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Monday, February 14, 2005

The Real El Presidente (sorry Dennis Martinez)

Johan Santana, the secondbest pitcher (after Randy Johnson) in baseball last season, has apparently signed a four-year deal with the Twins. No word on the dollars in the contract yet, but this has to be a good deal for Minnesota. I don't think it's possible for a wallet-conscious team like the Twins to overpay for a pitcher of Santana's youth and ability, but they must have made it worth his while to pass on the upcoming free agency he was due for at the end of 2006.

If Santana keeps pitching like he has for the last year-and-a-half — and there's no reason why he shouldn't, unless he somehow loses control of the changeup that vaulted him into the elite rank of pitchers — he'll command major money when free agency finally rolls around for him in 2009.

His ERA this season probably won't be as low as the 2.61 he posted last year, but he should bring it in somewhere between 3.00 and 3.15 which is pretty sweet in these offence-crazy days.

Don't miss a chance to catch a game that this guy pitches in. In two years time, when people talk about pitchers, there'll be Johan Santana and Mark Prior in one breath and then all the rest.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

And apologize you should for comparing this young fresh faced fellow with Dennis Martinez. Only time will tell if Santana has what it takes to be a major league player for 22 years. Martinez may not be a Hall of Famer but he certainly has accomplished a heck of a lot more than Santana has. Santana may one day surpass El Presidente but he hasn't yet and your presumption is ridiculous. I can show you several pitchers who have had a good one or two years and then fell off the face of the earth.

MackJohnny said...

All presumptions could be said to be ridiculous.

What, I didn't put enough ifs and qualifiers in that post for you? :)

Seriously Santana doesn't need to be a major leaguer for 22 years to be a better pitcher right now than Dennis Martinez ever was.

Santana hasn't had a good couple of years. He's had a great couple of years. And there's a big difference between good and great. Santana's peripheral numbers and overall dominance since the Twins finally made him a full time starter make it obvious that's he's neither a fluke, nor a flash in the pan. Show me your several pitchers who've had a good year or two, and I'll show you why they couldn't keep it up. (For instance, beyond Dwight Gooden's drug problems, the Mets took Gooden away from his strength by asking him not to strike so many guys out. That probably had at least as big an effect on his pitching as whatever drugs he took)

And although Santana has made only 75 major league starts in his career, while Marinez made 562, there are a couple of ways to compare the two players. One is to look at what they have both done at the same ages. So let's take a look at their respective age 23, 24, 25 seasons.

Now we have to remember that we are comparing across eras here, and that Martinez pitched in a less offensive-oriented era; and he also pitched in a time when the closer, as we know him today, was just being invented -- meaning that both bullpens and starting rotations were run differently than they are today. As a result, Martinez pitched more innings at the ages we're looking at than Santana did: 668 IP to 494 2/3 IP. Also because of the differences in the way pitching staffs are handled, Martinez made 89 starts to Santana's 66.

Still, I think that the ERA+ stat at baseball-reference.com adjusts sufficiently for those factors for a comparison between the two pitchers to be valid. ERA+ is pretty simple, really. What it does is tell us how a pitcher performed compared to his league's average ERA: it refers to that league average ERA as 100; a number over 100 is better than average; a number under 100 is worse than average. Here we go:

Player Teams Age ERA Lg ERA ERA+
Martinez, Dennis Mtl 23 3.52 3.51 100
Martinez, Dennis Mtl 24 3.66 4.02 110
Martinez, Dennis Mtl 25 3.97 3.96 100

Player Teams
Santana, Johan Min 23 2.99 4.42 148
Santana, Johan Min 24 3.07 4.62 151
Santana, Johan Min 25 2.61 4.73 182

Santana clearly outperformed Martinez at the same age-seasons.

The other comparison we can make is to take a block of seasons where the pitchers peaked during their careers and see how those peaks look in respect to the other pitcher's peak. Here we run into a problem that is probably unfair to Santana: he almost certainly hasn't reached his peak yet. So we're going to have compare the same three seasons of his to Martinez's three-year peak, which came in the 1990, 91, and 92 seasons:

Player Teams Age ERA Lg ERA ERA+
Martinez, Dennis Mtl 35 2.95 3.65 124
Martinez, Dennis Mtl 36 2.39 3.61 151
Martinez, Dennis Mtl 37 2.37 3.47 141

Player Teams
Santana, Johan Min 23 2.99 4.42 148
Santana, Johan Min 24 3.07 4.62 151
Santana, Johan Min 25 2.61 4.73 182

The difference in those seasons is not quite as pronounced, yet Santana still clearly has the better numbers.

Anonymous said...

OK John you make a good case. Of course you're ignoring the fact that in the first 2 seasons your looking at for Santana he only plays 108.3 and 158.3 innings. But beyond that the numbers do tell a story. I think that as a fantasy baseball player you are ignoring the greater factor. El Presidente played for the greatest baseball franchise in the National Leagues storied history. The Montreal Expos. A team so amazing that the league twice prematurely ended seasons to prevent them from winning world championships.

MackJohnny said...

I wouldn't say I was ignoring anything. I did point there was a big difference between the two in innings pitched in the seasons I was looking at, and the numbers for Santana are right there on the baseball-reference.com page I linked to at the very beginning of the original post.

"the greatest baseball franchise in the National Leagues storied history. The Montreal Expos."I know it's gotta be tough to have been a fan of the previous incarnation of the Washington Nationals, but does it really help the mourning process to exaggerate their place in history?

Here's a prescription for dealing with grief: play Texas Hold 'Em until you get pocket kings with a third king on the flop, then sandbag until the first round of betting on the river. With any luck you'll be able to get someone to go all in against you and you can clean 'em out just like MLB cleaned Montreal.

Anonymous said...

OK - you are such a romantic John, I logged on to see what you put up for VALENTINES day.
Hmm this is all very facinating, i like how you tell off anonymous and good (just kidding A). Now, how about a love poem;Ted Hughes, Neruda - read for us! READ!

Eve

MackJohnny said...

There will be no Valentine's poems, not even of the Hughesian sort.