I can't lie to myself anymore. I don't feel confident when Johan Santana takes the mound. I don't expect greatness. I don't expect to win. I just hope for it.
All year long, Mets fans like myself have insisted that this is still the guy and that the real problem was the Mets lack of run support for him. To a degree, that's true. The Mets don't exactly light it up at the plate when he pitches. But there is a much larger problem than that.
He's just not great anymore.
Santana has made a career out of two great pitches. He would utilize his pinpoint fastball to set up his devastating change up. This deadly combination lead to two Cy Young Awards and five consecutive 200+ strikeout seasons.
But now, Santana's fastball has lost velocity. Therefore when he throws his change up, the differential in speed is smaller. The result? Unless he has pinpoint control, swings and misses are far and few between. Couple that with the fact that he hasn't been compensating for his lack of "stuff" with great control, and you get statistics like this:
In his last four starts, Johan Santana has struck out a grand total of ten batters.
But it's not just the last four outings. He hasn't struck out more than six batters in a single game since April 17th. He hasn't struck out ten in a game once this year, and in 96 innings pitched, he has a grand total of just 62 strikeouts - far below his career strikeout per inning pace.
So, when you eliminate the swing and miss factor and the location is spotty, innings such as the 3rd inning today seem to happen. Dominance is a thing of the past. Instead are laborous innings and absurdly high pitch counts that prevent Santana from finishing his own game.
This would all be less alarming if the Mets were actually winning games he pitched. But, New York is just 7-8 as a team when Johan takes the mound. Not only is that a sub .500 winning percentage as a team, it's dead last out of the five starters the Mets are currently throwing out there.
In his press conference today, Jerry Manuel labeled Johan Santana as a "second half pitcher." While I'd love to believe that he'll magically return to form, this isn't 2006 and he's not wearing "Minnesota" across his chest.
As for Jerry, I'm glad you're not worried, but the fact alone that you labeled a swing and miss pitcher like Santana a "fly ball pitcher" justifies my concern. It marks a change that we're seeing before us. It means that Johan Santana is going to have to re-invent himself, much like Pedro Martinez when he was no longer a power pitcher.
Time to get crafty, Johan.
-Tom Greenhalgh (6/20/10)