Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Supe…No, wait. It’s just another home run given up by Johan Santana.
I’ve been reading many articles and blogs on numerous sites, including this one, on who’s to blame for Johan Santana’s poor performance against the Phillies on Sunday night. It was surely not an outing Mets fans have come to expect from Santana, as he gave up ten runs in 3 2/3 innings. Included in the barrage were four home runs, the biggest one coming off the bat of Shane Victorino, who hit a grand slam immediately following the bases loaded walk to Rip Van Winkle Jamie Moyer.
Obviously, I expect better from our ace. Before Sunday’s game, Santana had pitched brilliantly this season, giving up only seven earned runs over his first five starts and possessing a sparkling 2.08 ERA. But should we be surprised at all the taters he gave up? A quick look at his career numbers might surprise you.
Johan Santana’s first full season as a starting pitcher was in 2004. That year, he won the American League Cy Young Award by going 20-6 and leading the league in ERA (2.61) and strikeouts (265). He also gave up 24 home runs that season.
Since then, Santana has given up at least 20 home runs every year, including last year’s injury-shortened season with the Mets. In only 25 starts for New York in 2009, Santana served up 20 longballs. In his final season in Minnesota (2007), he actually led the American League in home runs allowed when he gave up 33 jacks to opposing batters.
The thing that makes Santana a great pitcher is what he does when he keeps the ball in the yard. Another item worth noting is the lack of men on base when Santana allows his homers. Since 2004, these are his home run totals compared to his runs allowed figures:
- 2004: 24 HR (accounting for 33 runs), 70 total runs allowed
- 2005: 22 HR (accounting for 28 runs), 77 total runs allowed
- 2006: 24 HR (accounting for 35 runs), 79 total runs allowed
- 2007: 33 HR (accounting for 44 runs), 88 total runs allowed
- 2008: 23 HR (accounting for 30 runs), 74 total runs allowed
- 2009: 20 HR (accounting for 24 runs), 67 total runs allowed
- 2010: 5 HR (accounting for 12 runs), 17 total runs allowed
Some quick advanced third-grade math tells us that over the past 6+ seasons, Santana has allowed 472 runs. Out of those 472 runs, 206 of them scored as a direct result of a home run. Johan Santana has made 199 starts since the beginning of the 2004 season. That means in those 199 starts, only 266 runs have scored against Santana on non-homers, or approximately 1.3 runs per start.
In addition, although Santana did give up a grand slam to Victorino on Sunday, he has rarely given up homers with more than one man on base over his career. This is Santana’s third season with the Mets. In 2008, he gave up a grand slam to Felix Hernandez. Earlier this season, he gave up a grand slam to Josh Willingham. Did you know that those are the only home runs he’s given up as a Met with more than one man on base? It’s true. Santana has never given up a three-run homer as a Met! In fact, out of the 48 home runs hit off Santana in a Mets uniform, 45 of them have come with one or no men on base.
Going back even further, Santana gave up no grand slams for the Twins between 2004 and 2007. In fact, he only allowed five three-run homers over that span (1 in 2004, 2 in 2005, 0 in 2006, 2 in 2007). That means out of the 151 home runs he’s given up since 2004, a mere EIGHT have been hit with more than one man on base (five three-run homers as a Twin, three grand slams as a Met).
Yes, Santana pitched poorly Sunday night. Yes, he gave up his share of homers to the Phillies. But why are we surprised by it? And even more so, why are we getting on his case about it? Johan Santana has always been homer prone. But he’s not the type of pitcher to give up home runs with more than one man on base. The Victorino grand slam was only the eighth home run he’s given up with more than one man on base since 2004. That was the exception rather than the rule.
Lighten up, people. He had a bad day. He’ll come back from it. He may give up a homer or four every once in a while, but more often than not, he will get out of any jam he puts himself in. That’s what an ace does. That’s what Johan Santana does.