News, Notes and Quotes (May 9, 2005)

Johan Santana is Good

Johan Santana had his 17-game winning streak snapped when he lost 2-1 to Bartolo Colon and the Angels earlier this month, but he started up a new streak with a complete game win over the Devil Rays Friday. After giving up a run on back-to-back triples in the first inning, Santana breezed through the final eight innings like he was throwing batting practice and the Devil Rays had a bus to catch. He needed just 92 pitches to complete the game, an average of 2.78 per batter, threw just 16 balls, and started 29 of the 33 (88%) Tampa Bay hitters with strikes.

With the win, Santana improved to 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA on the season and 48-19 with a 3.43 ERA for his career. Among active pitchers with at least 500 career innings pitched, Santana’s .716 career winning percentage ranks first, just slightly ahead of Pedro Martinez (.707) and Tim Hudson (.704). In fact, if Santana wins his start this week against Baltimore, he will have the highest winning percentage (.721) in baseball history among pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched since 1900. Santana currently ranks second to Spud Chandler, who never had a losing season and went 109-43 (.717) with the Yankees from 1937-1947.

Santana also has an amazing 59-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 50 innings this season, which puts him on pace to break the all-time strikeout-to-walk ratio record. Here’s a list of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios in baseball history among pitchers with at least 150 innings in a season:

PITCHER                  YEAR    SO/BB
Bret Saberhagen          1994    11.00   
Curt Schilling           2002     9.58   
Pedro Martinez           2000     8.88   
Greg Maddux              1997     8.85   
Pedro Martinez           1999     8.46   
Ben Sheets               2004     8.25   
Greg Maddux              1995     7.87   
Curt Schilling           2001     7.51   
Ferguson Jenkins         1971     7.11   
Cy Young                 1905     7.00

Santana currently has 11.8 strikeouts for every walk, a number that would be even better (14.8-to-1) if he didn’t give Mike Sweeney an intentional walk back on April 26. Of course, Santana’s rotationmate, Brad Radke, currently has 31 strikeouts and one walk this season (a 31-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio for those of you who are even worse than me at math), so Bret Saberhagen might not be Santana’s biggest competition.

Underrated is the New Overrated

“Overrated” and “underrated” are two labels that get tossed around so much in sports that they inevitably lose some of their meaning. I even wrote a column last year arguing that Garret Anderson has been called overrated so often by one segment of the baseball-watching population that he is actually underrated. Which brings me to ESPN.com’s series of articles last Wednesday that had various writers naming their all-overrated and all-underrated teams.

The thing that interested me about the articles is that Omar Vizquel was named by two different writers, but the funny thing is that they couldn’t agree on whether or not he was overrated or underrated. Rob Neyer not only thinks Vizquel is overrated, he named Vizquel to his all-time “Most Overrated Team.” Meanwhile, Steve Phillips named Vizquel to his “All-Underrated Team.” Here’s what Phillips had to say about Vizquel being underrated:

In the steroid era of baseball, we have been consumed by the home run. Vizquel is not a power hitter, but he is a power fielder.

Ozzie Smith, a Hall of Famer, had a .978 fielding percentage for his career. Smith is arguably the best fielding shortstop ever to play the game. Vizquel’s career fielding percentage is .983. Vizquel made only three errors in 156 games in 2000 and had four seasons in which he played 150 games or more and had single-digit errors. Smith only did that once. Vizquel’s offensive numbers are on par with Smith’s and in some categories are better. Yes, Vizquel is a Hall of Famer.

How can one player appear on both teams? It’s pretty simple, really, and actually says a lot about the different schools of thought that are prevalent in baseball right now. Phillips thinks Vizquel is underrated (and a Hall of Famer) because his career fielding percentage and hitting numbers are similar to the great Ozzie Smith‘s. Neyer presumably thinks Vizquel is overrated for exactly the opposite reason — he doesn’t think having a better fielding percentage means much of anything when comparing a shortstop to Smith.

I tend to side with Neyer (shocking, I know). Shortstops make hundreds of plays per season, so whether or not someone is credited with 10 “errors” or 20 “errors” is almost meaningless. Not only is 10 plays a very small percentage of the balls they are asked to field, it doesn’t show what sort of range a player has (plus, it is highly subjective and put entirely in the hands of the home team’s official scorer). In other words, if a player gets to more balls defensively than another player, he can afford to make more errors. And no one got to as many balls as Ozzie. Saying Vizquel is a Hall of Famer because his fielding percentage is the same as Smith’s is like saying B.J. Surhoff is a Hall of Famer because his career batting average is the same as Carl Yastrzemski‘s.

Cue Outrage in 3 … 2 … 1 …

I’ve made a concerted effort to cut back on complaining about high pitch counts for young pitchers recently, but it’s almost impossible to ignore what Dusty Baker let Carlos Zambrano do yesterday. Not only did the 23-year-old Zambrano throw a ridiculous 136 pitches in a complete game win over the Phillies in early May, he did so during a six-week stretch in which he has already had forearm cramping and blister problems.

Now who knows, maybe Zambrano is the new Livan Hernandez and can just keep throwing a crazy number of pitches for Baker without his arm falling off. But what happens if Zambrano can’t and he goes down with an arm injury just like Baker’s other young aces, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood? Someone once told me that one is a fluke, two is a coincidence, and three is a pattern. And 136 is too many pitches.

“Now batting for Rich Lederer …”

Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith often feature some of the best pinch-hitters in blogging over at Baseball Analysts. The latest bat off the bench is Matt Welch, who hit one over the fence (can I stop with the forced baseball lingo now?) with his story about growing up in California with, coincidentally enough, veteran pinch-hitter Dave Hansen. Not only is the piece a good one and the journey through Hansen’s unique career an interesting one, there’s a great picture of a teenage Hansen playing guitar while his bandmate Welch, as he writes, tries his “worst to sing like John Lennon.”

Staci Keanan was unavailable for comment

Whenever someone talks about how difficult it would be for a major-league player to come out of the closet with his homosexuality, a lot of people are surprised that the atmosphere in a big-league clubhouse would be so difficult to deal with. A Sunday article in the Cincinnati Enquirer provides a unique glimpse into just how tough it might be. First, here’s an excerpt from the article, without any context:

“I was joking around, because I don’t really know anything about same-sex parents,” [Ben] Weber said. “But I said, ‘All I know is this: A kid with same-sex parents is going to be pretty (messed) up.’”

One can only assume from their censoring that the newspaper’s dictionary lists “to have sexual intercourse with” as a definition for “messed.” Anyway, the context of the quote is that Cincinnati reliever Joe Valentine is indeed the product of a same-sex marriage, which was of course an interesting topic for a newspaper article on Mother’s Day. And what was Ben Weber‘s reaction after Valentine spoke up and told him he was “raised by two moms”?

“I was like, ‘Oh, dude, let me remove the foot from my mouth and apologize,’ ” Weber said. “But he wasn’t offended. It’s great that he shared it with us. He seemed to turn out pretty damn good. He must have some awesome parents.”

Yeah, I’m sure he wasn’t offended at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valentine walked away from the conversation muttering “(mess) you” under his breath.

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