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.

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

8 Responses to “Santana’s Fastballs the First Time Through the Order”

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  1. David Ross says:

    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…

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    • Gina says:

      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?

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  2. Hank says:

    what timeframe is “pre2010″… the pitch type data on this site has Santana’s overall slider rate around 15% and the numbers above don’t add up unless you were only looking at a few years pre2010.

    Is this data just the Met years?

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  3. Hi Dave, I am writting from Venezuela.
    You know what is the most incredible bad thing about Santana that look as anyone cares about? well, if you check his splits year after year you will note that Johan year after year is becoming more inefective aganst LHB.
    His careerĀ“s platton splits are 223/279/362 vs RHB and 233/287/394 vs LHB.
    But pay attention his numbers against LHB in his last four seasons as coincidence with the loss of speed in his fastbal about 2-3 MPH:

    2007 197/276/374 222 PA 9 Hr
    2008 247/289/389 254 PA 8 Hr (first season in the NL)
    2009 267/309/506 194 PA 10 Hr
    2010 263/317/553 42 PA 3 Hr

    Probably Santana is victim of his great success to make outs with RHB basically with only two pitches: fastball and changeup, which looks are not so effective against LHB.
    I would like to know what type of pitches he is using and in what counts against LHB, if that Pitch/FX exist.

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    • Luis says:

      Not to hijack this thread, but I grew up in Venezuela-San Tome’ near El Tigre, Edo. Anzoategui. I too wondered about why he didnt use the slider more Vs the Phillies.

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  4. opisgod says:

    Just looking at the movement of his fastball, its gone from a tailing fastball to one that’s almost completely straight, and we all know that makes it a lot easier to square up.

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  5. Jason says:

    I think this is all just statistical noise due to the small sample size. We’re only six starts in and in one of those Santana acknowledged he could not throw his changeup due to the wind conditions. I’d be curious to see how the rates compare to prior years, IF you excepted out his last home starte against the LAD.

    I would expect Santana to use his slider more this year, which would be a return to pre-2009 levels, due to his offseason surgery and his inability to throw the slider in 2009 because of the injury.

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