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Johan Santana’s Performance Allows Mets to Dream for a Day

Johan Santana’s Performance Allows Mets to Dream for a Day

Johan Santana’s Performance Allows Mets to Dream for a Day

Valley Fever, strained rib cages, declining payroll and the Madoff clawback lawsuit have been much talked about topics around Port St. Lucie this spring; especially the last week. There will be plenty of time for gloom and doom this year, but yesterday Johan Santana gave the Mets and their fans a ray of hope in an otherwise cloudy start to the season.

Johan Santana’s 2012 exhibition debut might be the most talked about spring training start in Mets history. If this team has any shot of seriously thinking playoffs a return to form for Santana is a must. His health is necessary if they have any thoughts of just finishing .500.

Everyone will talk velocity and command, but the real story is that he made the start and reported no ill effects after. This is an important step, albeit a small one, for a pitcher that is returning from an injury that has no history of success.

Mark Prior is the worst case scenario, as he’s yet to throw a big league pitch since he went down in 2006. Chien-Ming Wang offers some hope, as he finally returned to the mound last season after a two year hiatus.

What can be expected of Santana? Hard to predict, but I already have gone on record saying he won’t be on the opening day roster. I believe anyone that doesn’t take the “under” on 25 starts is looking at this injury through a blue and orange prism. But there is plenty of time for that cold reality. Let’s assume Santana can stay healthy and give the team about 160 innings and 25 starts. What is reasonable to expect?

On a bum shoulder in 2010 he won 11 games and pitched to a 2.98 ERA. He also performed at an ace-level the two years prior on a bum knee and balky elbow. He’s proven to be a warrior, a competitor. He’s someone that will fight through pain and maximize whatever a diminished repertoire provides. Remember, this is a pitcher that had a 93-mph fastball his final season in Minnesota. Even at his best, he’s lived around 90-mph as a Met. The real question is not whether his fastball will return- we all know it won’t- but can he command his pitches. Can he get the right velocity differentiation in his changeup and bite on his slider.

Let’s look at Chien-Ming Wang. For all the talk about Wang’s diminished fastball, he wasn’t all that different a pitcher (4.04 ERA, 1.2 WHIP) during his 11 starts in Washington last season. He doesn’t keep the ball down as well as during his early career peak, but his 53.4% groundball percentage still put him among the best in baseball among qualified leaders. His 96 ERA+ was down from the 108 he produced as a Yankee.

Can Santana win 12 games and pitch to a 3.50 ERA? Could he produce a similar line to what we have seen from R.A. Dickey that last two seasons? History tells us that if Santana has some semblance of health, he will. Getting on the mound is the million dollar question, not performance. Great players have a way of overcoming physical obstacles to perform. Remember how everyone wrote Carlos Beltran off at this time a year ago?

If so, the Mets would have 4 starters that could provide middle of the rotation output. That should be good enough to keep them in most games. It still puts them towards the bottom of the NL East, but it’s not their fault the division boosts some of the best talent in the National League.

It was only two innings. The Mets have suffered so much bad news the last three years that small victories can’t be overlooked. Spring training is the time of the year when you are allowed to dream. Johan Santana gave the Mets reason to finally do that with his performance yesterday.

 

For more from Mike Silva, go to nybaseballdigest.com

 

By Mike Silva
Wednesday, 7 Mar 2012

 

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