In Newsday today, Ken Davidoff writes about Johan Santana's disappointing first three months as a Met:
The boxscore line looks presentable. It usually does. Shoot, the way Johan Santana began Saturday's game, we thought we might get a run at Tom Seaver's and David Cone's team record of 19 strikeouts in a game.
Yet once again, if you stood on the Mets' side of the aisle Saturday, baseball's highest-paid pitcher left you wanting more.
Santana's 7-7 mark doesn't faze this space; we're all intelligent enough to know that won-loss records can be terribly misleading. No, it's more the sense that Santana isn't what he once was. And that he doesn't, or can't, put the team on his back and carry it the way you would expect from someone of his caliber. Not in actions and not in words.
"It seems like you have to be perfect every time you go out there," he lamented Saturday night after the game. "I know I'm not perfect."
Davidoff's one of the most knowledgeable baseball writers in the city, so definitely go read the rest of his column. As for Santana, his 3.01 ERA is fifth in the NL; his 103 strikeouts are third; his 3.22 K/BB is sixth; OPS against is 15th; WHIP is 11th. You want fancier stats? He's ninth in SNLVAR; eighth in VORP; 12th in FIP. I could go on, but the salient point is that Santana has been very good this season, but he hasn't been great and he certainly hasn't been what we all hoped he would be.
Should we temper our expectations? Almost everyone thought he would make a seamless transition to the National League. He dominated the junior circuit for a half-dozen years, winning two Cy Young awards and consistently finishing among the league's leaders in strikeouts, fewest walks allowed, ERA, etc. It's been hammered into our heads that the American League is the tougher league, and that pitchers switching to the NL can usually expect some bump in production. I generally buy this argument, but of course your mileage may vary and every pitcher is a little bit different. I wasn't expecting Pedro circa 2000; I'd be perfectly happy with Santana circa 2007. We've had neither to this point.
What about the whole first-half/second-half thing? He has generally been a significantly better pitcher after the All-Star break. His ERA (2.79 vs 3.51), K/9 (9.53 vs 9.29), BB/9 (2.46 vs 2.54) and HR/9 (0.89 vs 1.08) are all better in the second half. Last year was actually an exception to this, as his ERA was much higher late in the season (4.04 vs 2.75), though most of that had to do with a surge (bad!) in his homerun rate from 1.26 to 1.47. His walk and strikeout rates remained pretty consistent.
So maybe we can hang our hat on Santana's past second-half success. Or, perhaps just as his homerun rate went up in 2007 and has remained high in 2008, he will be even less impressive after the All-Star break this season than he has been before. I should reiterate that, while Santana hasn't been, for lack of a better descriptive, Santana-esque, he has been plenty good, and has run into a bit of bad luck wins-wise. I'm sure Santana expects better of himself, as we all do. If he pitches this way for the life of his contract it'll be hard to say that the Mets got hosed, but it'll likewise be hard to say that they got what they thought they were getting.