Is Johan Santana nearing the end of the road?
You’d think so, the way some people who oppose a trade for — in case you didn’t know — the best American League pitcher since Pedro Martinez.
Peter Abraham, whose larger point was that the Yankees should keep their prospects, said Santana could become "the next Mike Hampton." Chad Finn, one of my favorite Sox bloggers, said he believes Santana showed "subtle signs of decline" in 2007.
The first point is easily refutable. As I’ve shown in the past, Santana’s worst-case scenario is more likely to be reminiscent of the careers of Juan Marichal or Ron Guidry, not Hampton. Add that Hampton at the time of his megadeal with the Rockies had had exactly two seasons as good as any of Santana’s five between 2002 and 2006, and it’s pretty obvious the true risk of such a big signing is that of a career-ending or -altering injury — which seems in this case to be as minimal as it can be, considering how well-managed Santana’s pitch counts have been.
The second is harder. We all know that Santana only won 15 games, lowest since 2003 (when he wasn’t a full-time starter). His ERA was 3.33, highest since 2001 (when he pitched 15 games, starting four). Consequently, he finished fifth in the Cy Young voting, with just one vote, fewest since ’03, when he finished seventh.
But a look under the hood, so to speak, shows that Santana is either primed for a monster rebound in 2008, or is declining so subtly that he will still be a huge boon for the team that signs him.
First, here are Santana’s basic rate stats since his breakout 2004 season:
It’s pretty clear Santana’s poor ERA was caused almost entirely by a jump in his home run rate (he gave up 33 after comfortable averaging 23 the past three seasons). Such extreme variations are likely to even out — just ask Josh Beckett, the 36-homer man in 2006 who gave up 17 in 2007, right in line with his career numbers.
Just remove 10 solo home runs, and Santana’s 2007 ERA drops to 2.92 — right in line with his ERAs from 2005 and 2006, and a total that would have comfortably led the league. Not surprising, then, that Bill James projects a 3.00 ERA for him in 2008.
And this assumes teams would not want a pitcher who could put up a season like Santana did in 2007, home runs and all. Here’s where Santana stood in some key — and more obscure — pitching categories:
|Stat||Data||Rank||Ahead of …|
|Pitches in Zone||54.7%||3rd||Bedard, Halladay|
|Component ERA*||2.98||2nd||Beckett, Sabathia|
|Avg. Game Score*||59.45||1st||Everyone|
|Pitching Runs Created**||123||2nd||Beckett, Lackey|
|NIP RAA**||-20||2nd||Beckett, Haren|
|TBB RAA**||-30||6th||Carmona, Beckett|
* Bill James stat.
** Hardball Times stat: NIP RAA = Runs Above Average allowed on balls Not put In Play; TBB RAA = Runs Above Average allowed on Total Batted Balls put in play.
No pitcher allowed fewer baserunners than Santana or pitched a better average game than Santana in 2007. The rest of his stats are still plenty impressive. Sign me up for that, and if it only costs Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury, I’m willing to stomach it.
You’ve read it here first: The team that doesn’t land Santana for next season will wish it had.