Twins starter has gotten knocked around and yanked in the fourth inning, as has been the case so many times this season and last.

Good luck Johan and godspeed. If, for some reason, you blow this chance, who knows when you'll be freed again!

From now until the point Santana is no longer a full-time starter (hopefully sometime around 2020), the "Johan Santana Liberation Watch" will be replaced by the "Johan Santana Freedom Watch." The name isn't quite as catchy and it's not quite as fun, but I figure everyone will want to track his progress in games he starts this season and it'll definitely be more fun watching his strikeouts pile up as a free man.

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