On Friday, The Wall Street Journal published an article about the longevity of New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera and lefty Andy Pettitte. The article noted how both pitchers, who are in their 40’s now, have been able to pitch at such a high level so deep into their careers. It highlighted that Pettitte in particular, as he aged, learned how to pitch smarter. Pettitte understood that he didn’t need to throw 97 MPH to get outs, he had secondary pitches.
The Mets also have an aging ace in Johan Santana who could benefit from this type of wisdom. Santana’s past three years have been frustrating. Including surgically repairing his shoulder, missing all of the 2011 season, and after ten hot starts in 2012, including a no hitter, Santana struggled and eventually found refuge on the disabled list. The bottom line is Santana has been brittle, and it appears likely that he won’t be ready for opening day. Given that Santana hasn’t pitched consistently since 2010, now may be the time for the Mets coaching staff to consider reevaluating his approach.
It starts with Santana’s pitch repertoire, which includes a fastball, change up, slider, and an occasional two seamer. Of those four pitches, only the slider seems to be a red flag for injury. In the table below is some compiled pitch f/x data on the percentage of each type of pitch that Santana has thrown since 2008.
|Year||Fastball%||Two-Seam FB%||Change Up%||Slider%|
Eno Sarris of FanGraphs once conducted a study in which he found that pitchers who throw sliders 28% of the time are likely to end up with some sort of injury. This has been the case with guys like Michael Pineda and Brett Anderson, who have each had their own problems. Santana threw his slider 20.4% of the time last year. Although that is significantly below the 28% threshold, Santana does have a surgically repaired shoulder and throwing a large volume of sliders with that shoulder seems likely to lead to some sort of injury. We have already heard that Santana’s shoulder has been acting up in camp, so it’s probably a good idea to consider cutting down on the number of sliders he throws.
He doesn’t have to cut the slider out completely, but it is worth noting that last year he threw his change up fewer times than in most years, and more importantly he drastically dropped the number of times he threw his two-seam fastball. Prior to 2012, Santana has already had success but it wasn’t due to his slider. His success was credited to throwing his fastball, change up and two-seamer at larger volumes than his slider. In order for the Mets to keep Santana on the field a couple of more innings, it’s not a bad idea to have him cut down on his sliders, replace it with his two-seam fastball, and increase the number of times he throws his change up. These are the types of changes that allow Santana to pitch smarter, and in return keep him off the disabled list.