Fluke Watch: Johan Santana

Johan Santana was one of the biggest question marks coming in to this season. Would he still be an ace? Would his pitches still be the same? Well, two starts into the season, his results looked like the Johan of old: 13 strikeouts, five walks in 11 Innings. Then in his third start, he was wild and didn’t last even two innings, striking out no one. Then last night, as I was writing this, Santana struck out 11 and walked just two.

What can we expect from Santana? Is he an ace still? Can he be trusted to keep up his early dominance? Or was his start in Atlanta, his first time facing a team with an updated scouting report against him (Atlanta had faced him in his 2012 debut), a sign of things to come?

Santana’s pitches

To answer that, let’s compare Santana’s pitches now with those same pitches in 2010, his last season in the majors.

He throws four pitches: a four-seam fastball (his primary fastball), a two-seam fastball, a change-up, and a slider. In 2010, these pitches had the following characteristics:

Pitch type Avg. velocity Avg. horizontal spin deflection Avg. vertical spin deflection
Four-seam 89.5 mph +4.90 +9.77
Two-seam 89.16 mph +7.98 +8.34
Change-up 79.3 mph +6.75 +6.81
Slider 81.9 mph +0.93 +2.74

Note that telling the fastballs apart is extremely difficult, so my numbers above differ from the classifications at Brooks Baseball (by Harry Pavlidis). But they’re good enough for a comparison. Now let’s look at Santana’s pitches over his last three starts (his fourth start’s data was not yet available as I was writing thisy):

Pitch type Avg. velocity Avg.horizontal spin deflection Avg. vertical spin deflection
Four-seam 88.3 mph +3.95 +10.06
Two-seam 87.6 mph +8.06 +9.22
Change-up 78.1 mph +6.60 +8.89
Slider 80.9 mph -0.22/td> +2.61

So how do Santana’s pitches now compare to his pitches in 2010? Basically, they’re the same. Each pitch is roughly a mile per hour slower than it was in 2010 and the changes to movement are all within the margin of error of PITCHf/x.

Conclusion

What does this mean? Well it means that we should expect more or less the same thing as we saw in 2010, maybe a slight bit worse due to the loss of a mile per hour. And in 2010, Santana wasn’t really showing the most dominating peripherals —he kept his ERA low, but he certainly wasn’t a strikeout master. He’s definitely worth a pickup, but I wouldn’t consider him an ace for fantasy purposes.

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