September 14, 2004

The 1-2 Punch

Magic Number: 10

I'm starting to get the feeling that what Johan Santana and Brad Radke have done for the Twins this season is going to be one of those things where people don't totally appreciate it until they've had a little time to reflect upon it.

Santana has been the best pitcher in baseball this year, currently leading the American League in ERA and strikeouts, 15-3 with a 1.66 ERA since the start of June, and winner of the past two AL Pitcher of the Month awards. Yet, despite all that and despite me constantly reminding everyone who will listen of just how great Santana has been, I don't think Twins fans have quite realized the scope of what he's doing.

And the same goes for Radke too. Radke went seven innings against the Tigers last night, giving up a single run to improve his record to 11-7 and drop his ERA to 3.43. It was his 23rd Quality Start this season, which leads all of baseball. Think about that for a moment.

Combined, Santana and Radke are 28-13 with a 3.14 ERA in 406.2 innings this year and have turned in a Quality Start 74% of the time, which is incredible. Now, there are certainly flaws with Quality Starts as a stat, but I actually like it a lot more than wins and losses.

Quality Starts don't tell you who the best pitcher is or who the most dominant pitcher is, but it does tell you which guys live up to the cliche and "give their team a chance to win." No pitcher in baseball has given their team a "chance to win" more often than either Santana or Radke, and I don't think that fact has quite sunk in yet with most Twins fans (myself included, probably).

As Baseball Prospectus' Dayn Perry (one of the most underrated baseball writers around, by the way) discussed in a column the other day, Santana and Radke have been the best pitching tandem in baseball this year, even when you ignore stuff like Quality Starts and look instead at more advanced metrics like Value Over Replacement Player.

In fact, as Perry showed, the only tandem that is particularly close to Minnesota's duo is Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling in Boston. And, according to Baseball Prospectus' newly-updated Support-Neutral pitching stats, which look at pitching performances on a start-by-start basis, Santana and Radke have not only been the best tandem in baseball, they've been the two best pitchers, period.

The real test will of course come playoff time, when we'll see if Santana and Radke can continue their incredible roll into October. For whatever it's worth, Radke has done very well in four postseason starts, going 2-2 with a 2.19 ERA, while Santana has been more of a question mark.

Santana was halfway to throwing a shutout in his first career postseason start, dominating the Yankees at Yankee Stadium last year, but he was forced out of the game with cramping in his forearm. He came back to make his second start in Game 4 of the series, shut the Yankees out for three more innings, and then completely fell apart in the fourth inning before being yanked. In addition to the cramping issues, he had surgery to clear out bone spurs from his elbow shortly after the postseason ended, so he does have an "excuse" or two.

If the Twins are going to make noise this October, it is going to be because of Santana and Radke. They've been the best pitching tandem in baseball this year and they're so far above the rest of the Twins' rotation that they need to be leaned on as heavily as possible in the playoffs.

In the opening round, that means they may start four of the five games, and if they pitch like they have during the regular season, that will mean the Twins will be playing a second round. Once you get to a seven-game series, the rest of the rotation comes into play a whole lot more, but I suppose we can cross that bridge if/when we get there.

By the way, reason #1,593,403 why it's a shame the Twins play in an indoor ballpark with a permanent roof: They could really use an October rainout or two on the days Santana and Radke aren't on the mound.

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

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