September 6, 2006

Twins 8, Devil Rays 0

There's plenty of interesting stuff to discuss from last night's game, but I'd like to focus on Johan Santana. Once upon a time, this site was basically devoted to talking about Santana on a near-daily basis. I used to analyze his every appearance, campaign for him to be put into the starting rotation, and more or less fawn over him whenever possible.

I've cooled on that somewhat over the past couple years, in large part because there's little need for a one-man Santana-praising machine these days. He's established himself as baseball's best pitcher and has received the national attention that comes along with that lofty standing. My goal was always to convince everyone that Santana was The Next Big Thing and that's clearly been accomplished.

Rather than marvel at and talk up each great outing Santana turns in, he's sort of become a forgotten man in this space. In fact, it's almost to the point that I discuss everything but Santana. He's been so automatic, both this season and in past years, that in many ways he's the least-interesting part of the team to discuss. After all, there are only so many ways to say someone is great.

However, while watching Santana make the Devil Rays look silly last night, it struck me that I've gone from jamming his greatness down everyone's throats each day to taking him for granted, which is a shame. Santana picked up his MLB-leading 17th win of the season last night, putting up the following line against Tampa Bay:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
8.0 2 0 0 1 12 0 95

Santana improved to 17-5 on the season, including 8-0 since the All-Star break, and further cemented his status as one of the most dominant second-half pitchers in baseball history. He's now 43-9 with a 2.56 ERA after the All-Star break during his career, which is incredible until you consider his ridiculous second-half numbers since becoming a full-time member of the starting rotation in 2003:

GS      W     L      ERA        IP       H      SO     BB
55 38 3 2.05 373.1 256 393 83

I'm really not sure what to say about those numbers, because they're so far beyond "good" or "great" or any other adjective that trying to describe them with one would just be silly. Since moving into the starting rotation for good three seasons ago, Santana has made 55 second-half starts and is 38-3 with a 2.05 ERA in 373.1 innings. Seriously. Thirty-eight and three. Two-point-zero-five.

Back when Santana was just getting started on his annual second-half run, it looked like he might get screwed out of a second straight AL Cy Young Award. Santana was the best pitcher in baseball last season, but thanks to sub par run support and some bad luck he won just 16 games and finished third in the voting behind Bartolo Colon and Mariano Rivera.

Just a few weeks ago it looked like Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Jonathan Papelbon or even Francisco Liriano would rob Santana again this season, but now he's the clear frontrunner with less than a month left on the schedule. Take a look at how Santana ranks among AL pitchers in the three big categories:

WINS                      ERA                         STRIKEOUTS
Johan Santana 17 Johan Santana 2.84 Johan Santana 219
Roy Halladay 16 Roy Halladay 3.22 Jeremy Bonderman 189
Jon Garland 16 Scott Kazmir 3.24 Curt Schilling 171
Chien-Ming Wang 16 Justin Verlander 3.27 Scott Kazmir 163
Randy Johnson 15 C.C. Sabathia 3.31 Danny Haren 157
Kenny Rogers 15 John Lackey 157
Justin Verlander 15
Barry Zito 15

It took a while, but Santana has finally claimed the top spot in wins, and leads the next-closest pitcher by 12 percent in ERA and 16 percent in strikeouts. For better or worse, those three stats (and saves, under certain circumstances) are what voters look at almost exclusively, which means Santana pretty much has the award locked up barring a collapse down the stretch.

Not only is Santana atop the AL rankings in the three triple-crown pitching categories, he also leads all of MLB. If he can keep that up, he'll become just the eighth pitcher in the history of baseball to do so, joining Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Grover Alexander, Hal Newhouser, Dazzy Vance, and Dwight Gooden as the only MLB-wide triple-crown winners.

How's that for exclusive company? Even if he falls short of leading all of baseball in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, Santana can still make history. Since 1950, the only pitchers to win the AL triple crown are Roger Clemens (1997, 1998) and Pedro Martinez (1999). In other words, as great as Santana has been, he's in rarefied air this season.

Let's say it once together, for old time's sake: FREE JOHAN SANTANA!

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