Johan Santana has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game and has been proclaimed to have reported to Spring Training out of pitching shape. I’m not going to get into that here; it’s already been discussed ad nauseum by bloggers, beat writers, and local/national columnists. That’s not why we’re here.
I’m writing now to look into a claim made by the St. Louis Cardinals’ announcers yesterday (and much discussed by said bloggers, beat writers, and columnists) that Johan Santana’s miraculous comeback season was derailed by his June 1st no-hitter (against those same Cardinals).
Someone making this argument would likely show you the following breakdown of his season:
The numbers in the chart are, in short, disparaging. After two months of vintage Johan, he went sour, and quick. To use this chart to form an argument is disingenuous, however, because Santana recovered from that no-hitter quite well. It wasn’t until an ankle injury suffered on July 6th against the Chicago Cubs that Santana’s season truly went awry. The following chart breaks Santana’s season into three sections – up until the no-hitter, from then until the ankle injury, and after the injury:
We see in this chart a pretty distinct change – after being excellent in the first two months, Santana took a step back (but was still quite good) after the no-hitter, and then awful after the ankle injury. There was a clear decline in strikeouts (from 25% to 20%), but this was more likely due to regression – Santana posted a 19.98% K rate in his first three seasons as a Met, which almost perfectly matches his 20.16% K rate in the second section. He also allowed more walks (up to 10% from 8%), but this increase is due only to one start (of the 18 walks Santana allowed after his no-hitter, four came against Tampa Bay on June 14th).
Looking a little further into it, there’s a clear reason why prognosticators fail to connect the dots on Santana’s actual downfall – his June 8th start against the New York Yankees. In that start, he allowed six earned runs in five innings, but on further observation it’s somewhat rationally explained. He was following a start in which he threw a career high 134 pitches on irregular rest, and he (a clear flyball pitcher) was pitching in a notorious home run hitters park against what was arguably the most prolific home run hitting team of all time. In that start, Santana allowed six balls to be hit in the air; four of them never came down. So let’s remove that start, and compare Santana’s other four starts in June to his first 11 of the season:
It is remarkably similar. His batting average against is an identical .200 and his ISO against is nearly the same (.111 vs. 106). The increased OBP is due to the increased walk rate, but overall it didn’t seem to be impacting the results. What I take from this is that the ramifications of the no-hitter didn’t show much of an effect long-term. The claim that Santana’s shoulder suffered from the no-hitter doesn’t seem to hold water, especially when you look at the velocity of his pitches over the course of the season:
Though there’s a bit of variation over the course of the season, it’s fair to say that his pitch speeds stayed consistent. I’ve also broken them down into the same time frames as mentioned above, getting average velocities over each period:
|FB Velocity||SL Velocity||CH Velocity|
The velocity of his offspeed pitches, on average, declined somewhat linearly over the season, but his fastball velocity stayed amazingly consistent. This does suggest, perhaps, that Santana may have been overthrowing somewhat (which would help explain the increased walk totals), but that again doesn’t suggest that health was the primary issue at hand.
I can’t tell you that Johan Santana will be fine in a month, or ever again. Every day seems to represent another setback for him. That said, I’ve come to learn not to stack my chips against him, and I recommend that you don’t either. Santana’s a gamer; frankly, he’s somewhat of a badass. I don’t know when he’ll toe the rubber, but whenever he makes it up there he has my faith. But in the meantime, when someone argues that his magical June 1st start (that arguably christened Citi Field as home) caused season-ruining shoulder woes, recognize that the numbers simply don’t support that. Had Reed Johnson not stepped on Johan’s ankle trying to beat out a single, his season may have gone entirely differently. But that moment, in the fifth inning of his July 6th start, is the real moment that his season went sour.