With the news that Johan Santana will miss the rest of the 2010 season due to a "torn anterior capsule on the front and bottom of his pitching shoulder," the question now becomes twofold: what can we expect from Santana moving forward, and how is this contract looking for the Mets so far?
In the three seasons Santana has been with the Mets, the team has largely failed to meet or exceed expectations. While Santana has been extremely productive when he’s pitched, the team’s lack of success as a whole has left some with the idea that the Santana signing was, in hindsight, a bad idea. Is that true?
What can’t be denied is that Santana is not the same pitcher he was during his ‘prime’ with the Minnesota Twins. He has been both less effective when he pitches and has pitched less frequently since coming to the Mets.
Average Seasons, Since 2004
While Santana’s ERA has remained stable, that’s misleading on a number of levels. First and foremost, he is now pitching in the National League, in a pitcher-friendly park after previously pitching in the American League, in a less friendly park. He’s averaging nearly 30 innings fewer per season than his Twins prime, while also seeing a marked decrease in his strikeout numbers. Speaking of which ...
Johan Santana by Pitch Velocity
As you can see, Santana’s fastball and slider velocity have been in a steady decline each year since 2006. Overall, his fastball has dropped 3.7 mph since 2006, while his slider has dropped 3.0 mph in that same span. This coincides with his aforementioned decrease in strikeouts -- down 2.3 per 9 innings since coming to the Mets.
The net result, not surprisingly, is that Santana is generating fewer swinging strikes and allowing noticeably more contact than ever before.
Johan Santana Since 2007
So, we’ve established that Santana is a decidedly less effective and less dominant pitcher than he was with Minnesota. But the 800-pound gorilla in the room -- and a big reason why the Santana contract is, in some quarters, considered a failure -- is the amount of time Santana has missed.
As was mentioned before, this will be Santana’s second consecutive season throwing under 200 innings, something he had done every year since becoming a full-time starter before this current skid.
Now, all that being said, it needs to be stated that Santana is still an excellent pitcher. While he might not win any more Cy Young awards, that doesn’t mean he can’t be very valuable. Now that we’ve established that he’s less effective and available less often than he was, the question now is -- is he still "earning" his contract?
Salary vs Value, Since 2008
In other words, so far the Mets have paid Santana roughly $60 million and he’s been worth, according to Fangraphs, $48.7 million. In and of itself, that’s not particularly disconcerting; Santana has been worth about $16 million a season for the Mets while being paid about $20 million a season. The real problem will come moving forward, when Santana’s contract increases -- he’s due $72 million between 2011-13, with a $5.5 million buyout on his $25 million club option for 2014. It seems optimistic to suggest that Santana will be more productive for the Mets moving forward than he has been. Consequently, the back-end of this deal is almost guaranteed to be worse than the front-end.
In conclusion, while Johan Santana remains a legitimately excellent pitcher who should provide strong production for the Mets moving forward, the combination of his increased fragility, decreased durability, decreased effectiveness and increased salary makes him a declining asset overall. The Mets simply have to hope that Santana can remain reasonably healthy moving forward; there are worse things than paying a No. 2-quality starter like a No. 1 -- like, for example, paying a guy who isn’t there to take the ball like a No. 1 starter.