March 1, 2004

Fixing What Ain't Broken


Gentlemen, we can rebuild him.

We have the technology.

We can make him better than he was before.

Better. Stronger. Faster.


--- The Six Million Dollar Man

Jim Souhan had a nice feature on The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog, Johan Santana, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune over the weekend. In it, he discusses how Santana pitched through elbow problems last year, on his way to going 12-3 with a 3.07 ERA.

Here's how the article starts:

Johan Santana held his hands out, palms down. He rotated his right wrist 180 degrees, until his palm faced up. He rotated his left wrist 70 degrees, then stopped.

"This," he said, "is how far I could turn my hand last year."

Then he turned his left hand palm up. "This," Santana said, "is how far I can turn it now."

If Santana truly pitched most of last season with an elbow injury, he did one hell of a job hiding it and an even better job pitching through it.

Here's what Santana had to say about the elbow, which he had bone chips removed from this off-season:

"There was a bone chip in my elbow," Santana said. "It started bothering me about July. I decided to keep pitching with it.

"It really didn't affect me. When it did bother me, I just thought, 'I'll just do the best I can.' It's amazing that one little chip kept me from even being able to rotate my hand."

Since I know you're curious, here are Santana's numbers from July until the end of the season:

 G     GS       IP      ERA     W     L      SO     BB

18 15 98.2 3.46 8 2 101 25

Those numbers include Santana going 8-0 with a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts during the final two months of the year.

Last week, I talked about how much I liked the Star-Tribune's two baseball writers, LaVelle E. Neal and Jim Souhan. After I said that, I was surprised by the amount of emails I got from Minnesota residents wondering why exactly I like Souhan.

It's often difficult to say exactly why you like a writer, but here's something Souhan wrote in the Santana article that I think sheds some light on my reasoning:

Santana joined the Twins' rotation July 11. He went 0-2 with two no-decisions in his first four starts.

Then he became as much a reason for the Twins' stunning surge to the division title as outfielder Shannon Stewart.

A little thing like that is what makes me like a newspaper writer. Souhan is far from perfect and I've criticized his work in the past, but instead of getting caught up in all the Shannon Stewart hype from last year like some sort of mindless zombie, Souhan makes a statement that shows he is able to form an opinion on something rationally and logically, without being influenced by others.

As for what we can look forward to out of a healthy Johan Santana in 2004, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson has some ideas:

"He's got a chance to be very special," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "Last year, he conditioned himself to be a one-inning guy. That caught up to him in late September and October.

"His best starts were in August. Then you could tell his legs began to tire. He has every opportunity to be ready this year."

As I've said here in the past, I often wonder if the bone spurs were behind Santana's poor showing against the Yankees in the post-season. Anderson seems to think it had more to do with Santana simply being fatigued.

Of course, the "FREE JOHAN SANTANA!" activist in me wonders why the Twins would have allowed someone like Santana to "condition himself to be a one-inning guy" in the first place.

Anderson continued:

"I've seen improvement already, just throwing in the bullpen," Anderson said. "Extension is a big part of pitching -- finishing pitches out in front of the body, with the arm fully extended. He couldn't do that last year.

"Now, when he throws a changeup, it's right there. Last year, he got people to miss because of his arm action and the change of speeds, but he also threw some halfway up the backstop.

"That's extension. He couldn't finish his pitches. Now he can."

If Santana was actually hurting for almost the entire time he was in the starting rotation and he's now completely healthy, I can only imagine how good he can be in 2004.

Almost as if he sensed my optimism rising, Souhan includes the following quote from Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire near the end of the piece:

The Twins hope this season will be the culmination in a long journey for Santana, from unknown Venezuelan prospect to Astros' signee to Twins' Rule V draftee to reliever to starter to . . . staff ace?

"Unless I can talk him into being a closer," manager Ron Gardenhire joked. "The proper answer is, yes, I am really looking forward to him being in the rotation all year. If he stays healthy, he'll be pretty damn good."

Leave it to good old Gardy to make me want to pound my head into the wall.



Speaking of Bionic Men...

From The Associated Press:

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs pitcher Mark Prior will miss five-to-10 days of spring training because of an inflamed right Achilles' tendon.

This is absolutely shocking to me. I know Mark Prior missed some time last year, but that was because he literally ran into another player.

(How great is Rafael Furcal's reaction at second base in that picture?)

Aside from that incident, I was under the impression that Prior was indestructible. Like baseball's answer to Robocop and The Terminator.

For those of you who haven't been reading this blog for a long time, I will once again restate my position on Mark Prior: He will be the greatest pitcher of his era and one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. Yeah, you heard me.

By the way, has everyone noticed what Prior did after coming back from the disabled list last year?

GS       IP      ERA      W     L     SO     BB     HR

11 82.2 1.52 10 1 95 16 4

The plan required something that felt no pity. No pain. No fear. Something unstoppable. They created "MARK PRIOR."

Part man. Part machine. All pitcher. The future of baseball.



Scout for a Day

Tangotiger of Baseball Primer has started up a really interesting project which allows everyone to fulfill their fantasies of being a major league scout. I'll let him explain:

There is an enormous amount of untapped knowledge here. There are 70 million fans at MLB parks every year, and a whole lot more watching the games on television.

[...]

What I would like to do now is tap that pool of talent. I want you to tell me what your eyes see. I want you to tell me how good or bad a fielder is. Go down, and start selecting the team(s) that you watch all the time. For any player that you've seen play in at least 20 games over the last 2 years,

I want you to judge his performance in 7 specific fielding categories. Try to judge "average" not as an average player at that position, but an average player at any position. If you think that Hubie Brooks has an average arm, then mark him as average, regardless if you've seen him play RF, SS, or 1B.

To read more about this, check out "The Scouting Report by the Fans for the Fans," which includes some more information about the project, some specific instructions, and the scouting report forms for each team.

For instance, you can fill out a report on everyone's favorite sub par second baseman, Luis Rivas.

When he's throwing the ball, how is Rivas' "Release/Footwork"? How about his "Throwing Strength"? Or what about his "Throwing Accuracy"? When the ball is in play, how is his "Acceleration/First Few Steps"?

It's fun for the whole family and I think the final results could be very interesting.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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