You Don’t Mess With the Johan

This offseason the biggest transaction clearly had to be Chad Durbin signing a 1-yr, < 1 mil deal with the Phillies.  Other than that, the only move in the same vicinity of importance involved Johan Santana joining the New York Metropolitans.  Arguably the best pitcher in the game, Santana seemed poised to revive a team on the heels of a terrible 2007 finish.  Additionally, joining the Mets rotation gave them four quality starters.
Johan’s 2007 campaign was less-than-Johan; his established performance level had been so high that anything less would be uncivilized uncharacteristic of our expectations.  Despite still posting solid numbers–don’t let the 15-13 record fool you–they were not as good as his Cy Young Award worthy numbers from 2004-2006.
This year, the Mets are off to a slow start but Santana has performed well by most accounts.  Oddly though he has barely been seen on mainstream media outlets.  While his numbers the last three years, in small market Minnesota, were all over Sportscenter, I actually had to look up this year’s numbers for this article… which is odd considering I’m a fan of an NL East team and he plays in the media center of the world.
One knock on his performance last year into now is his pension for surrendering longballs.  Saber-friend Cyril Morong recently e-mailed me to see if I had see anything with Johan, statistically or Pitch F/X-ically, that might explain what has been different.  Unfortunately, we don’t have the Pitch F/X data for Johan in his 2004-2006 prime, but tendencies or discrepancies can still be determined with the numbers available.
2007-2008 Statistics
For starters, take a look at his stats last year:
33 GS, 219 IP, 183 H, 52 BB, 235 K, 15-13, 3.33 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 1.07 WHIP, 4.52 K/BB
And how they stack up with the numbers so far into the 2008 season:
12 GS, 81.2 IP, 78 H, 20 BB, 71 K, 7-3, 3.20 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 1.20 WHIP, 3.55 K/BB
Selection/Frequency
Next, here are his frequency of pitches in 2007, split by handedness, thanks to the triumvirate of Mike Fast’s analysis a few months ago, Josh Kalk’s player cards, and my own research:

LHH

%

RHH

%

FA

64.1

FA

59.2

SL

26.9

SL

8.2

CH

9.0

CH

32.6

And in 2008:

LHH

%

RHH

%

FA

50.5

FA

61.0

SL

44.2

SL

10.8

CH

5.3

CH

28.3

It should be very clear that Johan is throwing less fastballs and significantly more sliders to lefties so far.  His approach to righties has not changed much, with the exception of a slight increase in FA and SL; the CH is being used about four percent less.
Velocity/Movement
How about his speed and “bite”?  Have they changed?  Compare his 2007 numbers to those right now:

2007

Velo.

Horiz.

Vert.

FA

92.8

7.58

11.22

SL

84.9

2.96

4.81

CH

81.8

8.47

7.62

2008

Velo.

Horiz.

Vert.

FA

91.9

6.14

9.04

SL

84.3

-0.26

4.45

CH

80.8

6.29

7.14

He’s throwing slower–albeit slightly–on each of his pitches.  Just as important, he is throwing with much less movement.
Hits vs. Swing K + Foul
Thinking there might be something different between his velocity/movement/selection on pitches resulting in hits and those whiffed at or fouled off I filtered the info and found the following:

Hits

%

Velo.

Move.

FA

56.8

91.4

7.25/9.47

SL

15.3

84.5

4.27/5.63

CH

27.9

80.6

5.32/5.82

F/SwK

%

Velo.

Move.

FA

52.7

91.7

6.22/10.36

SL

15.5

84.6

3.79/6.04

CH

32.3

80.4

5.60/6.51

He seems to have more movement on those fouled off or missed but very similar velocities.  In terms of specific pitches, those missed or fouled off have consisted of more changeups at the expense of fastballs; ~57% of his hits surrendered, captured by the dataset, came on fastballs.
HR Specifics?
Lastly, I looked at the home runs surrendered, those captured by the Pitch F/X system, to see what happens on those pitches.  First, his velocity and movement (note – of the data I have, no HR have come on sliders):
Fastballs: 90.7 mph, 5.59/10.21 movement
Changeups: 80.4 mph, 3.70/6.29 movement
His fastball velocity is, by all accounts, lower on home runs than anywhere else mentioned throughout this article.  His FA movement is very similar to that of those fouled off or missed.  His changeup has come in a bit straighter as evidenced by the decrease of close to two horizontal inches in movement. 
Here’s a location chart of where these gopher balls have come in:
santanahr.JPG
Notice anything?  Maybe that most, if not all, are right over the middle of the plate?  Pitches with decreased velocity and movement, coming in right over the middle of the plate are not necessarily surprising in the sense of leaving the yard off the bat.
Overall For Now
This isn’t meant to be a definitive look but rather something to keep in mind going forward.  It appears that there truly isn’t much of a discrepancy in velocity but he had much more movement last year; additionally, his movement was higher on pitches fouled at or missed than on hits.  On home runs, the slower fastball velocity, threesomed with the less movement and poor location seem to make the most sense as likely causes.

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4 Responses to You Don’t Mess With the Johan

  1. Brian L Cartwright says:

    That his pitches that have less speed and movement are the ones more likely to go for hits and homers – I would think that this same pattern holds for most pitchers. I’d be interested in seeing this run for the league as a whole and for some other pitchers and see how the patterns compare to what you’ve found for Santana

  2. Brian, yep I would intuitively expect the same thing. Something I’m doing now is looking at BABIP based on movement that I’ll post soon, which may give some insight as to the likelihood of hits based on movement.

  3. […] From 2003-2006 his HR/9 ranged from 0.85-0.97; in 2007 it jumped to 1.36 as he allowed 33 dingers. I recently took a look at his Pitch F/X data over the last year and a half to see if he had done anything differently on hits as compared […]

  4. Tomjh says:

    As a Twins fan, I can tell you from experience that Santana’s stuff will improve as the season progresses. If you compare his numbers through 12 starts this season with his first 12 starts in any other season, I’m sure they will compare favorably.

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