John Santana isn’t a household name, but rest assured he is the best player in the major leagues right now, and probably has been for the last three years. Today he set a Twins’ record with 17 strikeouts vs. the Rangers, in what was one of the most dominant pitching performances I have ever seen. (All with just a 1-0 lead, all while the Twins are fighting for their playoff lives.)

Johan Santana is so good that he’s going to make an enormous sum of money when he becomes a free agent after the 2008 season, something like $200 million dollars for 8 years. Of course it’s worth asking whether any athlete is worth that amount of money, but know this: If anybody deserves that kind of cash to play a game, it’s him. The Twins aren’t likely to be handing out any $200 million contracts anytime in the next 100 years, so it’s likely Johan Santana will be coming to a large market (Yankees, Red Sox or Mets) near you in the next two years. I don’t hold that against him at all.

Regardless of what happens with the guy and the Twins, it’s been a real joy to watch him pitch. I think he’s everything you would want in your ace, the way he goes after big games, the way he treats his teammates, the media, the fans, everything. He’ll give you your money’s worth every time you go see him pitch. Every time, win or lose.

The only pitcher I’ve ever closely watched as a fan that comes close to Johan was Bret Saberhagen’s 1989 season, after which he was 25 and already had two Cy Youngs under his belt. But Saberhagen was a lout off the field and horribly inconsistent on it, and ’89 was his last great year. I get the feeling Johan can do this for many more years. I feel the same way about him that I do about Kevin Garnett; whether he’s playing for my team or another team, I’ll always be a huge fan.

You know, I understand why some people don’t get into sports, or why they think it’s a horrible waste of energy, money, attention, whatever. I don’t agree with it, but I understand where those people are coming from. But I pity those people, because they don’t have a frame of reference for what a truly great competitor looks like, someone whose intensity, skill and dedication make them stand so far above other people who themselves are the best in the world at a game millions of people play. The great ones like Johan Santana are artists, really. Their accomplishments live in the memories of the witness, they stir emotions that connect us in ways our normal lives, or normal artists, cannot.

Some will scoff. But hey, Picasso and Shakespeare never fanned 17 with 50,000 fans screaming at them, a lineup of 9 huge guys trying to take them deep, and the hopes of a team and city resting on their shoulders.

Johan Santana

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9 Responses to Johan

  1. Charley says:

    Johan the man. I agree. I’ve been meaning to ask a Big Baseball Fan, and you certainly qualify: have you noticed a lot fewer decisions going to starting pitchers this year? I don’t mean just the general trend toward specialization in relief that’s been going on for some time, but a real departure from previous years. It seems like there are a huge number of starters this year who are going to end up with 8-12 wins and 8-12 losses, but hardly anyone will get 15+ wins–Johan, Penny, a handful of others. No one is really on pace to get 20. Do starters just suck now? What am I missing Big Baseball Fan?

  2. steim says:

    Anderson said Santana threw 4 sliders yesterday, otherwise all fastballs and changeups. That’s just sick.

  3. howard says:

    John Santana isn’t a household name?

  4. howard says:

    John Santana isnt, but JOHAN santana is… i get it

  5. Holy crap, I misspelled Johan Santana’s name.

    Howard, I think if you were to ask most non-baseball fans outside of Minnesota who Johan Santana is, they wouldn’t know. Certainly his fame is undersold by his excellence.

    Charley, I haven’t looked into the numbers enough to know if the average IP per start are going down, or what, but the general trend has been for fewer high-win seasons. There are a number of factors, including fewer pitchers starting more than 35 games and starters not pitching as deep into games as they used to. I don’t think decisions are down for starters this year any more than they have been for the last five or so, but there is a general downward trend in the number of high-win seasons.

    Another factor is that most bullpens just aren’t very good, and even the closer and top setup men are only typically used in set situations, so I think many times a starter will leave a game in line to get a win or a loss, only to see mediocre middle-relief (either on their team or the other team) allow a lead to vanquish, thus giving the decision to the bullpen rather than the starter. It’s very hard to got 30 decisions these days for a starter.

  6. howard says:

    Heres an insteresting stat on Johan, that shows how the lack of offense has hurt his wins loss record:

    2007 77% 50%
    2006 71% 75%
    2005 73% 58%
    2004 74% 80%

    The first %, very consistent (between 71 and 77%) is the % of Games started that were QS. The second % , how many of those QS he won.

    Notice that the 2 years he won the CYA, he won 75 and 80% of his QS. Notice that 2005 and 2007, he’s waaay down (50, 58%).

    When his team helps him win the games he’s SUPPOSED to win, he wins the CYA.

  7. pipelineblog says:

    That’s good stuff, Howard. Is there a source where you can aggregate the QS% for the last four years? I’m able to see the QS% year by year on ESPN, to name one source, but I’m looking for who has the best percentage overall the last four years, and that seems harder to find. (I’m not interested enough to do it by hand…) I’m guessing Johan’s ~74% QS% over that time is either at the top or very near it.

    At a minimum, he’s he only MLB starter who has been in the top 10 in QS% in each of the last four years.

    And, I’m guessing a vast number of the ~25% of his non-quality starts the last four years weren’t far away from quality starts; he very rarely gets blown out.

    One last item-Johan’s QS% post-All-Star break the last four years would blow away the field. I don’t even have to look at the stats to know that.

  8. Charley says:

    Doug-are you a subscriber to It seems like that search tool could tell a person the number of major leaguers with a minimum of X number of decisions (or wins, or losses, etc.) for a given year. It seems like that tool could empirically prove my claim that starters now suck. But perhaps this is not all that profound. hmm.

  9. pipelineblog says:

    Charley, I’m on the tip. It is an excellent site. You could do year-by-year research on decisions there, but they don’t track (as far as I can find) the Quality Start stats per year, nor do they give you the capability to look at any stat over a period of years, say, starters with the highest QS% over the last four years.

    It’s not that starters suck, necessarily, although expansion does by definition mean that the overall population of starting pitchers in MLB is lower than what it was in 1996 or 1976 or 1968 (all years prior to expansion periods). I think it’s more a case of starters not being allowed to go as deep into games as used to be the case, due to bullpen specialization and the awareness of pitch counts and the impact they have on the overall length of a pitcher’s career (in very general terms).

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