On the surface, Johan Santana has had a solid season, putting up a 3.06 ERA supported by a 3.47 FIP and a 3.75 tERA. However, that masks a miniscule HR/FB rate of 4.6% and an xFIP of 4.53. If his HR/FB were to return to its normal levels – around 9% – Santana’s new inability to miss bats would likely be exposed. His swinging strike rate, never below 11% since 2002, has dropped to 8.9%, dangerously close to average for such a previously dominant pitcher as Santana. Unsurprisingly, his strikeout rate has dropped in tandem from 7.9 to 6.2, resulting in the higher xFIP.
Santana looked more like the Johan of old today against the Colorado Rockies, racking up 10 strikeouts against only two walks in a complete game shutout against one of the better offensive clubs in the National League. It was Johan’s old standby, the changeup, which made fools out of Rockies hitters. Santana pulled the string 40 times on opposing batters today, with 30 of them going for strikes. Rockies batters swung and missed a whopping 11 times, a 27.5% rate. That’s nearly double the 14.3 whiff (misses per pitch thrown) rate on Santana’s changeup this season to date.
Santana’s fastball didn’t show any more life, mixing around 86-90 mph and only drawing one swinging strike in 27 pitches. That’s right, Santana threw 13 more changeups than fastballs in this outing, a striking deviation from his average distribution of 58% fastballs to 27% changeups, with the remaining portion fitting in as sliders. It’s possible that a key to continued success for Santana will be a steady diet of changeups to opposing batters.
For the Mets and their fans, some of whom have compared Santana to the slightly less impressive Jarrod Washburn (and quite aptly, looking at Washburn ’09 vs. Santana ’10 here), this has to be encouraging. The fastball velocity is still down, but the changeup was working its former magic today. For the Mets brass in particular, who will pay Santana at least $77.5 million through 2014, this start has to bring some smiles.
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