Monday, January 26, 2009

Mets Acquire Santana!

Today the Mets acquired Johan Santana. I decided early on that I was going to delay talking about Santana until he was officially a Met... I didn't want to get my hopes up only to have them crushed yet again.

But now we have him. It's a small miracle. Pending the physical and contract extension (which, knowing the Mets, might be more of an obstacle than we think) well have obtained Johan for a package of four prospects. I'll take another look at those prospects in another post.

What I want to do here is take a look at Santana. We all know he's good. Sure, he's great. But just how good is he?

Career: 93-44 record (.679 win pct)
1308 2/3 IP
3.22 ERA
1.094 WHIP

Two Cy Young Awards, one third place finish, one fifth, and one seventh.

His career had a slow start, as for some reason the Twins were very conservative with him at the beginning. He made the majors in 2000 at the age of 21, then had an even shorter stint in 2001 before logging some major innings in 2002. In '02 he started 14 games and relieved in 13, posting great numbers: 2.99 ERA and 1.22 WHIP and about 11 k/9.

He wasn't in the rotation to start the year in 2003 either - logging only 158 innings in 18 starts and 27 relief appearances. This may have been an accidental blessing. By the end of his age 24 year, he had only logged 342 minor league and less than 400 major league innings in his six years as a pro. The innings had increased to 160 when he was 20, before the Twins brought him up and mixed him in as a reliever and spot starter in 2000-2003.

Santana's Value to the Mets
In 2004, he became JOHAN! for real. It was the first season in a four year stretch (dating to today) where he posted at least 219 innings and an ERA of 3.33 or lower. In those four years, he has struck out 265, 238, 245, and 238 batters. In their history, the Mets have only had 22 seasons where a pitcher has struck out 200 batters or more. They have had ten seasons where a player struck out 230 or more, the vast majority of which came back when pitchers - such as Seaver - pitched nearly 300 innings.

To narrow it down even further, the Mets have only had FOUR seasons where a starter has managed to strike out more than 9.5 batters per nine innings... and that is Santana's career AVERAGE. Yeah. Think Dwight Gooden. Think Tom Seaver.

Strikeouts don't win games though - preventing runners and preventing runs do. This is the last stat I'm going to bore you with. Over the last four years, Johan Santana has posted the following WHIP averages (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched - basically, the average # of runners they allow per inning):

2004: 0.92
2005: 0.97
2006: 1.00
2007: 1.07

Over the course of their history, Mets starters have only had SIX seasons where a pitcher has allowed a WHIP of 1.00 or less. Santana has already done it three times in the explosive American League. Speaking of which, Pedro had one of those seasons back in 2005.

Statistical Nuggets
Nate Silver projects Santana to have a 2.98 ERA and strike out 239 hitters next season. (Keep in mind that these computer projections are always somewhat conservative - there is a regression to the mean evident in all of them. The stars are likely to exceed the stats projected simply because there are so few players like them.)

These are Santana's career inter-league stats: 182.2 IP, 16-4, 191 K, 2.27 ERA, 0.91 WHIP.

We know Santana is good. But how good is he? Well, to put it gently... he's entering his age 29 season. He's won two of the last four AL Cy Youngs. He's first in strikeouts and wins in the last four seasons, and there are no signs of let up. He has good natural stuff. He knows how to pitch. He's athletic, had limited innings when he was younger, and handled this whole trade situation with tact and aplomb. His most conservative projections have him at a 2.98 ERA.

I think Santana is going to come here and post approximately a 2.70 ERA. Shea is a pitcher's park, and so are the parks in Atlanta and Florida. Philadelphia plays in a bandbox and we're not sure yet about the new Washington stadium... but overall, park factors should play a slight factor.

He is exactly the kind of acquisition that transforms your franchise. A dominant ace - the best pitcher in baseball - changes EVERYTHING.

#3 Oliver Perez, 3.56 ERA in 2007
#4 John Maine, 3.91 ERA
#5 El Duque, 3.72 ERA

That rotation, fronted by Pedro and Santana, can be historically good. Aside from El Duque, none of these pitchers project to be an above-average injury risk. By getting Santana, each of these guys slides down a slot and the only weakness, the #5 spot, is now occupied by Santana instead of Mike Pelfrey or some other unknown quantity.

This isn't some blind homerism - Santana could win 20 games. With the Mets offense, Santana could win even more than that. He instantly becomes the front runner for the Cy Young award, and is going to be in the prime of his career for the next five years. The future is bright indeed.

p.s. If I have any time (which I won't) I'm going to take a look at the potential 1-2 combo of Santana and Pedro to see if it is one of the best ever.

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