August 24, 2003

Making me look good

As anyone who has been reading this blog since the beginning can tell you, I am probably the biggest Johan Santana fan/supporter/booster outside of his immediate family. I have devoted countless entries and literally thousands of words to Johan Santana throughout last season and this season, and I have told anyone and everyone who would listen to me that he was going to be an extremely special pitcher, if only the Twins would give him a chance in the starting rotation.

Well, the Twins finally gave him that chance last month and Johan has been their best pitcher ever since. I have to admit that I take a little additional pleasure in watching each of Johan's outings. Not only do I love watching him pitch because I am a Twins fan and not only do I love watching him pitch because he is a great pitcher, I also love watching him pitch simply because I feel proud when I think of all the things I said about him before he got a chance to prove himself. I sort of feel like I was on the Johan Santana "bandwagon" before most people and with each impressive start, I feel like I was "right" about him more and more.

After yesterday's start against the Royals (6 innings, 1 run, 10 strikeouts), Johan has now started 12 games this season. Here are his numbers in those 12 starts:

GS     W     L       IP      ERA     SO     BB     OAVG

12 7 2 78.1 2.41 79 17 .192

What can I say, other than "I told you so!" Santana has been particularly impressive this month, going 4-0 with a 1.25 ERA in 5 August starts, while posting a 40/10 strikeout/walk ratio in 36 innings.

This guy is a special player and every time I watch him pitch I come away thinking even more highly of him than I did the time before. He has incredible stuff (most notably a blazing fastball and one of the best changeups I have ever seen), he already "knows how to pitch" and is learning even more with every outing, and he has incredible composure out on the mound and the type of "bulldog" mentality you want in a starting pitcher. Plus, he is still just 24 years old.

Of course, after seeing how great Santana has been since being put into the starting rotation, some people would probably bring up the fact that he should have been in the rotation all season, and not just the last two months or so. After all, the Twins are currently 1.5 games out of first place and I don't think it is crazy to suggest that Johan Santana being in the rotation instead of Joe Mays (6.51 ERA in 19 starts) during the first half of the season would probably have them sitting in first-place right now. But, what's done is done and the important thing is that Johan Santana is in the starting rotation right now and he's doing extremely well.

Despite only making 12 starts and totaling just 126.1 innings all year, Johan is currently 9th in the American League in strikeouts, with 139. In fact, among all American League pitchers with at least 100 innings so far this year, here is what the strikeouts per nine innings leaderboard looks like:


Pedro Martinez 10.15
Johan Santana 9.90
Roger Clemens 8.67

That's some pretty nice company Johan has surrounding him on that list, huh? No other AL pitcher with 100+ innings has a K rate higher than 8.50/9 IP. And this isn't some fluke thing, check out the exact same leaderboard for last season:


Johan Santana 11.38
Pedro Martinez 10.79
Roger Clemens 9.60

Same three names atop the leaderboard - two of the greatest pitchers in baseball history and Johan Santana.

Combined, over this season and last season, Santana has the following numbers:

   IP      W     L      ERA      SO     BB     HR     OAVG

234.2 16 9 2.91 276 86 20 .211

234.2 innings is just about the amount a #1 starter would have in one full season in the rotation. Over that stretch of innings, Johan has a 2.91 ERA, 16 wins and a .211 batting average against. He also has 276 strikeouts and, for those of you without your calculators, that comes out to 10.6 strikeouts per 9 innings.

From the time I was born in 1983 through last season - a span of 20 seasons - only 5 pitchers have thrown at least 230 innings in a season with a K rate of 10.0/9 IP or better:

Randy Johnson (6 times)

Curt Schilling (4 times)

Pedro Martinez (1 time)

Roger Clemens (1 time)

Nolan Ryan (1 time)

Now, Johan didn't pitch those 230+ innings in one season, he pitched them in two. And he didn't do all of that pitching in the starting rotation, like those 5 guys did. But it's still pretty interesting to look at what pitchers have racked up strikeout totals similar to Santana's and it's certainly an encouraging sign for his future.

Beyond the strikeouts and the impressive ERA, another positive thing coming from Johan's time in the rotation this year is that his control is improving significantly. He walked 4.07 batters per 9 innings last season and he walked 3.75/9 IP while in the bullpen this year. In his starts this season however, he has walked just 1.95 per 9 innings, which is extremely good for a young strikeout pitcher.

While watching Johan pitch out of the bullpen earlier this season, I was upset about the situations in which he was being used (for example, he would come into a blowout after the starter got yanked early, a complete misuse of his talents), but I was also concerned that he was the type of pitcher who was not suited for short stints.

Johan does struggle with his control at times, as most young power pitchers who rack up huge strikeout totals do. So, when he is asked to come into a ballgame to face only one or two batters, perhaps with men on base, it is only magnifying his control problems. As a starter, he is able to work through his own problems without having to worry about getting yanked if he walks a guy and, most importantly, he is able to get into a rhythm, where he can better harness his incredible stuff by "pacing" himself a little more.

I believe this not only leads to him walking fewer batters and throwing fewer pitches per batter, but also to fewer strikeouts. While striking out fewer hitters is never a good thing by itself, when it means also walking fewer and throwing fewer pitches, it is definitely a good tradeoff and one that many relievers turned starters will make. Plus, "fewer strikeouts" for Johan Santana still means he is striking out a guy every inning, so it's not exactly a troubling drop-off.

The numbers so far this year seem to support that, as Johan struck out 11.25/9 IP while in the bullpen and has struck out "only" 9.08/9 IP as a starter. He has also yet to walk more than 3 batters in any of his 12 starts and his walk rate is nearly cut in half as a starter compared to as a reliever.

With the control problems gradually working themselves out as he matures as a pitcher and gets more experience in the rotation, Johan's lone remaining "concern" is the amount of homers he has allowed this season. In 108.1 innings last year he allowed just 7 homers, or one every 15.5 innings. So far this year he has served up 13 homers in 126.1 innings, or one every 9.7 innings pitched. That's a significant increase and it becomes even bigger when you break it down into relief appearances and starts.

As a reliever Johan gave up 3 homers in 48 innings, or one every 16.0 innings. As a starter, he has given up 10 in 78.1 innings, or one every 7.8 innings. Now, a rate of one homer allowed every 8 innings or so is certainly not horrible. Over the course of 230 innings that works out to about 28 homers allowed. That is around the same rate as guys like Roy Halladay, Kerry Wood, Javier Vazquez, Randy Wolf, Bartolo Colon, David Wells, Andy Pettite and tons of other successful starting pitchers - in other words, it's nothing out of the ordinary. And it is far from the "home run danger zone" inhabited by guys like Jarrod Washburn, Rick Helling, Brett Tomko, Ryan Franklin and Freddy Garcia.

Also, Santana's style of pitching lends itself to giving up homers. He is one of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in all of baseball and when you get most of your non-strikeout outs by way of fly balls, some of them are going to go over fences.

Santana had a 0.70 GB/FB ratio last season and he has a 0.62 ratio so far this year. To put that into some context, here are the most extreme fly ball ratios among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this year:


Jarrod Washburn 0.66
Garret Stephenson 0.74
Darrell May 0.74
Ryan Franklin 0.76
Javier Vazquez 0.77
Wayne Franklin 0.77
Rick Helling 0.77

You may recognize a few of those names from the "home run danger zone." All 7 of those extreme fly ball pitchers are on pace to allow at least 30 homers this year and most of them are among the league "leaders" in worst home run rate. It just goes with the territory for being an extreme fly ball pitcher like Johan Santana, whose fly ball rate would rank 2nd in all of baseball behind only Washburn.

Aside from the possibility of the Twins sticking him back into the bullpen or the chance of him getting injured, that is really the only major concern I have about Santana's future at this point - that his way of pitching makes him very susceptible to giving up homers and, at some point, he is going to go through a rough stretch where he allows a ton of them.

And finally, since Johan has now made 25 starts over the last two years and that is about the amount starting pitchers who have been in their team's rotations all season long have made at this point, I thought it might be fun to look at the numbers the Twins could have gotten from Johan this year. You know, if they had listened to me from the very beginning and not putzed around with Joe Mays for 3 months...

GS      IP      W     L      ERA      SO     BB     OAVG

25 153 14 6 2.76 168 45 .203

Just by performing the way he has when given a chance to start over the past 2 years, Santana would rank 7th in the American League in wins, 7th in strikeout/walk ratio, 4th in ERA, 1st in strikeouts, and 1st in opponent's batting average.

Sure beats the hell out of Joe Mays (6.16 ERA), Kenny Rogers (4.67), Brad Radke (5.04), Kyle Lohse (5.00) and Rick Reed (5.10) now, doesn't it?

Link of the Day:

Contractor Peon - "Hi. I'm Black!"

Today's picks:

San Diego (Peavy) +190 over Arizona (Johnson)

Philadelphia (Wolf) +110 over Montreal (Hernandez)

Total to date: + 2,380

W/L record: 214-212 (2-0 on Friday for +275.)

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

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