If there was any doubt about who the best pitcher in the world is, hopefully Johan Santana erased most of it yesterday afternoon. With the Twins on the verge of clinching their third straight American League Central championship, Santana tossed eight shutout innings against the Orioles, striking out 14 Baltimore hitters without issuing a walk.
Santana threw 78 of his 103 pitches for strikes on his way to increasing his scoreless innings streak to 30. He has now won 12 straight decisions, including wins in 11 straight starts, and has not lost since July 11, when he gave up two runs to the Tigers and the Twins’ offense came up empty. Yesterday’s dominant outing was his 20th consecutive Quality Start.
Santana improved to 19-6 on the season, raised his league-leading strikeout total to 254, and lowered his major league-leading ERA to 2.65. He is 12-0 with a 1.16 ERA (yes, 1.16) since the All-Star break, a span of 13 starts in which he has 118 strikeouts, 18 walks, and just 51 hits allowed. And since the beginning of June, Santana is 17-3 with a 1.50 ERA in 21 starts, with 200 strikeouts in 156 innings pitched.
Just in case all of that didn’t convince you and you need some more evidence, here’s how Santana compares to the guy some people mistakenly think is a legitimate Cy Young candidate, Curt Schilling …
IP ERA RA/9 SO BB OAVG QS Santana 217.0 2.65 2.82 254 49 .194 24 Schilling 211.2 3.40 3.49 183 30 .249 20
It’s not that Schilling has been bad, because he’s actually been fantastic this year. It’s just that no one comes close to Santana. Santana has thrown more innings than Schilling, and has been 22.1% better preventing earned runs and 19.2% better preventing runs, period. Santana has 38.8% more strikeouts, has held opponents to a batting average that is 55 points and 22.1% better than what batters have hit off of Schilling, and has more Quality Starts.
Here are some more numbers for you to chew on …
OBP SLG OPS GPA VORP RSAA WS WSAA Santana .248 .317 .565 .191 78.3 48 25 13 Schilling .277 .406 .683 .226 65.1 36 19 7
Santana has been 10.5% better than Schilling at keeping runners off base, his slugging percentage allowed is 21.9% better, and his total offense allowed is either 17.3% better or 15.5% better than Schilling’s, depending on if you’d rather use OPS allowed or Gross Production Average (GPA) allowed.
Moving on to some of the more advanced metrics, you can see that Santana has a 20.3% edge in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), a 33.3% advantage in Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA), a 31.5% lead in Win Shares (WS), and is blowing Schilling away in Win Shares Above Average (WSAA), 13 to seven. And the amazing thing is that, because all of those advanced metrics aren’t updated as frequently as regular stats, those totals are from before Santana’s 14-strikeout masterpiece against the Orioles.
A pitcher’s job is quite simple: Throw as many innings as you can and give up as few runs as you can, and Santana has been better than Schilling at both those things in 2004. In fact, the only significant thing Schilling has done better than Santana this year is get better run support, which has led to Schilling winning 20 games and Santana winning 19.
Quite simply, Schilling pitches for a team with a great offense and Santana pitches for a team with a lineup that has struggled for much of the season, so Schilling has a slightly higher total in the one number most baseball fans (and far too many mainstream media members) look to first for pitchers. Unfortunately, what they don’t look at is that wins and losses for pitchers come not only from what they do on the mound, but from the support their offense provides them with, which is something pitchers have absolutely no control over.
Schilling has received the most run support in the American League, with the Red Sox scoring him 7.57 runs per nine innings while he’s on the mound. Meanwhile, Santana has gotten just 5.51 runs of support per nine innings from the Twins, 27.2% fewer runs to work with than Schilling has received. You give Santana Schilling’s run support and Schilling Santana’s run support, and not only isn’t this even a contest, Santana is probably being hyped as a legitimate MVP candidate (which he is anyway, but that’s another issue).
If Schilling does end up taking Santana’s Cy Young award this year, it will be just about all you need to know about the mainstream media’s obsession with pitchers’ wins. By any objective measure that does not rely on the amount of support a pitcher has gotten from his offense — something the pitcher has absolutely no control over, particularly in the American League — Santana has been significantly better than Schilling.
In fact, this could be one of those times when the side someone takes in a debate is a way to determine what kind of person they are, and whether or not your world view is at all compatible. Ask someone the age-old question of “Bull Durham or Field of Dreams?” and you can get a pretty good feel for whether or not the two of you can get along. The same thing goes for the equally-important “Britney or Christina?” quandary, and, of course, the always-dangerous, “Who are you voting for?”
“Santana or Schilling?” has the potential to be one of those questions. I know for me, I hope to find out which voters cast their ballot for Schilling, so that I can avoid reading their work for the rest of my life. Because in my mind, anyone who sees what Santana and Schilling have done this year and comes away thinking anything other than that Santana has been the better pitcher is completely undeserving of an audience, and probably should have a scarlet “W” permanently placed on their press-pass.
And if for some reason you need even more evidence that I’m right, consider that John Kruk and Jeff Brantley are in complete agreement that Schilling deserves the award.