I wonder how people back before pitch counts and speed guns were able to tell when their ace pitchers were in decline?
Statistical analysis and all the technology of present day definitely enhance the game and our understanding of it, but they also allow us to jump to premature conclusions.
I was in Baltimore over the weekend and I was listening to the post game show after the Saturday game when the Orioles announcers described the next day’s pitching matchup as “Pelfrey, the Mets ace.” There wasn’t a pause. It wasn’t qualified by “this year.”
Santana came out this spring and proclaimed himself (when asked to name someone) the best pitcher in the NL East. So is he a washed up ace trending downward and not even the best pitcher on his own team?
I’d say no. Of course Pelfrey has been the better pitcher this year so far, but Santana is far from over the hill and washed up. Actually Santana has a slightly higher ERA, but they have almost identical WHIPs and Ks. The different result is mainly due to run support, and Pelfrey’s pitches trending more towards ground balls. It just seems so different because Santana is a Cy Young caliber pitcher and Pelfrey has been a struggling prospect prior to this point.
The case can be made that Santana is merely slumping, not declining. For one he’s always been a second-half pitcher. He had surgery last year and had a longer than normal layoff between his last start of 2009 and his first of 2010. There’s something to be said for building arm strength over a couple of months, and surgery and time off sap that. You can already see that the velocity is starting to come back up a little bit. Pitching is a game of adjustments, and right now Santana is having some trouble with control of his pitches. This is leading to more walks and less strikeouts. Santana’s track record says that he’s a smart guy and knows what he’s doing out there. You have to trust that he can make the adjustments needed, and that he’ll be able to do it faster than batters can adjust to him.
The Mets are fighting for first place and arguably Santana is only going to get better. He’s a big game pitcher, a fighter, and a great ace of this staff to have. As his game rounds into form, the weather heats up and he builds up arm strength as the Mets march towards October all worries about him being in decline will vanish and we’ll be talking about the Mets having as good a 1-2 punch as anyone else in baseball.