First of all I would like to say hello to all fellow Mets fans here on AA. If anyone cares to take a look at my profile, you should notice that I am new here as my account was not activated until yesterday. Another interesting (or not) fact is that I come from Vietnam, where baseball is pretty much unknown. As English is not my first language, I do apologise for any inconvenience my posts may cause to you guys. If you want posts with authentic English, I recommend you to visit this instead of reading my flawed one.
Anyway, you should all know what I'm going to talk about in this post as my title said it all. Yes, it's all about our $137.5 million ace, Johan Alexander Santana Araque. As I recalled, at the beginning of the season, when asked about how our rotation would fare in 2010, all of us would answer in a heartbeat: "Johan Santana and 4 question marks!", despite the fact that he had to undergo surgery to clean up bone chips in his pitching elbow. The confidence in Johan is clearly understandable as his incredible big-league resume suggests. One could point to the fact that he went on to win the Cy Young after having the same surgery back in the 2004 offseason to expect yet another vintage-Johan 2010 season. Santana himself was confident, declaring himself the best pitcher of the NL East at the start of Spring Training.
2 months into the season, the Mets record after 62 games stands at a solid 34-28, 1.5 games back from the division-leading Braves. The good results were fueled by the surprising effectiveness of our starting rotation (Maine and Perez aside, of course). But even more surprising, only 6 out of those 34 victories came from games when Santana took the hill. After 13 starts, his traditional numbers, though not exactly Santana-esque, still look pretty decent: 2.96 ERA (would be 1.99 if we take away that "spygate" start in Philly), 1.20 WHIP, 9/13 quality starts, pitching deep into games( he averages 6 2/3 innings per start). Those numbers would surely net him 8+ wins had the Mets lineup averaged something more than 2.98 per game in run support. For sure, Santana is still an effective pitcher, but not quite the type of "ace" we all expect him to be. An "ace" is supposed to have terrific stuff and racking up strikeouts in bunches, and so far this season, that has been my (and a lot of Mets fans') biggest concern about him.
Since coming over from Minnesota, Santana's strikeout rates have taken a nosedive, from 9.66 K/9 in 2007 to only 7.91 K/9 in '08 and 7.88 K/9 last year. And after 13 starts in 2010, Johan has only managed to fan 58 batters in 85 innings pitched, good for a pedestrian 6.14 K/9. His swinging strike rate drops below 10% for the first time in his illustrious career. After the surgery in the offseason, Santana's fastball took another dip in velocity, averaging lower than 90mph, also for the first time in his career. It doesn't help that he also lost movement in his two-seamer, resulting in a poor whiff rate of 3.6% comparing to a career 10.3%. His signature changeup, however, is still effective as the difference in velocity between the change and his heater remains consistent at around 8-9 mph, with an improvement of 3.8 in pitch value. Last season, Johan had difficulty throwing his slider due to the pain in his elbow. With those annoying bone chips removed, the pitch went from -2.1 pitch value last year to 1.2 this season, a nice improvement. In a rather small sample size of 13 starts, the sabermetric numbers so far show that Santana has lost effectiveness in his fastball while improving the offspeed and breaking pitches. But for some reason, he opted to go to his apparently ineffective fastball more often, using it 50% of the time (33% last year). And there you go, more contact, less whiff, lower strikeout rates.
My speculation is that Santana is trying to pitch deeper into games by using more fastball to draw contact. And so far he's getting lucky with a .272 BABIP (~.300 MLB avg.) and 5.1 HR/FB%. That calls for regression to his sub-3 ERA, as suggested by his 4.63 xFIP. As Mets fans, all we could do is hope for his K% to climb thus making up for his pitching line as more balls will leave the park.
(Statistics from FanGraphs and Baseball References)