Johan Santana‘s 2012 statistics look awful at first glance. No, they are awful. His 4.85 ERA and 1.33 WHIP are both his worst since becoming a starter. That, combined with the fact that Santana missed the last two months of the season might have you down on the 33 year-old lefty. But when you look deeper, there is some reason to be optimistic that Johan Santana can bounce back, and be effective.
Santana attempted something extremely difficult last year: returning to pitching after a year’s absence. Santana had surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. He was originally slated to come back in 2011, sometime in June or July after having the procedure in September of 2010. However, he suffered a number of setbacks and wasn’t able to pitch at all in 2011.
Last February, Santana returned to spring training ready to pitch. He was finally healthy, and the Mets, while limiting his pitch count, more or less threw him into the fire. He responded well, and through the first two months of the season, he was pitching better than anyone on the pitching staff (including R.A. Dickey).
By now you know what happened next. Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history, dogging his way through to a 134-pitch shutout. He wasn’t at his best, but Santana has always been a bulldog on the mound, so he got it done anyway. After the no-no, however, Santana started to decline. Well, at leas that’s the way some people see it. In reality, Santana had one bad starts and one so-so start immediately after he no-hit the Cardinals. He gave up six runs in five innings against the Yankees and four runs against Tampa Bay. He then bounced back, however, and tossed three great games, including eight shutout innings against the Dodgers. It was only then that he started to break down.
Santana ended his first half with a home start against the Cubs, and was shelled. He gave up seven runs on 13 hits. In the middle of that game when running to cover first. Reed Johnson of the Cubs stepped on his ankle. After the break, Santana continued to struggle. He gave up 26 runs in 14.1 innings before the front office finally put an end to his season.
The shutdown was probably the best thing for Santana. It was completely unfair to expect him to pitch a full season without getting hurt. If the Nationals are cautious with Stephen Strasburgh, a pitcher with a young, untested arm, why not be just as careful with Santana, whose left arm has been through constant wear and tear? It was best that the Mets shut him down before another injury occurred. And luckily, since it was just fatigue and nothing more, Santana was able to build up some arm strength (117 innings) in preparation for a full season this year. The injury risk is greatly diminished now because of what he did last year.
So why did Santana struggle so badly? It was really just a bunch of small issues compounded. He had the fatigue (if you want to call that a “small issue”) from pitching full-time. He also had the hurt ankle, which was probably something that would take only two or three weeks to heal, but was another annoyance nonetheless. Lastly, there was the issue with Santana tipping his pitches,, which we found out a few weeks ago on Mets Hot Stove. Now that Johan is working with John Buck, I doubt we will see that issue flare up again, however prevalent it was.
Yes, Santana struggled towards the end of 2012, but most signs point towards a bounce back season. He will finally have the arm strength back, with a few other issues that I’ve discussed taken care of as well. We saw Santana return to a reliable pitcher last year and at times, still dominant. There is no reason to believe that he can’t get back there again, and possibly stay there. Things are looking up for him and if he avoids another injury, Santana should have a solid season.