May 20, 2003

"He's not Randy Johnson"

One of the cool things about having a blog that a lot of people like to read is that a lot of other bloggers read it too. And, when that happens, they tend to make posts on their blogs about what I say sometimes. The other day, Dan McLaughlin (aka "The Baseball Crank") made a post on his blog regarding my "Johan Santana Liberation Watch."

Here's what he said:

"Aaron Gleeman's Johan Santana Liberation Watch reads as follows:

Games/Starts: 14/1

ERA: 2.56

Innings: 31.2

Strikeouts: 35

Opponent AVG: .212

Is it rude of me to point out that this omits the inconvenient fact that Santana is walking 4.5 men per 9 innings?

I agree with Aaron's larger point - heck, I've got Santana on both of my rotisserie teams, myself - but he's not Randy Johnson, not yet at least."

First of all, it is obviously not rude to point out that the player I have been hyping like no other for the last year or so is currently doing something (walking lots of hitters) that isn't so good. It's just keeping me honest.

The "Johan Santan Liberation Watch" (JSLW) is intended partly as a joke and partly as me showing how great Johan Santana is doing this year in his quest for a bigger role on the team. The first part allows me (I think) to not be completely "unbiased" and thus not show every stat that is important, and the second part seems to suggest that the best way to show he is doing well is to not include something he isn't doing well. Makes sense, right? Another reason I don't list walks (or homers allowed or opponent's OBP or opponent's SLG) is that I don't want the "JSLW" to take up that much room.

But, the fact is, Johan Santana walks a lot of hitters at this stage of his career.

Santana pitched (and not all that well) last night, so his season totals have changed a little since Dan's post. He currently has 17 walks in 33 2/3 innings pitched, or 4.5 per 9 innings. Is that reason for concern? Well, no. Johan was brilliant last season, pitching 108 1/3 innings split between the bullpen and the rotation, winning 8 games with a 2.99 ERA. He walked 49 batters, or 4.1 per 9 innings.

So, he's right around the same walk rate that he was at last season and his performance last season is the reason why I am so damn excited about his future, so the walks don't exactly worry me at this point.

The larger, more interesting issue raised in Dan's post is that Johan is "not Randy Johnson, not yet at least."

I know that was just a casual remark and not meant to be taken 100% seriously. That said, it is obvious that Johan Santana - or any 24 year old pitcher - is not Randy Johnson. Heck, Randy Johnson wasn't even Randy Johnson at 24.

Also, while I think Johan Santana is one of the best young pitchers in baseball and on-track to having a wonderful career, not even I think he is going to turn into Randy Johnson. That's like saying a young hitter I like is going to turn into Ted Williams - it just aint gonna happen.

All that said, the comparison between Johan and Randy is an interesting one and, if you want to get technical about it, Johan Santana is way ahead of where Randy Johnson was at the same age. Let's take a closer look...

Age 21:

Randy Johnson (1985)     Johan Santana (2000)

Single-A Major Leagues
27 IP 86 IP
5.93 ERA 6.49 ERA
6.9 K/9 6.7 K/9
7.9 BB/9 5.7 BB/9

That was Randy Johnson's first professional season, after he was taken in the second round of the 1985 draft. He had a rough debut at Single-A Jamestown, walking nearly 8 batters per 9 innings and posting a 5.93 ERA.

While Johnson was struggling in his first taste of pro ball at 21, Johan Santana was pitching in his 4th professional season and his first season in the major leagues. At this point, Johan already had 294 minor league innings under his belt, although they were all in the low-minors.

The comparison between their age-21 seasons isn't even a comparison. Johan pitched better - similar K rate, half as many walks - and he did it in the major leagues, while Johnson was pitching to Single-A hitters.

Age 22:

Randy Johnson (1986)     Johan Santana (2001)

Single-A Major Leagues
120 IP 44 IP
3.16 ERA 4.74 ERA
10.0 K/9 5.8 K/9
7.1 BB/9 3.3 BB/9

This is Johnson's first "interesting" pro season. He shows the ability to dominate hitters by striking out more than one per inning, although he is still walking a ton of batters.

Meanwhile, Johan completes his second season in the major leagues, although it is an abbreviated one because he misses some time with an injury and only pitches 44 innings.

While Johnson's season was "better," it came against Single-A competition and I would take 44 innings of 4.74 ERA ball against major leaguers for a 22 year old pitcher over 120 innings of 3.16 ERA pitching against Single-A competition any day of the week, without question.

Age 23:

Randy Johnson (1987)     Johan Santana (2002)

Double-A Major Leagues Triple-A
140 IP 108 IP 49 IP
3.73 ERA 2.99 ERA 3.14 ERA
10.5 K/9 11.4 K/9 13.8 K/9
8.2 BB/9 4.1 BB/9 5.0 BB/9

This is why I think so much of Johan Santana's potential.

At age 23, Randy Johnson was at Double-A Jacksonville. He pitched 140 innings with a solid 3.73 ERA, striking out 10.5 per 9 innings, while walking 8.2 batters per game.

At the same age, Johan Santana began the season at Triple-A and pitched 49 innings with a 3.14 ERA. He struck out nearly 14 batters per 9 innings and walked 5. Then, Johan was promoted back to the majors. He pitched 108 innings with a 2.99 ERA, striking out 11.4 batters per 9 innings, while walking 4.1/9 IP.

Again, there is absolutely no comparison here. They both pitched in the minors at age 23 - Johnson at AA and Santana at AAA - and Johan Santana was much better than Johnson was. And then Johan was great in 108 major league innings!

Age 24:

Randy Johnson (1988)

Triple-A Major Leagues
113 IP 26 IP
3.26 ERA 2.42 ERA
8.8 K/9 8.7 K/9
5.9 BB/9 2.4 BB/9

That is what Randy Johnson did at age-24. He pitched at Triple-A Indianapolis, throwing 113 innings with a 3.26, while striking out 8.8 per 9 IP. He made the first meaningful progress of his career with his control, walking "only" 5.9 batters per game. Johnson got a late-season call-up with the Expos and pitched very well, going 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA, while striking out 8.7/9 IP and walking only 2.4.

At 24, Johan is currently in his 4th major league season. Through last night's appearance he has pitched 33 2/3 innings with a 2.67 ERA, striking out 9.9 per game, while walking 4.5

This is where the comparison has to stop, because, while Randy's career has plenty more to look at, Johan is in the middle of his age-24 season as I type this.

Through the age of 24, Randy Johnson had a total of 26 innings in the major leagues. Johan already had 238 career major league innings coming into this season and will likely have over 300 at the end of this, his age-24 season.

None of this is meant to suggest, in any way, that I think Johan Santana is going to become a better pitcher than Randy Johnson or even close to as good as Randy Johnson. It is, however, meant to suggest that he is much further along at this stage of his career and at this age than Randy Johnson was at the same time.

So, while the walks are certainly an issue for Johan, they definitely aren't what is keeping him from being Randy Johnson. Johan walked 4.1 per 9 innings last year and has walked 4.5 per 9 IP this year. Here are Randy Johnson's early major league walk rates:

1989 (age 25) - 5.4 per 9 IP

1990 (age 26) - 4.9

1991 (age 27) - 6.8

1992 (age 28) - 6.2

Randy Johnson had awful control until he was nearly 30 years old and, not coincidentally, that is right around the time he started being Randy Johnson.

Before Twenty Nine - 49-48 (.505), with a 3.95 ERA (1% worse than league-average)

Twenty Nine and Over - 175-58 (.751), with a 2.73 ERA (65% better than league-average)

So, I agree with Dan's statement that Johan Santana, at 24 years old, is "not Randy Johnson." Heck, I don't think he'll ever be Randy Johnson. Of course, Randy Johnson wasn't Randy Johnson until he was about 30 years old and, at 24, he wasn't even Johan Santana.

Today's picks:

San Diego (Peavy) +110 over Milwaukee (Franklin)

Philadelphia (Wolf) -105 over New York (Leiter)

St. Louis (Williams) -130 over Houston (Munro)

Colorado (Jennings) +165 over Los Angeles (Ishii)

Detroit (Bonderman) +170 over Cleveland (Sabathia)

Texas (Benes) -150 over Tampa Bay (Parque)

Chicago (Buehrle) -130 over Toronto (Hendrickson)

Total to date: + $1,450

W/L record: 89-85 (2-1 yesterday for +$100, with one pick canceled because of Pedro Martinez missing his start, which resulted in "no action.")

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

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