Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Santanas Struggling

2012 has not been kind to the three (unrelated) Santanas playing in the major leagues this season.

Johan Santana (6-9, 4.85 ERA)
Through the season's first half, the two-time Cy Young winner was building a compelling for NL Comeback Player of the Year honors.  After missing all of 2011 he was pitching like an ace again; through the end of June he had a 2.76 ERA, 93 Ks in 98 innings and limited opponents to a meager .207 batting average.  But then fatigue caught up with him and his once promising season took a turn for the worse.  In his five starts--all losses--since the calendar flipped to July, he allowed at least six earned runs each time out and failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning.  Over that span the southpaw allowed 33 earned runs in just 19 innings pitched (15.63 ERA).  If you go back even further, looking at the ten starts he's made since hurling the first no-hitter in Mets franchise history on June 1st, he has been battered to the tune of .327/.377/.587 while serving up 13 home runs.

Santana started the season strong, but wilted during
the summer months and will not pitch again in 2012
His struggles can be partially explained by simple regression to the mean; .259 BABiP in those first eleven starts, .357 since (despite almost no change in batted ball data) as more hits started falling in.  He's also been a bit unlucky with a 68.8 LOB% (league average is around 72) and 11.7% HR/FB rate, his worst mark since his final season with the Twins five years ago.  His 4.08 FIP, 4.02 xFIP and 3.86 SIERA are all significantly lower than his ugly 4.85 ERA.  Health has been an issue for the 33 year-old as well.  The four time All-Star spent three weeks on the DL in late July/early August with a right ankle sprain/shoulder weakness.  Made just two starts when he returned, getting hammered each time out.  He clearly wasn't right, and last week the Mets shut him down for the season with lower back inflammation.  On the bright side, his two shutouts still lead the National League, though he's tied with Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Adam Wainwright, and teammate R.A. Dickey.  In order to preserve his arm for next season Santana will delay his throwing program six weeks this winter. 

Carlos Santana (.241/.361/.399)
Big things were expected of Cleveland's 26 year-old backstop after he slugged 27 home runs, drew 97 walks and posted a .218 ISO in his first full season last year.  Some even believed that with continued growth the switch-hitter had the potential to be the best offensive catcher this year, better than Joe Mauer, Mike Napoli, Brian McCann, Matt Wieters, Miguel Montero, Buster Posey, and all the rest.  Instead, he seems to have taken a step back in the power department and has been a major disappointment, especially in the first half. Look no further than June, when he failed to go yard and drove in just five runs over 20 games.  In fact, he he didn't hit a single bomb from May 16th through July 17th, a power outage that lasted one-third of the season.  He hit rock bottom in early July, but has picked it up in the second half.  His power has returned with 17 extra base hits and he's driving in runs. He has also posted a stellar .906 OPS and 27/22 BB/K ratio since the All-Star Break.  Overall he's walking more, striking out less, and hitting more line drives than he did a year ago, all signs of a maturing hitter.  I believe a big season in 2013, his age 27 season, is looming on the horizon.  Projecting a 30 home run season seems overly optimistic given that he likely won't even reach 20 this year (currently has 13), but I wouldn't say it's out of the question.
Santana's power is down, but his plate discipline remains excellent
Ervin Santana (7-11, 5.45 ERA)
2012 has been rough on Big Erv, who lost his first six starts of the year and hasn't really recovered.   I detailed his struggles when the Angels landed Zack Greinke nearly a month ago, but it looks as through he's starting to turn it around a bit.  Since bottoming out on July 21st after Texas tagged him for eight hits and six earned runs in one and two-thirds innings, he skipped a turn in the rotation when Dan Haren returned from the DL and has pitched much better lately.  Santana managed to lower his ERA in each of the six starts since and has limited opponents to a paltry .199 batting average over that stretch.  Still, one month-long stretch of success can't wipe away an entire season's worth of struggles (unless that month happens to be October, of course).  He's been wildly inconsistent all year--just look at his monthly splits:

Santana's rollercoaster season fits perfectly with his
up and down career
April-6.16 ERA 1.50 WHIP 5.6 K/9, allowed a dozen home runs in his first four starts

May--3.69 ERA 1.21 WHIP 7.6 K/9, ten strikeouts on 5/4, one on 5/9 and nine on 5/15

June--5.85 ERA 1.24 WHIP 5.8 K/9, tossed a shutout after getting bombed for seven earned runs in each of his previous two starts

July--12.21 ERA 2.29 WHIP 3.2 K/9, failed to make it out of the second inning in two starts and had more walks (six) than strikeouts (five)

August-3.58 ERA 0.98 WHIP 6.1 K/9, best month yet!

It's not hard to see why Santana is having the worst season of his career based on ERA+ (69) and bWAR (-1.6). His career worst 6.1 K/9 is down nearly a full batter from last season, he's tenth in the league in walks and he's already served up 31 gopher balls this year (only Baltimore's Tommy Hunter, with 32, has allowed more, and Santana has yet to go more than two starts in a row without surrendering a four-bagger).  That, combined with a career worst 1.89 K/BB ratio and a less than fortunate 67.5 strand rate, is not exactly a recipe for success. No wonder he ranks third among AL hurlers in most earned runs allowed (behind Ricky Romero and Ubaldo Jimenez) or tied for third in losses (behind Jimenez and Luke Hochevar).  Still, his 1.33 WHIP isn't horrendous, and his 4.60 xFIP indicates he's been a little unlucky.  His next start is September 1st against the light-hitting Seattle Mariners, so his recent hot streak should continue.

But how will he pitch in September?  Your guess is as good as mine.

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