Santana’s Fastballs the First Time Through the Order

Yesterday I read an interesting piece in the New York Daily News (via Hardball Talk) about Mets’ pitching coach Dan Warthen’s plan for Johan Santana this season. Some worry that the declining velocity on Santana’s fastballs could negatively impact his devastating changeup. So Warthen wanted Santana to throw more fastballs, and particularly inside fastballs, the first time through the lineup so that his changeup is more effective in subsequent passes through the lineup. Setting aside the question of why you would want to announce Santana’s plan to the media I was interested to see whether Santana is pitching this way.

Here is a look at Santana’s pitch breakdown (with percentage of fastballs that are inside indicated) broken up by first time through the order versus subsequent at-bats for before 2010 and in 2010.

              FA   (%inside)  CH     SL
first time    61.5 (10.4)     27.4   11.1           
after that    59.0 (13.9)     30.0   11.0

              FA   (%inside)  CH     SL
first time    64.2 (12.1)     26.9    8.9        
after that    56.5 ( 6.4)     28.4   15.1 

It does look like Santana is throwing more fastballs the first time through the lineup compared to before and then fewer in subsequent at-bats. The inside fastball percentage also shows a trend in the direction indicated, although I don’t know how much of that is just noise. But instead of the reduced fastballs giving rise to more changeups in subsequent turns through the lineup it looks to me like it is giving rise to more sliders. At this point in the season I do not think we can attribute this change in usage to how he is performing, but it is interesting to note that the numbers bear out Warthen’s stated plan for Santana.

More generally the question of whether additional fastballs the first time through the order make off-speed pitches more effective the next time through is an interesting one, but — as with all issues of pitch sequencing — it is a pretty daunting question to address.

Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

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David Ross
12 years ago

Small smaple size for sure, but this didn’t seem to work Sunday night vs. the Phillies. He had a relatively strong first time through the lineup, and then got pummeled on subsequent passes. I wonder if he was following or deviating from this approach…

12 years ago
Reply to  David Ross

I would wonder if part of the problem was his control. I can’t say I’m anywhere near an expert on pitch values and etc but isn’t an inside fastball that misses it’s spot a lot more likely to be abused than an away one? If the hitters realized he was throwing inside more, and changed their approach to reflect that, and then he continued to throw inside but started to struggle placing it wouldn’t that lead to subsequent pummelings?