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Amazin' Avenue Mets Awards: Best Starting Pitcher

I already covered R.A. Dickey's splendiferous season in his 'Biggest Surprise' award recap so there's no sense in rehashing all of that now. What (arguably) made him the best starter this year is precisely why he was the most surprising player on the Mets.

Lost in all of the hullabaloo about Dickey's season was Johan Santana, who was quite good in his own right and probably better than Dickey when all things are considered. Santana's season was derailed in early September when an anterior capsule tear was discovered in his pitching shoulder. He underwent surgery to repair the torn capsule in mid-September, but prior to that -- and despite missing the last month of the season -- he was likely the team's best starter.

Santana 199 2.98 3.54 4.32 0.281 6.51 2.49 2.62 0.72 34.50% 6.00%
Dickey 174.1 2.84 3.65 3.88 0.282 5.37 2.17 2.48 0.67 55.10% 8.50%

It does say something that we're even comparing these two pitchers, as Dickey was a scrap-heap pickup last Winter and Santana was the best pitcher in baseball four years ago. Now, Dickey has rejuvenated his career and Santana is in a downward tumble towards league-averageness. Nevertheless, Santana can still stake a claim to the title of Staff Ace as he was every bit Dickey's equal in performance -- Santana put away more batters via strike out but also walked them slightly more often -- and did so over 25 more innings.

What we're left with is that Santana was probably a little better than (or at the very least equal to) Dickey and in more playing time to boot. You could argue that Dickey was called up in the second half of May and that, given another few weeks with the big club, he could certainly have pitched as much as Santana did. That's fine -- extrapolation is a fun game to play, but it's little more than that.

One interesting note about Santana's performance this year: Despite being an extreme fly ball pitcher, he allowed relatively few home runs considering how often batted balls were hit into the air. Much of that had to do with Citi Field, as he allowed just three long balls in 13 home starts spanning 89 innings. Still, overall he was barely more susceptible to home runs than Dickey, who was an extreme ground ball pitcher this year, finishing sixth in the league in grounder rate.

The explanation for Santana's home run stinginess can most likely be found in a scrutiny of his HR/FB (home runs per fly ball), which is a simple measure of how often fly balls leave the park. This season, Santana "prevented" home runs on fly balls far better than he ever had in the past. I use the editorial quotes here because it's not clear that a pitcher has much control over the destination of a fly ball once it has been hit, so it follows that Santana might have been the beneficiary of some good fortune in that area this season. That shouldn't necessarily detract from what he accomplished, but we ought to be skeptical about his chances of repeating those results next season and beyond. HR/FB doesn't seem to correlate well from year to year.

Here is how everyone voted.

1st 2nd 3rd
Alex R.A. Dickey Johan Santana Jon Niese
Eno R.A. Dickey Johan Santana Jon Niese
Eric Johan Santana R.A. Dickey Mike Pelfrey
James R.A. Dickey Johan Santana Mike Pelfrey
Joe Johan Santana R.A. Dickey Mike Pelfrey
Mark R.A. Dickey Johan Santana Mike Pelfrey
Matthew R.A. Dickey Mike Pelfrey Johan Santana
Rob R.A. Dickey Johan Santana Mike Pelfrey
Sam R.A. Dickey Johan Santana Mike Pelfrey

And here is the final vote tally.

Player Points
R.A. Dickey 25
Johan Santana 19
Mike Pelfrey 8
Jon Niese 2