RotoWire Partners

Scouting Pitchers: Johan Santana

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

(Statistics as of 7/7/08)

This week, we'll look at one of the best pitchers in the game. Santana has been more hittable than expected in his first season in New York after being traded in the Twins in February. His fastball has been clocked at 90-93 MPH this year, down from 92-95. Santana is currently 7-7 with a 2.96 ERA, ranking fifth in the NL in innings (121.2) and ERA and sixth with 109 strikeouts and a 1.19 WHIP.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception. Please feel free to post your thoughts below on the pitcher or the column.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

Houston signed the left-handed Santana (6-0, 208, Born 3/13/1979) in 1995 out of Venezuela. He came to the States in 1997 and made his full-season debut in 1999, going 8-8, 4.66 with 150 strikeouts in the Midwest League. He was perhaps the most famous Rule 5 pick in history, as the Twins plucked him from the Astros' roster and kept him on their major league roster through a 2-3, 6.49 rookie season in 2000. After starting 2001 in the majors, Santana was shelved for most of the year with partially torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. He worked his way back in 2002 after two months in Triple-A where he refined his famous changeup. Santana made 14 starts that year and finished 8-6, 2.99 in 108 innings.

In 2003, Santana was moved to the rotation permanently after he went 8-1, 3.13 with 88 strikeouts in the second half. He won his first Cy Young Award in 2004 as he led the AL in strikeouts (2.65), won 20 games and was unbeatable (13-0) after the All-Star break. For his career, Santana is 50-17, 2.79 in 108 games (84 starts) after the break. He led the AL in strikeouts again in 2005 with 238 and posted the second-best ERA (2.87). Santana captured his second Cy Young in 2006 as he won the pitcher's Triple Crown, tying Chien-Ming Wang for the league lead in wins (19) and leading the league in strikeouts (245) and ERA (2.77). Last year, Santana went 15-13, 3.33 for Minnesota, receiving 5.10 runs per nine innings and getting six tough losses.

Santana's 2008 destination was the subject of much speculation after he rejected Minnesota's offer of a five-year, $93 million extension to his 2008 contract. The Red Sox probably made the best offer for him in November: Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp. New Twins GM Bill Smith overplayed his hand by delaying the deal until January, by which time Boston's offer had changed. Smith settled for Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey from the Mets.

Subplots in this soap opera were Yankees' Senior VP Hank Steinbrenner publicly beating the drums to land Santana, rumors of Santana forcing the Twins' hand in January by saying he would not drop his no-trade clause during the season, and Santana finalizing a six-year, $137.5 million extension with the Mets on February 1.

Johan Santana: (G/F 1.33)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	60		55
Curveball	N/A
Slider		55		10
Changeup	75		35
Control	65
Delivery	60
Composure	70

Santana's fastball decline could be permanent, as he has thrown 1,430 innings. My theory is that he is raising his forearm later in his delivery than he has in the past, costing him movement and command. Santana has thrown nine wild pitches, and is on track to setting a career high. Here is a picture of his delivery . I wonder whether Santana has consciously or unconsciously added the delay to raising his forearm to compensate for his declining velocity.

It seems this extra movement in Santana's delivery is limiting the movement on his changeup, as it has a more conventional fade rather than its former disappearing action. He looks like he is working harder and falling off the mound more drastically. Pitchers who put more effort into their deliveries have less natural movement to their pitches. Scouts like "free and easy" motions because the pitcher will retain more of their movement and effectiveness as they age.

Santana's 79-84 MPH changeup remains one of the best in the game. He is throwing it more often this year, as Peter Bendix reports in an excellent analysis. Santana's 79-84 MPH slider is an effective pitch against right-handers, but he doesn't seem to trust it against lefties, who are hitting .270 off him this year. Right-handers are at .231 but have hit 10 homers. These have come off hanging changeups and fastballs Santana leaves up.

Another issue for Santana this year is his very high average allowed (.377) with the count 0-0. In the games I have seen, he has been vulnerable to hitters being aggressive with runners on base and innings snowballing. As Bendix notes, Santana is generating fewer swings and misses this year, so some of those hits on 0-0 counts have been whiffs in the past. Santana still works his fastball inside to right-handers to set up his changeup away. He can fade the change down and away from right-handers or down and in, similar to his slider. Santana is a Gold Glove fielder, very daring and fun to watch. Despite the extra funk and effort in his delivery, it is still better than average.

Santana's first half was overshadowed by the Mets' 2007 collapse, their poor play that led to Willie Randolph being fired, and his own inconsistency. His 14 quality starts are tied for second in the NL, so he hasn't pitched badly. There is always something going wrong with the dysfunctional Mets. Santana priced himself out of a smaller-market team where the fans loved him and he dominated. The second half of his career looks like it will be rockier as he tries to lead an organization with an aging lineup, a poor farm system and out-of-touch ownership.


Radar Love: July fastball readings

95-97: Tony Pena in Washington on July 8th.
94-97: Brandon League in Los Angeles on July 6th.
92-97: Ubaldo Jimenez in Milwaukee on July 7th.
91-95: New Cub Rich Harden in Chicago on July 6th. Harden also featured sliders and splitters in the mid-80s.
91-94: John Danks against Oakland on July 6th.
89-94: Seth McClung against Colorado on July 7th.
89-92: Matt Harrison in winning his major league debut against the Angels on July 8th.

Next week: AL Central: Gavin Floyd


Article first appeared 7/11/08