Slip Slider away........
This is an open letter to all of those of you that are riding on the idea that Santana is a better second half pitcher.
Johan Santana mowed down the hapless San Fran offense in his last start before the break, and I'm sure this touched off the excitement that is currently being paired with Pelfrey's resurgence (against bad offenses), and the new management of the Mets.
The Metropolitans are a hot ticket right now.
This could be the beginning of a long, powerful run for the Mets, but I would like to breathe a little caution into the Santana story.
Johan's move to the NL should have increased his efficiency, but the record doesn't show it. His team has lost 6 of his last 7 starts! Left handers are batting .262 against him. Walk rates are climbing. Pitch count is increasing.
Why did this happen? Why isn't he dominating the National League?
It appears that the step down in competetion didn't really affect his overall numbers!
According to Fan Graphs his Strikeout per 9 inninngs has fallen to 8.10 from 9.66 over the last 12 months, and the K/BB ratio (Stikeout/Walk) is now 3.26, but it was 4.52 last year, and 5.21 in 2006!!!
There is a clear technical dropoff in his results, both from a primitive winning percentage standpoint, to a serious drop in the obvious fundamental indicators: stikeouts are down, first pitch strikes occur less often, velocity has dropped, and his slider has dissapeared!
I capped the over in tonight's game with Cincinatti. As I do with most pitchers, I charted the Pitch F/X data from his last outing against San Francisco (through the first trip across the batting order), and the first 9 batters of his last outing with Cincinnatti. I generally get the gameplan for a certain pitcher by doing this.
He threw a Slider 4 total times in those two games!
It was Fastball and Change-up on EVERYONE. He pulled out the slider on two batters, and left everyone else alone in both games.
In the past, Santana has chosen to throw the slider to left handed batters around 30% of the time! Now, according the the current data, Johan is using the slider only 11% of the time!
It's clear that there's a drop in velocity on Johan's Change-up and Fastball. And I have discovered that the slider has lost velocity as well.
This year his fastball is hovering around 91.0 MPH, while it was 93.1 in 2006, and 91.7 last year.
This year his Change dropped 2 full points!
The Slider has taken a HUGE hit, and this is the possible reason for the abandonment of the pitch on left handers: The Slider was used on southpaws in exchange for the Change that he uses on the RHB's, and now that he's altering his pitch selection to remove the slider on the southpaws and replacing it with the Change (The Change is now a SUB-80 MPH pitch!) the offerings from Santana are getting hit.
So if he's going Fastball/Change on everyone, then the pitch count will continue to rise.
He had 85 pitches in 5 innings in his last game (Rain Delay). This was against San Francisco!
When you have a 79 MPH Change working with a 91 MPH Fast ball (average), then the foul balls and extended counts begin to occur. This trend is apparrent when you look hard at each at bat, but the next at bat that I'm going to show you will startle you.
Look at this at bat from Johnathan Sanchez (SF Pitcher) in the 5th inning of the last Santana start:
||Ball, Strike (looking), Strike (foul), Foul, Ball, Strike (swinging), J Sanchez struck out swinging|
A six pitch at bat, from a young pitcher?
There were 5 fastballs and 1 Change-up, and the Change-up was fouled off. If Johnathan is stringing out Johan, then what will a .900 OPS batter do?
I came across the serious lack of a slider when I was capping the OVER in tonight's game with the Reds. I usually go over every pitch from a previous meeting, and I noticed that there were only two sliders in the first trip through the order aginst SF and Cincy. This struck me, because I knew that he was more fond of the slider (on the left) in previous years, so seeing it missing in the Cincy game, and then following up with a study on the SF game, I immediately saw the potential reason for Santana's lack of improvement in the NL.
Sub 80 MPH Change-up.
He's ditched the Slider because he lost velocity on it. In seeing this, I simply dug up his numbers and noticed that the velocity was down on every offering!
I suppose this article is just a warning to anyone that is ramping up their enthusiasm toward Santana. He is still a VERY good pitcher, but the "out" pitches are declining, the slider is vanishing, and the velocity on the Fastball and Change is falling.
I'm not going to sit here and state that Santana is a washout, his ERA clearly shows that he's doing quite well on certain levels, but the possibility of a different performance rate from Johan, in the second half, is highly unlikely from a technical point of view. He should remain the same or get worse, based on the relative learning curves of each team he faces.
What are we LEFT with?
In my opinion we should scout him hard against heavy left handed batting orders.
*The Angels ripped him to shreds, and they lean left.
*The Yanks forced him to spend 113 pitches in 6 innings, and they can lean left.
*San Diego, a team that can be strong on the left in the top of the order actually beat him 2-1 and garnered 7 hits in 6 innings, and pushed him to 100 pitches in that game.
Maybe we can use him as a "go against" pitcher, with supreme value in the coming weeks.
Let's watch him tonight!