Santana Was Wrong

“Santana”

That was Johan Santana himself before the season, when asked who is the best pitcher in the NL East.

It’s hard to imagine that Santana would answer in the same way now. Roy Halladay of the rival Phillies leads the NL in FIP at 2.32 and xFIP at 2.93 and threw a perfect game. Josh Johnson of the Marlins has struck out a batter per inning and is second and third in FIP and xFIP respectively. Even Santana’s Mets teammate Mike Pelfrey has outperformed him this year, as his 3.20 FIP and 3.80 xFIP both lead the team.

It’s not like Santana is having a bad season. His 2.76 ERA is supported by a 3.57 FIP, and whatever the cause, he’s doing a great job of keeping the ball in the park, only allowing six home runs on the season. However, a decline is clear when we examine his peripheral marks, and his strikeouts in particular. This is the first year of Santana’s career in which he has struck out fewer than seven batters per nine innings since 2001; 6.55 K/9 is over one strikeout per inning fewer than 2009.

His swinging strike rate is below 10% for the first time since FanGraphs began tracking the statistic in 2002. Most of this can be pinned on the fact that Santana’s two seamer has lost something. The same pitch which drew whiffs on 10.9% percent of pitches is now only drawing whiffs 3.6% of the time. Also, Santana is throwing the four seam fastball more often – 50% of the time instead of roughly 33%. This means fewer changeups and sliders, both pitches which draw far more swings and misses than the fastball.

Right now, Santana’s xFIP is at 4.49. His HR/9 rate is only 0.69 despite a very low 35.8% ground ball rate. Santana has never been fantastic at suppressing home runs, even though he did have five straight sub-1.00 HR/9 seasons with the Twins. He’s always lived through avoiding contact and drawing enough infield flies to the point that the fact that he allows a ton of fly balls doesn’t kill him.

This year, though, hitters are making more contact than ever, but Johan is surviving on BABIP luck (.268) and a career low HR/FB% (5.5). Thanks to spacious Citi Field, Santana managed to get around nine fly balls and six line drives without allowing a home run in yesterday’s start against San Diego. He was not able to get around the 23 balls in play, however, as he allowed eight hits en route to a mediocre six inning, four run performance. Santana didn’t show that ability to avoid contact which made him a perennial Cy Young contender in throughout the 2000s, striking out only one of the 29 Padres he faced.

Right now, Johan Santana looks as if he’s having a fantastic year on the surface, but signs are pointing to a harsh decline. High contact rates and low groundball rates are recipes for disaster, and that’s what Santana’s stuff is generating right now. So far, he hasn’t been burned by it, but the numbers suggest that this rosy season can’t last. And we know, for sure, that he isn’t the best pitcher in the NL East.




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53 Responses to “Santana Was Wrong”

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  1. Ilan says:

    The game was at Citi Field in NY. Still spacious, but not as much as Petco.

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  2. ryan says:

    ‘Thanks to the spacious PETCO Park, Santana managed to get around nine fly balls and six line drives without allowing a home run in yesterday’s start against San Diego.’

    I assume you mean Citi Field?

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  3. Jack Moore says:

    Fixed the stadium name. Thanks.

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  4. keithr says:

    metco?

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  5. herb says:

    He’s referring to Johan’s second-to-last start, which was also against the Padres, but at Petco. I’m assuming most of it was written then, as Johan’s ERA was 2.76 following that start, and 2.96 following yesterday’s, and all the peripherals are no longer accurate.

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  6. DavidCEisen says:

    I’m fairly certain that Santana would still claim to be the best pitcher in the NL East. For some reason I don’t see him saying, “You know, maybe I’m actually 3rd or 4th best. That Doc guy is better.”

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  7. Andy says:

    Not been burned yet? How about 10 ER in 3 and 2/3 innings pitched against Philly. Things will correct themselves soon, most likely.

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  8. Dwight S. says:

    I can’t really fault him for what he said though, most great pitchers always think they’re the best, especially with the track record he had. And like the poster above me said I’m sure he would say the same thing now even though I’d take Halladay, Johnson and mybe even Strasburg on my team over him right now.

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  9. Beer me! says:

    For the 2010-2013 seasons (Mets have a club option for 2014), he’s owed $93m in guaranteed money. Dollar-for-dollar, he’s the third-worst starter in the NL East, behind Derek Lowe and Jamie Moyer. His decline has begun, and it looks to be very steep.

    As of this moment, he’s still maybe a top 10 pitcher in the NL East…maybe. But not next year and certainly not thereafter.

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    • herb says:

      Would love to see a list of the nine pitchers better than Johan in the NL East.

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      • Steve says:

        Livan Hernandez for one, herb. Duh!

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      • Beer me! says:

        1. Roy Halladay
        2. Josh Johnson
        3. Stephen Strasburg
        4. Tommy Hanson
        5. Mike Pelfrey
        6. Cole Hamels
        7. Ricky Nolasco
        8. Tim Hudson
        9. Kris Medlen

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Kris Medlen? He of 10 career starts? I would put Santana 5th on that list.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Halladay, Johnson, Sanchez, Pelfrey, Hanson, Hamels, Nolasco, Hudson, Strasburg

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      • Beer me! says:

        Forgot about Sanchez. You’re right, he deserves to be on that list over Medlen.

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      • SF_Matt says:

        You guys are absolutely insane. You’re taking people with potential (i.e. fantasy sleepers) and acting as if they’re already legit. Nolasco is better than Santana? What’s that based on? Is that because of his sexy 5.06 era last year? Or maybe his 4.60 era and 1.29 whip this year are making you salivate?

        For all of this talk about K’s, Tim Hudson has 34 in 77.1 innings!

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      • Jeff says:

        Fine Matt. You can have Johan vs the NL East. Lemme know how that one works out..

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      • Jason B says:

        Totally agree with Matt. I don’t think Santana is a top-5 pitcher in the majors anymore by any means, but any claim that he’s not top-10 in the NL East is just laughable and can be dismissed. Strasburg has *one* career start under his belt against a lowly offensive club…ease up there. And…Kris Medlen? Hamels? Nolasco? Strains at credibility to make the (totally fair and accurate) point that Santana isn’t what he used to be.

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    • Steve says:

      luckily for the Mets, the goal of baseball is to win the most baseball games, not have the best win/$$ ratio.

      Santana is still a very good pitcher, and the Mets have the money to pay him. His decline is probably coming, and may or may not be “steep”, but any measure which has Santana ranked behind Nate Robertson or John Lannan just isn’t very useful.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Except the Mets do not have an unlimited budget, so opportunity costs matter.

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      • Jason B says:

        Ditto Steve’s comment. He’s still a good and useful pitcher, though no longer the dominant one he once was. Anything ranking him behind Anibal Sanchez and/or Kris Medlen (right now, not for the next five years, or “value for their contract”) is pretty high comedy.

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  10. Bill says:

    Honestly, a lot of this is just because Santana has clearly lost some velocity on his fastball. Averaging 89.2 this year.

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    • Don says:

      I agree with this. However, I’d also note that his FB velocity has been declining since he 2006:

      2006: 93.1
      2007: 91.7
      2008: 91.2
      2009: 90.5
      2010: 89.2

      Interestingly, his K/9 has really tailed off since he joined the Mets in 2008. In 2006/07, it was 9.44/9.66. However, he’s posted rates of 7.9, 7.88, and 6.14 since joining the Mets. I don’t mean to suggest correlation through causation here, but there’s probably something to it.

      Finally, I wouldn’t consider a BABIP of .272 necessarily all that “lucky” for Santana – his career BABIP is .286 (of course, this is buoyed by some very good BABIP’s back in 2004/5, when he was off-the-charts good). I think he regresses some, but not necessarily a ton.

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  11. JerrysKids says:

    Yes, let’s judge Santana on the basis of 12 starts after coming off elbow surgery.

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    • Beer me! says:

      The decline started when he left Minnesota, but has been precipitous the last few years. Check out his Fangraphs page and then try again, JerrysKids.

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      • Jeremy says:

        I’m not saying that the Twins wouldn’t have signed him if they could have, but given the amount of money that he was asking, I’m glad that they didn’t. It looks like a very foresighted move, but really Santana wanted too many years on his contract. Well, the Twins didn’t want to give him more than four, so…it could be foresight.

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    • SF_Matt says:

      They’re not only judging him on 12 starts after surgery…..they’re judging him on 12 starts after surgery where he has a sub-3.00 era and a 1.20 whip! He’s not the best pitcher in the game, but he’s still a terrific pitcher. The runs he gave up yesterday broke a streak of, what, 18 consecutive scoreless innings?

      P.S. I can’t help but LOL at the names listed above. Cole Hamels is better than Santana? Really???

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      • MetsKnicksRutgers says:

        Hamels is pretty awesome. Santana is gonna be overpaid pretty soon, but he will most likely always be a quality pitcher and I don’t ever see him posing a greater than 4 era until the very end of the contract. He still induces a decent amount of IFFs and he has always somehow had a pretty lucky babip. Sabathia and his weight will probably be more worrisome at the end of his deal than Santana. All in all Johan is pretty darn good and I am pretty sure his peripherals will improve by the end of the year. His insane seasons of 04 and 05 are long gone but he shouldncontinue to put up solid seasons albeit overpaid.

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      • SF_Matt says:

        Hamels has awesome stuff, but his results are decidedly not awesome. His performance hasn’t been great in over a year.

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      • Beer me! says:

        “Hamels has awesome stuff, but his results are decidedly not awesome. His performance hasn’t been great in over a year.”
        -Says the man who cites ERA and WHIP when evaluating pitchers…in the comments section of Fangraphs.

        Hamels’ FIP and xFIP have been virtually identical over the past two seasons as the ones he put up in 2008, when his ERA was much lower. You’re conflating performance and results.

        The nine players I listed as better than Santana are better pitchers than Santana in 2010-2011. They’ll perform better than him, though their results won’t necessarily be better. And in 2012 and 2013, God help any Mets fan who’s expecting Santana to be their “ace.”

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      • SF_Matt says:

        People keep saying that about Hamels. His FIP is great! His xFIP is great! And when the next sexy stat pops up, they’ll talk about that. A few years ago people craved Dave Bush because of his whip, even though he was never very good. They kept waiting for the rest of his stats to come around, and they never did.

        I’ll believe Hamels is an elite pitcher when he shows some results.

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      • MetsKnicksRutgers says:

        Who really would expect santana to be the ace in 2013 though? With palfrey niese Matt Harvey mejia maybe holt and more payroll flexibility it would be ludicrous to think of Santana as an ace in the second to last year if hus contract.

        Also I apologize for typos and grammatical errors but it is a pain in the ass to correct on a touch psd.

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      • MetsKnicksRutgers says:

        Matt – using whip isn’t the greatest way to evaluate pitchers. Especially around here it really isn’t use at a,l. Again, ham els is pretty darn good.

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      • SF_Matt says:

        Mets – I understand that whip isn’t the best way to evaluate a pitcher. It’s funny though, 3 years ago whip was hotter than Jessica Biel and now it has almost no value.

        Santana has outperformed his xFIP every single year of his career. Does the fangraphs community think that he’s been insanely lucky for the better part of a decade, or does he have an attribute that leads his outperformance?

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      • joser says:

        Three years ago WHIP wasn’t hot, at least not on any of the stat-oriented sites or pubs I was reading. It was greeted with a snort and scoffed at as a fantasy stat. It may have been “hotter than hot” on fantasy sites, but it never attracted anything but derision by the sabr types. Three years ago, five years ago, or now.

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  12. DCHASE says:

    What is amazing to see is the number of Foul balls and check swings against him. His changeup still fools people, but with an 89MPH fastball hitters don’t need to commit as early when they swing, so they can spoil the pitch or check their swing where he used to get swinging strikes.

    I’m not sure if the data support this entirely, but from watching most of his starts this year I would guess that the # of pitches fouled off against him and the number of successfully checked swings are both way up this year. He’s just not putting guys away.

    Here is the triple slash line for hitters on a 3-2 count this season: .308 .581 .423
    Here is the triple slash line on 3-2 counts from 2007-2009: .224 .488 .391

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  13. Derek says:

    Santana’s career ERA – 3.11
    Santana’s career FIP – 3.39
    Santana’s career xFIP – 3.45

    In fact, he’s outpitched his xFIP in every single year since 2002, and has outpitched his FIP in every single season since 2002 except for 2, and one of those was only by 0.07.

    I would suggest the sample size is large enough where it suggests that maybe he’s not just “lucky” and that there are other contributing factors as to why he is able to consistently pitch above his “luck-based” stats.

    Such as, his 11.9% infield fly ball rate so far this season allowing him to keep his BABIP below “normal”, and he actually had a higher percentage then that in the 2 seasons that preceded it.

    Year in and year out, Santana still figures out a way to get results. Maybe you should run a piece trying to figure out why that’s the case rather then insult our intelligence by suggesting that he’s been lucky for the last 1,000 innings of his career. That’s lazy journalism.

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    • SF_Matt says:

      Exactly! His results are dismissed as lucky because his FIP and xFIP are higher than his ERA, as if xFIP is a divine stat that applies equally to everybody. Yes, it’s helpful, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

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    • BR says:

      The problem is he’s outperforming his fip and xfip more than he usually does. And it’s not like all of the other stats point to his stuff being the same. His velocity is down, he’s getting less swing and misses, his walks are up, less k’s, his infield fly balls are down… all of these things add up to him going down hill and quite frankly he is getting a bit lucky on the babip & on home runs per fly balls.

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  14. Mike says:

    One thing people seem not to be mentioning anymore that was a huge topic of conversation or Santana in years past: He’s always been a second half performer. Granted, he’s clearly not quite Cy material anymore, his FIPs by month (for his career) range between 3.25-3.80 in every month before August, when they drop below 3.00 in both August and September/October. You see a similar pattern with xFIP. Based on his track record, we would expect that evaluating him in the early-mid part of the season would overstate any negative marks on the ledger, at least slightly, and the smart bet is still that (barring injury of course) his numbers look better at year’s end than they do right now. He also didn’t get to pitch last year in the last third of the season, so examining last year’s numbers in conjunction with this year’s declaring “MEGADECLINE!” may be even more misleading, since he hasn’t pitched during the portion of the year when he’s consistently been at his best throughout his career. Even in 2008, the last time he pitched in the season’s final month, his Sept/Oct FIP/xFIP were stellar at 2.18 and 3.18, respectively. There does appear to be a decline going on, but it may very well be overstated under the circumstances.

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  15. DavidJ says:

    Never thought I’d see the day where Carlos Silva (6.3 K/9) has a higher strikeout rate than Johan Santana (6.1).

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  16. WilsonC says:

    What I find interesting about Santana’s numbers this year is that the increase in contact this year is entirely a product of balls outside the strike zone. He’s been among the best in the league at missing bats on strikes, but hitters have been making more contact when chasing pitches out of the zone. I’m curious how he ranks in terms of the percentage of balls put in play which are out of the zone, and whether that’s something that:
    – is repeatable
    – affects BABIP or HR/FB

    I’m not sure if it’s the case or not, but it certainly seems plausible that a pitcher who induces a lot of contact on balls with comparatively few on strikes could induce less hard contact.

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  17. Franco says:

    He still looks good up there with his command and change up, he just lost 2-3 MPH off his fastball really quick from last year. Outside of his one 10 run inning, hitters still aren’t hitting him hard still. He’s just not striking guys out anymore. I’m hoping it’s just a nagging injury or he’s going to be the world’s most overpaid #4 starter in 2011-2013.

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    • SF_Matt says:

      Franco, in that inning against Philly he gave up 8 runs with 2 outs in the inning. Aside from that fluke, his ERA is 2.11. You’re ready to lump him into the “#4 starter” category as soon as next year?

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  18. amuz says:

    You guys are taking valuations on Santanas 2010 season when it has not reached half point…Everybody knows Santana is in his best in the 2nd half. Look for increase in K rate and decrease in ERA for the lefty from July on.

    at the end Santana wil be a TOP 5 NL hurler

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  19. Lycon says:

    He’s Johan… Nuff said.

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  20. Santana's Dad says:

    What I love about this cite is when people site “performance” (as in FIP and xFIP) over “results”, as in wins, losses, etc.

    My favorite comment comes from BeerMe – “They’ll perform better than him, though their results won’t necessarily be better.” Who outside of stat nerds actually cares about being outperformed while producing better results? Do tell.

    At the end of the day, while the stats on Fangraphs will generally tell a more honest story about a pitchers true performance than ERA and WHIP, RESULTS are what matters in baseball. They don’t give the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the year to the team with the best team FIP or xFIP, they give to the team that produced the best RESULTS. So please, people like BeerMe, get out of your mom’s basement and watch the actual game, not the numbers it produces.

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    • KJB23 says:

      your post makes me wonder: what the hell are you doing on fangrapghs?

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      • batpig says:

        why? that is the response of the ignorant, close-minded “stathead”.

        although his tone is pretty harsh, he is basically right. you don’t get any points in real baseball for having a stellar xFIP…. and when it leads to ridiculous statements like somebody declaring that Kris Medlen and Ricky Nolasco are officially better than Johan Santana… well, it gives “statheads” a pretty bad name.

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      • Beer me! says:

        The simple answer to your question, Santana’s Dad, is that results can be influenced by many, many factors that are out of a pitcher’s control. So results-based metrics like wins and ERA may not tell very much of the story; whereas performance-based metrics like FIP and xFIP are designed to tell you what the pitcher’s doing that is under his control. The idea behind sabermetric analysis is to properly evaluate the “true talent” of the players on the field, rather than just looking at the results, which are going to be influenced unduly by luck, park factors, the play of their defense, batted ball types, etc.

        I’d suggest that you read the glossary pages here on Fangraphs to better acquaint yourself with these metrics. They’re really useful if you want to know who the best players really are, rather than just knowing who Joe Morgan or John Kruk thinks has the most “grit”.

        As for your comment about my mother’s basement, I think it’s enough to say: you’re posting on Fangraphs. You’re going to have to get over the fact that some people watch more games than you, read more articles than you, know more about statistics than you, and generally have a deeper understanding of the game than you do. That’s how all of us got into sabermetrics in the first place: we accepted that even though we watched a lot of games, we didn’t know everything about baseball. Like Socrates said: “Wisdom begins with knowing that you do not know.”

        I’m a high school teacher, so I probably have invested more time than you (summers off) in watching, reading about, analyzing, and playing baseball. Reading has had the biggest influence because I’m able to learn from people who literally study this for a living. These Fangraphs writers are really knowledgeable about baseball. Give them a chance to teach you and you’ll enjoy watching games more, not less. Try it and see.

        How did I become a Fangraphs/SABR apologist all of a sudden? Sheesh.

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  21. Sen-Baldacci says:

    Its been mentioned a few times, but isn’t it pretty darn important that Johan is coming off surgery last year? Yes his velocity has decreased almost a mile per hour per year over the last 4 seasons, going from 92mph to about 89 now. That’s not bad considering the surgery and aging process. He’s still a very excellent pitcher and if he can get back to his second half success he’s had in the past, I wish he was on my team as the ace this year.

    When’s the last time a player came back from surgery with immediate top success?

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    • joe says:

      Carpenter did it last year. Cliff Lee, Tim Hudson is doing pretty good, Lilly is getting by.

      Johan had been losing velocity every year. Surgery didn’t seem to increase that pace.

      This badness was blatantly predictable. Surgery at most made it slightly worse. He hasn’t fooled hitters since his move to the NL.

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