What 2013 holds for Johan Santana

Though it may be hard to believe, Johan Santana is entering the final year of his massive six-year, $137.5 million contract, signed with the New York Mets following a February 2008 trade from the Minnesota Twins.

While there is a $25 million team option for 2014, it is clear to anyone who has watched General Manager Sandy Alderson these past three offseasons that the team will not be picking up the option, which leaves two realistic scenarios for 2013:  Santana is traded to a contender in July (probably around the time Zack Wheeler is called up), or Santana finishes out the season as a Met and leaves as a free agent.

The likelihood of either scenario depends almost entirely on two factors: his health and his performance.  Since health is nearly impossible to predict without a medical degree, let’s focus on the second factor.

Pitcher A:  59 IP, 2.75 ERA, 9.15 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 15:4 K:BB, .219 Opp.Avg.

Pitcher B:  57.2 IP, 7.08 ERA, 8.02 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 51:23 K:BB, .288 Opp.Avg

In case you haven’t figured this out yet, Pitcher A is Santana before the no-hitter, Pitcher B is Santana after the no-hitter (his stats from the no-no are included in B’s stats).  While the strikeout rate declined slightly (though it still remained solid), the walk rate ballooned by over a full walk per nine innings, and the ERA skyrocketed by over 4.25 runs.

It has been widely speculated that one of the main factors causing Santana’s production to go from David Cone circa 1991 in April and May to Matt Wise circa 2008 from June to August 27, when he was shut down, was the 134 pitches he threw during the June 1st no-hitter, but his June statistics were still very good, which doesn’t support that theory: 7.63 K/9, .180 Opp. Avg., 1.08 WHIP, 2.77 ERA (of course those stats look better because of the no-no).

Blaming the decline on one start where Santana threw too many pitches gives fans hope that he may return to form in 2013, after all, his shoulder has had plenty of time to recover.

The more likely cause of his decline was the sprained ankle that landed him on the disabled list in July and the back inflammation which ended Santana’s season prematurely in August.

If this is the reason for Santana’s struggles, 2013 might end up being a troublesome year for him.  If Santana is unable to stay healthy, as was the case in 2012, the production will not be there and Alderson will have a difficult if not impossible time trying to deal him at the deadline, which this article in The Record seems to imply is the goal of the organization.

If baseball savant Bill James’s algorithm is reasonably accurate, the Mets should have no problems accomplishing that goal.  James’ model projects Santana to make 27 starts, post an 11-9 record, a 3.50 ERA, 7.88 K/9, 2.97 BB/9 in 2013.

This projection may be a little optimistic, but it would not be unreasonable for Santana to have an ERA in the 4.00 range and 11-12 wins when the season is all said and done.

If Santana is on pace for anything reasonably close to that stat line by the July 31st trade deadline, the Mets should be getting plenty of calls from hopeful playoff teams looking to solidify their rotation.

It would be unfair to expect Alderson to pull off another steal of a trade, as he did by trading Carlos Beltran for Wheeler or R.A. Dickey and co. for Travis D’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and co., but you can bet that if Santana is traded, the team should get some nice talent in return.

The Mets are currently in a rebuilding mode, gearing up for success in 2014 and beyond.  If Santana can return to some semblance of his old self, as he did from April – June of last year, he will play a big role in forming the next young core of players.

It goes without saying that this is a best-case scenario for both Santana and the Mets, and is completely dependent not only on Santana’s health, but his on-field performance.  If he performs poorly, the return in a trade will be diminished or he will be untradeable, and will pitch the rest of the season with the Mets then head out into the free agency market.

There are many questions that surround Santana in 2013, but one thing that is a given is it will be his last season in orange and blue.

Just how important is the health of Johan Santana for Mets’ success in 2013?

One of the Mets’ perceived strengths heading into the 2013 season is the makeup and depth of their rotation.

With the Mets expected to get consistent, reliable seasons from the likes of R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese and Matt Harvey, the health and reliability of Johan Santana could be the major wild card for success for the Mets next year.

So what can we expect from Santana in 2013? How many innings and starts can we depend on from Santana?

After overcoming major shoulder surgery in 2010 and missing all of the 2011 season, Santana was sight for sore eyes at the beginning of the 2012 season. Santana stormed out of the gate and was an anchor in the Mets’ rotation for the first three months or so. Of course, Santana’s season was undeniably defined by him throwing the Mets’ first ever no-hitter, which is a memory that Mets’ fan will cherish forever. To say that Santana was a feel good story in the early going would be a massive understatement. From April to early June, Santana was the story in Queens; even Dickey was living in his shadow.

Santana was pitching at an all-star level and after he tossed his magical no-hitter on June 1, he sported a 3-2 record with a 2.38 ERA. After a hiccup against the Yankees in his next start, in which he gave up six earned runs in five innings, Santana rebounded to post three wins out of his next four starts while allowing only six earned runs in 25 innings.

Santana’s July 6 start against the Chicago Cubs was when the wheels started to come off. It was then he injured his ankle and he was-simply put-never the same. Including that start against the Cubs, Santana would lose his next three starts (not lasting past the fifth inning in any start) while allowing 19 earned runs in 12.2 innings pitched.

The Mets would then put Santana on the DL after his July 20 start to get some rest for his ankle and his extended pitching workload. However, the time off did not make a difference, as Santana would only make two more starts after being activated off the DL on August 11. After his return Santana was decisively worse, pitching only 6.1 innings in those two starts and allowing a staggering 14 earned runs on 15 hits. To compound matters, Santana was experiencing some lower back inflammation upon his return from the ankle injury.

At this point the Mets had no other choice but to shelve Santana for the rest of the year. Considering that the Mets were in no position for a playoff berth, the Mets wanted to err on the side of caution and have him (hopefully) fully healthy for the 2013 season.

In what was a promising start, Santana’s final stat lines were rather ugly, as he was 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA.

After so many questions surrounding the health of his surgically repaired shoulder, Santana actually looked healthy for most of the season prior to the ankle injury. Of course many will point out the astounding pitch total (134) that Santana had to work through to achieve the first ever Mets’ no-hitter, but ultimately Santana broke down due to the ankle injury.

The likely cause, though, for Santana’s ultimate downfall was the combination of his increasing workload and both his ankle and back injuries. Santana simply ran out of gas in August. And that’s perfectly normal and acceptable.

But for the Mets to achieve any sort of marked turnaround in 2013, Santana has to give the Mets more than the 117 innings he gave them in 2012. It would be great if the Mets could get 150-plus innings from Santana this coming year. Now that the Mets have some depth at pitcher and could also call up Zack Wheeler at some point next season, they can be careful with the workload they assign Santana. As perhaps the Mets’ fourth starter, anything Santana gives the Mets next year will be gravy and if he can give the Mets 150-plus innings and close to 30 starts, the Mets could be put in a position to succeed.

Santana is signed through the 2013 season (with a team option for 2014) and if Santana pitches well the Mets could also explore avenues in possibly trading him as well.

So, if the Mets can get some solid innings out of Santana, the fortunes of the Mets’ 2013 season could turn around real quick. If Santana is simply worn out and is the pitcher he appeared to be at the end of the 2012 season, it could be another season of status quo in Queens.

That is why the health of Santana is of paramount importance heading into the 2013 season.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Can the Mets count on Johan Santana in the second half?

For once, the Mets’ beleaguered bullpen cannot be blamed for another tough, gut-wrenching defeat, when on Friday night the Mets fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-6. The Mets have now dropped eight out of their last ten.

Ironically, it was the Mets’ bullpen that kept the team in Friday’s affair, as four Mets’ relievers combined to pitch six innings while allowing only one run on three hits and one walk.

No, the Mets were stuck in a hole due to Johan Santana’s ineffectiveness on this night.

Santana was off, as he completed only three innings while allowing six runs on seven hits and three walks. The Mets did their best too scrap and climb their way back into the game and eventually only lost by one run, which has been a theme of late.

This was no aberration. Santana has simply not been himself of late.

Actually, Santana has not been quite the same since he threw his epic no-hitter back on June 1. Since that time, Santana has allowed 31 earned runs in 42.2 innings pitched (6.54 ERA). In those eight starts since the no-hitter, Santana has only thrown three quality starts. Also, since that memorable night at Citi Field, Santana’s WHIP is an unsettling 1.63.

So, it begs a question, is Santana breaking down and did all that workload in the no-hitter take the wind out of Santana’s sails?

It’s beginning to look that way. Santana is not pitching with any confidence-or perhaps perfect health-of late and as a result the club is weighing its options for a way to keep him fresh.

Terry Collins and Mets’ management are tossing out the idea of skipping Santana’s next start or perhaps even placing him on the DL with a dead arm, where he would essentially miss two starts.

It is not the opportune time for this to happen to Santana, as the Mets are bordering on the brink of another collapse and need all the arms they can muster. If Santana cannot overcome either this so-called “dead arm” or this current rough patch then the Mets may ultimately be doomed.

I believe Santana has been pushing himself of late trying to keep this Mets’ club in the race. Santana knows a lot of weight falls on his (repaired) shoulders, and it appears he is trying too hard. I think the best thing is to sit him down for two starts, give Matt Harvey an audition in his place and then go from there.

Look, Santana is the ultimate competitor and he’ll be the first to tell you that he is fine and that he’ll work through these struggles. However, the Mets have to protect Santana since he is a fragile commodity. Remember, this is a serious injury Santana is trying to battle back from. There may be no shortcut here.

Santana will forever live in Mets’ lore for his no-hot masterpiece in June, but all those innings might be catching up to Santana and sometime a brief rest is all that is needed.

The Mets need to play this smart considering Santana’s health is vital to any success they have this year (and maybe even next year) and this is something that will have to be handled with kid gloves.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Devil’s Advocate: Mets should be sellers and trade Johan Santana

I’m playing the Devil’s Advocate and exploring a line of thinking that doesn’t necessarily gel with what I want the Mets to do or think they’ll do.  Instead, let’s see if there is any sense in the Mets looking at 2012 as a rebuilding and retooling year.  Now… the Mets can and should still look at the cost of trading with the Padres for Carlos Quentin and Huston Street and also trading with Boston for Kelly Shoppach, but supposing that the Mets do… are we really more than a team JUST fighting to reach the playoffs?  I’m not sure the team should be in a buyer’s mentality unless they think they are thinking they can WIN in the playoffs.

So… perhaps the Mets should still be looking towards this season with an eye towards winning in 2013-2014.  While Johan Santana has been resurgent, it’s not exactly a given that he’s going to stay this way for long after the All-Star break, let alone into his final season.  Add to this the large chunk of change he’s owed and it’s not such a given that the Mets consider him part of their future.  Instead, the Mets could trade Santana to a team looking for pitching who might not be afraid of the price tag.

I’m pretty sure the Yankees still fall into this category.  In fact, Santana’s short-ish length to the contract makes him a cheaper option within their spectrum of money.  Johan would elevate the Yankees firmly above the Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles and Red Sox for 2012 and would give the Yankees a rotation to rival the Texas Rangers.

Who might the Yankees offer to tempt the Mets into making this deal that would basically invite Flushing to riot?  Well… I think that the Yankees would need to offer up Austin Romine and a mid-tier pitcher for the Alderson team to fathom this.  The Mets did draft a bunch of catchers and Cam Maron is coming on strong in Savannah, but the Mets don’t exactly have a plethora of catchers in the system who are close to making an impact.  The Yankees would still have Gary Sanchez.  Romine has been hurt most of the year but he’ll return later this month.  Add to Romine a mediocre MLB ready prospect like David Phelps and the Mets have enough to make eating crow palatable.

While the Mets are at it, we could also look to trade Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Andres Torres for prospects who might have higher ceilings than these players with more common skill sets.

Now… the Mets cab probably never do this and the Yankees might be equally opposed, but that isn’t to say that the idea of still being sellers while owning a winning record is a complete and total mistake.  It’s an extremely risky gamble… just as risky as trading prospects to try and win now.

What Say You?

  • Mets Should Buy Big
  • Mets Should Fill Needs Cheaply
  • Mets Should Stand Pat
  • Mets Should Be Playing For 2013 and Beyond… SELL!

 

Sizing up potential Met All-Star candidates

In just about a month’s time (July 10 in Kansas City) the mid-summer night classic-better known as the MLB All-Star game-will commence, bringing both great fanfare and controversy along the way.

Despite your feelings about the game itself, it is always an honor to be selected for the annual event. As fans of the game, it is fun to argue and debate on the merits of who belongs to be included on the All-Star roster.

Some argue that the selection process is flawed and out of touch with reality-helped of course by the fact that fans still have the power to select the starters-with the game becoming a floundering spectacle. At the heart of many fans’ rage is the fact that the winner of the All-Star game gets home field advantage for their respective league. However, that is another argument for another day.

As I said it’s fun to speculate on who should be chosen, and with the rule being that at least one player from each team be represented (another rule some people despise), we’ll know the Mets will have at least one delegate. But with a team that is playing over their heads and exceeding expectations, we all know that the Mets should have more than one representative.

So, in this post I will adhere to objectivity and confidently proclaim that the Mets should have three representatives in the All-Star Game. Actually, it’s pretty cut and dry. The three (David Wright, R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana) about to be profiled have gone out and proven without a doubt to be All-Star-worthy. After that, there isn’t any other strong case for anyone else to be included.

So, here then should be your 2012 Mets’ All-Star representatives:

David Wright:

Wright’s selection is a shoe-in.

Batting .359 (second in the NL) with seven home runs and 33 RBI’s, Wright has all but erased doubts that he is still a premier player despite his injury-riddled, non-productive 2011 campaign. As of Wednesday, Wright was leading all third baseman in voting. The prevailing thought here is Wright will get the popularity vote and will go regardless. In any event, even if he was somehow not voted in, he would be a no-brainer selection.

R.A. Dickey:

Dickey has been a revelation this year and has legitimately become a front-end ace. At 8-1 (tied atop the NL in victories), Dickey has done all that was asked of him and much more.

Dickey has morphed into a complete pitcher and is throwing his patented knuckleball with much more vigor and crispness. As such, Dickey is accumulating quite a few strikeouts (70 K’s in 73.2 innings pitched) while also limiting the baserunners (1.06 WHIP, which is no doubt buoyed by him issuing only an astonishing 17 walks). With 10 quality outings in 11 starts to go along with a sterling 2.69 ERA, there is no doubt that Dickey should be included on the All-Star roster.

Heck, if Dickey keeps it up and has stats like this by the break, there is every reason for him to be in the discussion for being the NL’s starting pitcher.

Johan Santana:

Ah yes, he of the first ever Mets’ no-hitter lore. Maybe Santana should be selected for putting an end to a 50-year curse.

All kidding aside, Santana deserves to be included on the NL All-Star roster. Although Santana has only three wins, you can’t fault him for the lack of victories as factors beyond his control (lack of run support, shoddy defense and bullpen meltdowns) have resulted in him having six no-decisions.

Santana’s peripherals have been outstanding and with a 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and an outstanding 3.2 strikeout to walk ratio, he has every right to be selected. I have a feeling that Santana will get shafted do to the paltry win total, but aside from that Santana has been a godsend for the Mets rotation and he deserves the All-Star nod.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Dickey and Santana and pray for manna

R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana have pitched back-to-back shutouts in the past two games for the Mets, becoming the first two pitchers to accomplish the feat since … Dickey and Santana in 2010. Both pitchers have had less than great luck in picking up Wins in their tenure with the Mets, due to poor offensive support and questionable bullpen relief. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Dickey and Santana can match up with any two pitchers in the game today.

Both Dickey and Santana have made 11 starts. Dickey has broken through and is piling up Wins, as he is 8-1 this year. Santana is having more of the same bad luck, as he is just 3-2 so far this season. But in games where one of the two has started, the Mets as a team are 15-7. When someone else toes the rubber, the Mets are 15-16.

Even that 15-7 figure is a bit misleading. In their 22 starts, Dickey and Santana have pitched well 20 times. The only two bad outings for the duo came early in the season, when both had a hard time in Atlanta against the Braves. Dickey’s outing was partially explained by bad weather. Recounting his start in Atlanta, Dickey said it was like throwing “a wet water balloon.”

How good have their other starts been? If we go by Bill James’ Game Scores, the next-worst outing for either pitcher was Dickey’s start against the Marlins on May 12th, when he allowed 2 ER in 6 IP and picked up the win. That one checked in with a Game Score of 45.

Meanwhile, the other pitchers who have started a game for the Mets have combined to have 10 outings with a Game Score under 40. In one-third of the games started by someone other than Dickey or Santana, the SP is not giving the Mets a realistic chance to win the game. Eight of those 10 games had a Game Score beneath 30. On May 2nd, Chris Schwinden gave up 5 ER in 4 IP and earned a Game Score of 29.

It’s just another head scratcher in what has turned out to be a tremendously fun season for the Mets. The Mets have a winning record despite having a negative run differential. They are seven games above .500 despite a .467 mark in night games. And they would make the playoffs if the season ended today despite the non Dickey & Santana pitchers combining for a 5.08 ERA.

It’s reminiscent of the 1948 Braves, who featured Hall of Famer Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, a pitcher who won 20 games in four out of five seasons. Sports editor Gerald V. Hern penned a poem in their honor, after the duo went 8-0 in 12 days without another pitcher starting a game.

First we’ll use Spahn
then we’ll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
And followed
we hope
by two days of rain.

I want to believe that this is the year that Jonathon Niese finds consistency and can pitch a full season. I want to believe that Josh Thole behind the plate really makes a difference for Dillon Gee. I want to believe that Chris Young can come up and give the Mets 15 starts equal to the four he gave them in 2011. I also want to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Here in 2012, no one remembers the full poem that Hern wrote. Instead it has been boiled down to “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.” I have no illusions of being a poet. Instead I am merely an observer. While I write down what I see, my hope is that you will be moved by the results, not the words (flowery or cold as they may be) used to get there.

Still, there’s something to be said for an eloquent phrase. So, with apologies to Hern, here’s the mantra for the 2012 Mets:

Dickey and Santana and pray for manna.

Santana no-hitter captivates New York; sets Twitter ablaze

Just call him No-Han!

Well, it FINALLY happened!

After waiting through 8,019 games Johan Santana finally achieved the Mets’ first no-hitter on Friday night in thrilling fashion. It was as much exhilarating as it was exacerbating, as Santana kept mowing down Cardinal hitters while also accumulating an alarming pitch count.

The game was rife with drama and suspense, but after compiling a career-high 134 pitches, Santana got David Freese chasing on a 3-2 changeup with two outs in the bottom of the 9th to finally get the Mets in the record books with their first ever no-hitter.

As with any no-hitter, you have to look back to see how this happened and one of the key plays that made all of this possible was an incredible catch by Mike Baxter in the seventh inning. In what surely looked like a hit off the bat of Yadier Molina, Baxter recovered and retreated towards the left field wall and leaped to make a breathtaking catch to keep the no-hitter intact. The catch did come with consequence, as Baxter had to leave the game with a shoulder contusion.

The game also was not without its controversy as none other than Carlos Beltran (whose homecoming was overshadowed on this night) roped a scorcher down the third-base line in the sixth inning. Umpire Adrian Johnson was quick to call it a foul ball and, initially, it looked like the right call. However, after review, apparently the ball did hit the line and should have been ruled a hit. Instead, Santana was issued a mulligan and outside of the Molina drive he was never really threatened the rest of the way (although he did issue five walks).

Sometimes the umpires taketh away (see Jim Joyce, Armando Galarraga) and giveth away. However, with no instant replay, this is what you get.

This should not taint Santana’s no-hitter, though. Running on pure adrenaline, Santana was simply not going to be denied this night. After dangerously going beyond his pitch count, Terry Collins made sure the call was up to Johan to finish what he started. Now this could backfire, but you can’t interfere with fate and Collins wasn’t going to be the one who stood in the way of history.

It’s astonishing and only fitting that Santana achieve this mark; something Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver or Doc Gooden could never accomplish here. For Santana to battle all the way back from major shoulder surgery and hurl this gem (not to mention last week’s shutout) is quite amazing.

There is just so many words to describe this feat. So, let’s turn to Twitter to see what some others are saying about Santana’s masterpiece:
First, from the man himself:
El Gocho believe it! ‏@johansantana
Tonight we made history @mets, i want to thank all my teammates and all the fans for the support…Believe it!! You guys are the best!!!

Others chiming in:

R.A. Dickey ‏@RADickey43
I’ve never been more proud of a teammate. Congrats to Johan Santana for the mets first no hitter in franchise history.
Linda Cohn ‏@lindacohn
Never thought I would see it in my lifetime. Thank you Johan! #Santana #Mets
Jon Heyman ‏@JonHeymanCBS
The long local nightmare is over. Congratulations to Johan Santana and the ny #mets.
Buster Olney ‏@Buster_ESPN
On the 134th pitch, Santana STRIKES OUT FREESE!!!!! First no-hitter in Mets’ history!!!!!!!!!!
Jon Rauch ‏@jrauch60
@johansantana. First ‪#Mets‬ No-Hitter. Ever. ‪#GreatDayToBeAMetsFan‬!
Justin Turner ‏@redturn2
WOW @johansantana
Dwight Gooden ‏@DocGooden16
Congrats to Johan Santana for throwing the first no hitter in #Mets history! Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, very happy for Mets fans
Adam Rubin ‏@AdamRubinESPN
David Wright: “Short of Tom Seaver, I can’t think of a better person to pitch the first one.”
Steve Serby ‏@NYPost_Serby
What a bulldog Johan Santana is. Still, Mets have never had back-to-back no-hitters.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Johan Santana defies the numbers

Someone once said that Sabremetrics was the science of analyzing the fun out of baseball. That never made sense to me. I love baseball and the study of numbers only added to my enjoyment. The 2012 Mets are a perfect example for me. Before the season started, there were tons of doomsayers and people who thought the team might challenge for 100 losses. But an examination of the talent on hand – done primarily through numbers – made me conclude that there was no way this team would lose 100 games.

Here we are in mid May, the Mets have a better record than the Yankees, have just come off a sweep of the Phillies and are a game out of first place. Life is good. A return to form by David Wright (hinted strongly at during Spring Training by looking at his strikeout numbers) has been the driving force, along with strong play by youngsters, performing like their previous numbers said they could. People doubted Murphy and Thole and Tejada and Duda. Now five weeks into the season, those doubters have egg on their faces.

But I want to celebrate a story that the numbers could not predict. Hands down the best surprise of 2012 has been the pitching of Johan Santana. Nobody knew what to expect from Santana this year and it would not have been the slightest shock if he had opened the year on the disabled list. He was trying to come back from shoulder problems, a much trickier recovery than any other injury for a pitcher.

Even before he missed the entire 2011 season, Santana was not the pitcher he had been when he was with the Twins. Not only could he no longer throw his fastball past hitters, he was losing velocity year after year, to the point where he was just a few years away from being called “crafty.” So, there was the dual concern of “Could he come back?” combined with “What would he have left?”

After six starts the answers are “yes” and “plenty.” His average fastball velocity is a career-worst 88.4 mph. Yet his K/9 checks in at 9.87, his highest as a Met and his best since his 10.46 mark back in his Cy Young Award season of 2004. That season, Santana had a 14.1 mph difference between his fastball and his changeup. This year the difference is 10 mph. Yet Santana is still succeeding.

Five of his six starts have ranged from good to great. He’s had just one stinker, where he did not make it out of the second inning against the Braves. But this is not much different from 2010, where he had 17 Quality Starts, six other solid outings and four outings where he got lit up like a Christmas tree.

Santana still has enough stuff and he has tons of pitching smarts. That combination is going to be just fine on most nights. But there’s going to be a handful of games where he gets knocked around. That’s still plenty good and gives the team a big weapon it did not have a year ago.

When Santana’s turn to pitch comes up, I am still excited. While he may have neither the velocity nor the pinpoint control of days gone by, he still has a presence around him that gives confidence to his teammates and puts doubt into his opponents. No one will be shocked if he breaks the team’s streak of not having a no-hitter. He’s still that good.

The Mets are 4-2 in games started by Santana. If he had to open the season on the DL, those games would have been started by Miguel Batista or Chris Schwinden. Suddenly that 18-13 record makes a lot more sense.

While we could not predict it before the season, Santana’s triumphant return has been the cherry on top of the sundae for the Mets. It’s a great story for Mets fans but I think it goes beyond that, too. A two-time Cy Young Award winner making it back from a torn anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder that required surgery is a story that should make every baseball fan smile.

It’s great to have Santana back again and I can’t wait to see what numbers he puts up the rest of the year.

Santana progressing nicely for the Mets

One of the biggest storylines heading into training camp for the Mets this spring for was the anticipated return of Johan Santana.

After another fine performance on Wednesday, Santana is turning heads for his ability to consistently throw strikes and remain sharp after recovering from major shoulder surgery. Santana has had no setbacks in his recovery thus far and is providing Mets’ fans with some hope as they prepare to start the season.

After Wednesday’s outing vs. the Cardinals in which he pitched six innings and allowing six hits and one walk with six strikeouts, Santana now sports an impressive 3.38 ERA through 13 1/3 innings this spring. In those 13 1/3 innings, Santana has allowed just 13 hits and four walks while striking out eight batters.

The fact that Santana is throwing every fifth day and showing incremental improvement each time out, has given the Mets a much needed shot in the arm. Santana’s presence in the clubhouse cannot be understated. Santana’s competitive spirit should rub off on the other players as the team tries to prove many of its doubters wrong. To see Santana progress this far when so many pundits had him dead and buried is a great sign that things may be taking a turn for the better.

Of course, I’m likely getting ahead of myself here and it is still too early to say with 100 percent certainty that the Santana of old is definitively back. However, nothing that has transpired this spring has changed the perception that Santana is on the right track. That track ultimately will lead to Opening Day and if Santana is indeed tabbed as the No. 1 starter.

All signs indicate that Santana is ready for the increased workload. Santana is working with his whole catalog of pitches this spring. His vintage changeup is rounding in shape and his velocity is not far off from the norm, as he is topping out at 90-91 MPH.

Mets’ fans are prone to disappointment and harbor skepticism, but this spring Santana has been a breath of fresh air and is injecting Mets’ fans with some hope. For the Mets to go anywhere this year they have to get a lot of innings (quality ones at that ) out of Santana.

With a staff full of question marks, Santana and his health could go a long way in stabilizing a shaky rotation. And with GM Sandy Alderson not getting any capable replacement arms in the off-season, it is even more paramount that Santana contributes this season.

We always knew Santana was a gamer and he is proving it this spring with his ability to overcome a major injury and regain a lot of that old magic we are accustomed to seeing out of him. Santana is your classic bulldog who never quits. Santana works tirelessly to hone his craft.

So, what was once a major question coming into camp has become one of the feel-good stories of the spring. The moral of the story is don’t bet against Santana.

Follow me on Twitter @Stacdemon

Mets Notes: Cedeno, Hairston, 40-man issues and CRG

The Mets have reached agreement with infielder Ronny Cedeno on a one-year deal, worth just north of $1 million. The Mets had no backup shortstop on the roster so Cedeno certainly fills a need. He’s very good insurance in case Ruben Tejada regresses or if Daniel Murphy gets injured again.

Cedeno is not much with the bat in his hands, as he has a lifetime OPS+ of 68 in 2,309 PA. But he is a good baserunner, despite last year’s SB/CS numbers, and he is a fine defensive shortstop. Last year he had a +8 DRS and a 6.8 UZR/150. For a comparison, Jose Reyes was below average in both metrics last year, with a -11 DRS and a -3.6 UZR/150.

The main question seems to be if he will be content in a back-up role. Cedeno, who will turn 29 in February, has topped 450 PA three times in his career, including the past two seasons. Will he accept getting just the 150 PA or so that a typical reserve middle infielder gets? Or does he figure that with the recent injury history of the Mets, he’s bound to wind up closer to the 454 PA he got in 2011.

HAIRSTON REJOINS METS – The Mets also addressed their need for a backup outfielder, re-signing Scott Hairston to a one-year deal, with a similar dollar value to Cedeno’s. After a dismal month of April, where he posted a .565 OPS in 34 PA, Hairston put up a .255/.315/.520 line over his final 111 PA before having his season cut short with an oblique injury in late August.

An experienced pinch-hitter capable of playing all three outfield positions, Hairston provides a solid bench option for the Mets. Like with the Cedeno deal, in Hairston Sandy Alderson picked up a low-cost bench player more than capable of filling in should one of the starters go down for an extended period of time.

NOW ABOUT THAT 40-MAN ROSTER – Both of these moves also create a problem, as the Mets are at their limit with the 40-man roster. Last year Hairston came in on a minor league deal, but I could find no reference to the contracts for either Cedeno or Hairston being that way. Most people would assume that two of the minor league pitchers like Jeremy Hefner, Armando Rodriguez or Josh Stinson would be removed to make room for the newest additions. There’s also been speculation about Fernando Martinez.

However, Justin Turner should not be sleeping soundly right now, either. In Cedeno, the Mets have another player capable of filling in at 2B. In Hairston, the Mets have a superior RH bat off the bench. Typically, a five-man bench consists of a catcher, two infielders and two outfielders. If Cedeno is the back-up middle infielder then will the Mets be content to forego the traditional backup corner infielder?

With Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy also on the roster, they very well might. Duda and Murphy have experience at first base while the latter also covers third base. Still, it’s far from a given that Turner makes the Opening Day roster, as he had just a .648 OPS in his final 388 PA. And the Mets may need to open up an additional spot on the 40-man if either Mike Baxter or Adam Loewen makes the team as the fifth outfielder.

METS HIRE CRG PARTNERS – By now you have probably heard that the Mets hired CRG, the firm that assisted the Rangers in their bankruptcy sale. Of course, the Mets have vigorously denied that the reason they retained CRG had anything to do with bankruptcy but rather they are around to help with analyzing financial statements, and deal with business projections. The knee-jerk reaction is to claim the Mets are being dishonest.

But which one seems more likely – the Wilpons hiring an outside firm to handle some very necessary business planning without realizing that the media would connect the dots, see CRG’s previous high-profile baseball customer and leap to the bankruptcy conclusion or that they are planning ahead for a graceful exit strategy? Nothing in the past three years has given any indication that the Wilpons plan to leave if there’s a whiff of a hint of a sliver of a chance to retain control of the team. I think in this case we should take the Mets at their word.

We all want new ownership with deep pockets. The Wilpons want to retain control of the Mets and their majority stake in SNY. There is a lot of debt but there is also the chance to make a lot of money if the Wilpons can ride out the current storm. If the minority investors come through, which seems a reasonable chance, they will be able to pay back the bridge loan and likely meet their debt payments. The big unknown is the Madoff lawsuits. A win for Irving Picard likely means that the Wilpons have to sell. Unless the clawback suits are decided against them in a decisive way, it’s unlikely the Wilpons will put the Mets up for sale.

SANTANA THROWS – The latest report on Johan Santana is that he is throwing on consecutive days from a distance of 75 feet. This seems like good news, although it’s anyone’s guess if this means he will be on the mound for Opening Day. The signings of Cedeno and Hairston were welcome news, but I still hope the Mets add a SP before Spring Training starts. Even if Santana is ready at the start of the year, it sure would be nice to have someone push Dillon Gee for the final spot in the rotation. In Gee’s last 17 starts he had a 5.51 ERA. He allowed 14 HR in his final 94.2 IP and it’s hard to imagine those numbers improving with the fences coming in.

METS-RAYS RUMORS – Recently the Mets and Rays were linked to a potential deal. While I think the two clubs are excellent trade partners, I want no part of a Daniel Murphy-Wade Davis swap. Last year Davis had a 4.45 ERA and it wasn’t due to poor luck, as he had a 4.67 FIP and a 4.82 xFIP. He lost nearly a full point on his K/9 ratio, which fell to 5.14 after being 6.05 in 2010. Davis is another Mike Pelfrey and one of those guys is enough, thanks.

Johan Santana and the dreaded rotator cuff

There’s no question that when Johan Santana pitches, he is one of the best in baseball. The problem is that “when” part of the statement.

Santana joined the Mets in 2008, and every year he has dealt with injury problems. After the 2008 season we learned that Santana had a torn meniscus, and had thrown several  games with the injury. He didn’t miss any playing time because of the surgery and was able to start the first game of the 2009 season for the Mets.

In 2009 he needed surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. This surgery isn’t very serious, but by the time Santana had the surgery in 2009, the Mets were far out of contention for the playoffs, so there was no need to risk further injury or pain.

In 2010 he had another, much more serious surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He had the surgery to repair the tear on September 14th. Even with this injury he still put up very good numbers in 2010, going 11-9 with a 2.98 ERA. However, his SO/BB rate was much lower, indicating that the injury could have been affecting his control and his ability to get some extra power behind pitches when he wanted to strike out someone.

Santana made two starts for the St. Lucie Mets in 2011 and in total threw five innings, he gave up one run, no walks, and five strike outs. It was believed at the beginning of the year that Santana could have been able to come back for the second half of the season after the All-Star break, but his slow progress with the rehab didn’t allow this to happen. Santana finished up his rehab work on October 8th, with no plans of pitching in winter ball.

Though Santana was able to pitch at some professional level of baseball, he wasn’t able to pitch for the Mets in the 2011 season like many thought he could. It is possible that the Mets didn’t want to risk pushing him too hard, especially since the Mets weren’t contenders for the second half of the season.

The Mets are now saying he is ready for Spring Training, and if all goes well, he will be their Opening Day starter for 2012. However, there is a lot of fear that this surgery isn’t completely behind him and there are a lot of doctors who say this is the worst injury to recover from for a pitcher. Dr. Josh Dines and Dr. Rock Positano from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York wrote this in an article about rotator cuff surgeries:

“90 to 95% of people undergoing surgery for rotator cuff tears typically have good to excellent outcomes. The results for professional baseball players, however, have been less promising. In a study by Dr. James Andrews, professional pitchers had a hard time returning to their previous level of play after rotator cuff surgery.[1]”

The doctors also say the pitchers with the injury complain about weakness, a loss in velocity on pitches, and an inability to control their pitches.

The study by Dr. James Andrews that they mentioned was done in 2005 and the results may be very frightening to Mets fans. Dr. Andrews evaluated 16 professional baseball players (12 pitchers, 4 position players) before and after their rotator cuff surgery. After a period of 66.6 months, only one pitcher was able to return to a high competitive level and have no issues with the injury again [2].

Now there are a lot of factors that play into these pitcher’s recovery like age and prior injury history. Also, the study was done about seven years ago, so there may have been some new advancements in rotator cuff surgery.

The best way to look at the possible outcomes from this surgery is to look at players who had had similar surgery. Let’s take a look at four players; Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder, and Trevor Hoffman. All of these players had rotator cuff surgery.

In the case of Johnson, he has the surgery in 2009, at the age of 45. With the already declining level in his play in combination with his age, Johnson felt no reason to go through all the efforts of rehab, and retired after the injury.

Mets fans are very familiar with Martinez’s injury. He suffered the injury in 2006, which forced him to miss time in 2006 and most of the 2007 season. At the time of his injury Martinez was 34. Martinez came back for the end of the 2007 season and pitched very well, but it wasn’t enough to stop… whatever happened at the end of the Mets 2007 season… which we don’t talk about any more… Martinez then suffered a hamstring injury at the start of the 2008 which derailed his season and forced him to miss a lot of time. When he did pitch, he was ineffective, but it was most likely due to the hamstring injury and not the rotator cuff, given his strong finish in 2007.

When you look at the ultimate horror story in terms of rotator cuff surgeries go no further than Mark Mulder. In the early 2000’s the combination between him, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito in Oakland was one of the most effective trio of young starting pitcher in baseball history. All of them went on to have very different careers, but Mulder’s is clearly the saddest and most unfortunate. He was traded to St. Louis for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton and the Cardinals really only got one good year out of him. He went 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA in 2005 but after that his time in St. Louis turned in a nightmare. His 2006 season started well but it went downhill very quickly after he tore his rotator cuff. He tried to come back later in the 2006 season and got shelled for nine runs in three innings. He then had the surgery in 2007 and when he came back for the 2007 season he only was able to pitch 11 innings and gave up 15 runs. He tried to pitch again in 2008 but it was more of the same, as he was only able to throw 1.2 innings. In 2010 Mulder reluctantly retired. He was 29 when he had the surgery in 2007, and just 32 when he retired in 2010.

From that, we go to the lighter and more successful story of Trevor Hoffman. The “something-best closer of all-time” injured his rotator cuff in the 2003 which forced him to miss almost the entire season. He came back in 2004 and pitched extremely well with a 2.30 ERA and 41 saves in 54.1 innings pitched. Although he was 35 at the time of the injury, it didn’t affect the rest of his career and he only just retired in 2010 because of oldness.

Although all of these pitchers have had rotator cuff injuries, they all vary in level of severity. Johnson was just a matter of age, Martinez came back effective but went on to experience further injuries, Hoffman was not affected at all by the injury, and Mulder’s career was destroyed by it.

When I look at Santana I’m not sure what to think. Part of me thinks that he is still young and he is a fighter who will push through the injury and be successful. But I think that part of me is a very big Mets fan.

What I fear might happen with Santana is a case very similar to Martinez’s. He’s going to come back from the rotator cuff surgery fine but he’s going to come across of injuries. Whether or not that is because of the rotator cuff I don’t really know.

I’d like to point out one difference between Mulder’s and Santana’s  injuries is that they were handled very differently. Santana had the surgery immediately and his recovery time and rehab assignment were not rushed. Mulder suffered the injury then tired to pitch with it later that year. He had the surgery and tried to pitch in 2007 after a very short recovery time. To take another quote from Dr. Josh Dines and Dr. Rock Positano article:

“In addition, tears have been shown to get bigger over time and can unfortunately lead to irreversible changes that make them hard or even impossible to repair.”

I believe that this is what happened to Mulder. They waited too long to repair the injury and didn’t give it enough time to heal, and as a result injury was never really repaired.

That’s the one thing about Santana’s injury that I’m confident about; he’s been given plenty of time to rehab and recover from this injury. He’s ready to go now and all we can really do is wait and watch what happens.

Sources:

[1] Rotator Cuff Problems Just Don’t Affect Pitchers… by Dr. Josh Dines and Dr. Rock Positano http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-rock-positano-and-dr-joshua-s-dines/rotator-cuff-problems-don_b_294969.html

[2] Repair of Full-Thickness Rotator Cuff Tears in Professional Baseball Players by Christopher G. Mazoué, MD, and James R. Andrews, MD http://ajs.sagepub.com/content/34/2/182.short

Mets Card of the Week: Happy Columbus Day

HAPPY COLUMBUS DAY FROM CARD OF THE WEEK

A quick Columbus Day holiday greeting from COTW, in convenient card form…

For those of you scoring at home, that would be

NINo EspinosA
Joe PIgNaTAno
Johan SANTAna
MARIo RAmirez

Nino Espinosa Joe Pignatano Johan Santana Mario Ramirez