The New York Mets enter play today tied for the fourth best record in the National League at 27-22 and are 2.5 games behind the first place Washington Nationals in the National League East.
This comes to many as a big surprise, especially me. I had the Mets slated to finish in dead last in the NL East. But, even with their winning record as we near the end of May, the Mets have a -23 run differential and their struggles with the bat are not going to go away any time soon.
But the thing that has kept the Mets afloat more than a quarter of the way through the 2012 season is their starting pitching, anchored by a name that most recognize as a former ace and $24M arm that struggles to stay healthy. Johan Santana is that man and he has managed to remain healthy so far this season and is having one of his best seasons in the Majors and I cannot explain exactly why that is.
In seasons in which he has pitched Santana has had four consecutive declining K/9 seasons, six straight increased BB/9 seasons, seven straight increased xFIP seasons, and has not started 30 or more games in a season since 2008, his first with the New York Mets. But, even in those declining trends Santana has been a great pitcher with his ERA never going above 3.33 and his fWAR never falling below 2.6 in any season since 2002. Despite the declining phase he has remained valuable.
At age 33 I do not think that I am alone in believing that Santana would continue to show declining numbers especially after missing the entire 2011 season after undergoing surgery to repair a tear in his pitching shoulder in September of 2010 and with his velocity declining five straight years and now a sixth straight year. Check out his velocity over the past six seasons:
If you and I were to simply look at his injury history and his velocity charts we would likely predict that a 33 year old Johan Santana coming off of a major shoulder surgery to his pitching arm and missing an entire year because of it you and I would likely state that Santana was due for more decline. But if you and I did say that (I know I did) then Santana is proving us wrong in 2012.
Through the first ten starts of the season Santana has looked like a version of himself we have not seen in quite some time. Take a look at his 2012 numbers compared to his career numbers:
If that is not enough proof to show how good Santana has been let’s put his 2012 numbers in perspective.
- Santana’s ERA of 2.75 is his third best mark of his career and his lowest since 2008 when he had a 2.53 ERA. The only other time he posted a better ERA was in 2004 with a 2.61 mark.
- Santana’s 2.66 FIP is only the fourth time he has posted a sub-3.00 FIP and it ties his lowest mark of his career set in 2002 when he pitched only 108.1 innings.
- Santana’s 3.27 xFIP is his best mark since he posted a 3.16 xFIP in 2006.
- Santana’s 9.15 K/9 is the first time since 2007 he has posted a mark north of 9.00. In fact, the three seasons he pitched in between he posted marks of 7.91, 7.88, and a career worst 6.51 in 2010.
- Santana’s 0.61 HR/9 is also his best mark since his 108.1 inning pitch season of 2002 when he had a HR/9 of 0.58.
A few more facts I found astounding were that, despite his fastball being the slowest of his career, Santana is using his fastball 60.1% of the time which is more than any other season outside of his 2003 campaign when he used it 63.8% of the time. Santana is also using his change-up, his bread-and-butter pitch, less than any season prior to 2004 at 21.7% of the time. This means his slider, despite its lowest velocity since 2002, is being used 18.2% of the time, Santana’s highest mark since 2004 when he used it 19.6% of the time.
Johan Santana is having one of the best seasons of his career despite every predicating factor pointing to another season of declines and I honestly cannot say how he is doing it but it sure is good to see. Mets fans everywhere can forget, just for now, how much time Santana has missed due to injury and how much he is making one-fourth of the team’s payroll because he is in the rotation this year and has been worth every penny he has made.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt