September 15, 2003

The next Johan Santana

Now that Johan Santana is free from the bullpen and thriving in Minnesota's starting rotation (he improved to 10-2 as a starter with his win over Cleveland last night), I think it's time to take up the cause of the next Johan Santana...

...(drumroll please)...

Rafael Soriano

Prior to the season, I ranked Soriano as my #8 pitching prospect in all of baseball. He began the year pitching for Triple-A Tacoma, where he went 4-3 with a 3.19 ERA in 10 starts. He had a fabulous 63/12 strikeout/walk ratio in 62 innings pitched, while holding opponents to a .192 batting average.

Soriano was called up to the Mariners at the end of April, but was sent back down to Triple-A shortly thereafter. He rejoined the team, this time for good, in the middle of June.

Here are his numbers for the year:

  IP      ERA     SO     BB     OAVG

46.1 1.75 59 10 .166

Those are some ridiculous, video game-type numbers. He's holding opponents to a .218 on-base percentage and a .236 slugging percentage. And he's been even better since the All-Star break:

  IP      ERA     SO     BB     OAVG

32.1 1.39 44 3 .136

My eyes don't even know where to look first. 1.39 ERA. 44/3 strikeout/walk ratio. 12.2 Ks per nine innings. .136 opponent batting average. Absolutely unbelievable. You'd think the guy was Eric Gagne or something.

I've been able to watch Soriano pitch maybe 6 or 8 times this season and I have been extraordinarily impressed each time. The guy throws absolute smoke, his secondary pitches are solid, and his control has been excellent.

Not only are Soriano and Santana similar in that they are both young pitchers who throw gas, their careers have been very similar as well. Consider...

Soriano came up to the Mariners for the first time last season and pitched fairly well, throwing 47.1 innings with a 4.56 ERA in 10 games, including eight starts. He was 22 years old.

When Santana was 22, he also pitched reasonably well for the Twins, tossing 43.2 innings with a 4.74 ERA in 15 games, including four starts.

Then last year, at 23, Johan broke out in a big way. He began the year in the minors and was promoted to the Twins in the middle of the year. He proceeded to pitch 108.1 innings with a 2.99 ERA, while striking out 137 batters, or 11.4/9 IP.

Just like Santana last season, Soriano began this year in the minors and was called up in the middle of the year. And, just like Santana did at 23, he is breaking out in a big way.

The biggest difference between the two (beyond one being left-handed and one being right-handed) is that Santana's breakout season last year included an extended period of time pitching in the starting rotation (he made 14 starts), whereas Soriano has yet to make a single start this year. That's obviously a significant difference, but it's something I'm willing to look past, simply because the other stuff is so damn similar...

Age 22

Santana 43.2 4.74 5.77 3.29
Soriano 47.1 4.56 6.09 3.04

Solid but unspectacular pitching from both guys at age 22, while splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation. ERA in the upper-4.00s, K rates around 6.00 and walk rates right around 3.00. That's about as close as two pitching lines get.

Age 23

Santana AAA 48.2 3.14 13.87
Soriano AAA 62.0 3.19 9.14

Santana MLB 108.1 2.99 11.38
Soriano MLB 46.1 1.75 11.46

A little time at the beginning of the year to dominate Triple-A and then BOOM, they're both striking out a dozen guys a game in the majors at 23 years old.

Looking ahead to next season, I think Soriano is in a similar situation to the one Santana was in at the start of this year. Soriano pitches for a contending team, just like Santana, and the Mariners have, for the most part, a fairly established starting rotation, just like the Twins had coming into this season.

While Santana had to fight Brad Radke, Rick Reed, Joe Mays, Kyle Lohse, Eric Milton and then Kenny Rogers for a starting spot this year, it's likely Soriano will have to fight Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Ryan Franklin, Joel Pineiro and Gil Meche for a spot in Seattle's rotation next season.

I think Santana and Soriano are among a handful of the most valuable pitching "properties" in baseball right now, but I also think there's a good chance you'll be seeing a "Free Rafael Soriano" campaign on this blog next season.

Yesterday, I ate a little bit of crow, saying that the Shannon Stewart/Bobby Kielty trade looks a little better to me now than it did initially. The reason for my change in opinion is how well Shannon Stewart has played since joining the Twins. That said, I think some people are getting a little crazy with the adjulation headed Stewart's way.

I saw the following headline in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Stewart shows that MVP talk isn't misguided

After I saw that, I thought okay, I can see how some people might think Stewart deserves to be the Twins' MVP. Of course, he doesn't, but it's not so completely beyond the realm of possibility for some people to think that. Then I actually read the article, which included the following:

"Is it time to nominate Stewart for the American League Most Valuable Player award?"

The story also includes quotes from quite a few Twins players and coaches on whether or not Stewart deserves AL MVP consideration:

Denny Hocking: "You're damn skippy."

Doug Mientkiewicz: "There's no doubt Shannon should get consideration."

Scott Ullger: "You definitely have to consider him the most valuable player on our team. And he might get some votes for the league award if we win the division."

Brad Radke: "He should get some votes."

Ron Gardenhire: "You talk to people in Minnesota, Shannon would win it."

As one of the many "people in Minnesota," let me be the first to ask: Are you f---ing crazy?!

Shannon Stewart has been a very good hitter since joining the Twins and he was a good hitter for the Blue Jays this year too. Overall, here are his numbers:

 AVG      OBP      SLG     RBI     RUN

.312 .367 .468 69 83

Those numbers are right around his career-totals of .304/.369/.449. Is .312/.367/.468 solid production from a corner outfielder? Absolutely. Is it anywhere close to an MVP season? No freaking way.

Stewart ranks 22nd in the American League in on-base percentage, 29th in slugging percentage and 29th in OPS (on-base % + slugging %). He's also 23rd in runs scored and 47th in RBIs. For those of you into "Win Shares," Stewart currently ranks 45th in the American League.

My preferred metric for judging the contributions of offensive players is Baseball Prospectus' "Runs Above Replacement Position" stat. Here are the American League leaders in RARP:


1 Alex Rodriguez 72.6
2 Manny Ramirez 63.0
3 Carlos Delgado 59.9
4 Bret Boone 55.1
5 Jason Giambi 54.8
6 Bill Mueller 53.3
7 Jorge Posada 53.0
8 Nomar Garciaparra 52.3
9 Magglio Ordonez 48.3
10 Vernon Wells 46.4

That's the top 10, and you'll notice there is no "Shannon Stewart" to be found. He's not in the top 20 either. Or the top 30. Or the top 40.

In fact, Shannon Stewart is currently 20.9 RARP, which ranks him sixth...among AL left fielders.

Some other American League hitters who have similar RARP totals include Kevin Millar (19.8), Travis Lee (19.0), Hideki Matsui (22.7), Randy Winn (18.9), Jay Gibbons (22.3) and Erubiel Durazo (22.7).

Anyone want to "nominate" any of those guys for league MVP? I didn't think so. And it's not as if Stewart is a defensive-whiz or a great basestealer either. He is, at best, an average defensive left fielder, and he currently has 4 steals this season...while being caught 6 times.

Don't get me wrong, I like Shannon Stewart as a player quite a bit and I'm perfectly willing to admit that he has been an excellent pickup for the second-half of this season. I'm even willing to listen to people talk about him as Minnesota's MVP, as misguided as I think that is. But please, let's not get completely crazy here.

Oh, and by the way, anyone else get the feeling Alex Rodriguez is about to be screwed out of yet another MVP award?

Link of the Day:

Baseball History - "A look at the history of baseball through the astigmatic eye of Jon Daly"

Today's picks:

New York (Seo) +220 over Chicago (Prior)

Colorado (Tsao) +110 over Houston (Robertson)

Tampa Bay (Gonzalez) +310 over Boston (Martinez)

Chicago (Loaiza) -120 over Minnesota (Radke)

Total to date: + 2,890

W/L record: 235-232 (1-1 yesterday for +5.)

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

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