Hypothetical Situations and the Super-Natural
Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, February 1, 2008
It’s nice to have the reputation as The Best Pitcher in Baseball.
Johan Alexander Santana was born in the city of Tovar, Venezuela, on the thirteenth of March, 1979. A product of the Astros’ Venezuelan academy, Santana was unprotected by Houston and was selected in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft by the Florida Marlins. The Marlins subsequently traded him, with cash, to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for a minor leaguer named Jared Camp.
Camp never made the Majors.
Eight seasons, three All-Star selections, and two Cy Young Awards later, Johan Santana has earned the distinction as the greatest Rule 5 draftee ever. At present, a month and a half away from his 29th birthday, he has a career record of 93-44 and a 3.22 career earned run average thanks to exceptional control, exceptional defense (earning him the AL Gold Glove Award for pitchers in 2007), and four exceptional pitches, including the top change-up in baseball.
But time ran out on Santana’s contract with the Twins. It was clear that Minnesota would not be able to afford the exorbitant salary Santana would be offered elsewhere. He became the hottest commodity of the hot-stove season, subject of the hottest trade discussions and lightning rod of rampant rumors, particularly those involving the bigwig businessmen of Gotham and Beantown.
However, it was neither the mighty Yankees nor the powerful Red Sox who corralled the Venezuelan lefty on Wednesday. It was the New York Mets, which might like to see itself cast as an underdog in the process, snagging the star pitcher out from under the noses of its bigger-spending foes. That’s a laughable thought; the Mets have the third-highest payroll in baseball behind the Yanks and the Sox and it is due to increase even further with the signing of Santana. True, too, that the National League destination of Flushing was far more appetizing for Minnesota general manager Bill Smith than his American League rivals in the Bronx or Boston, so much so that he accepted what many scouts considered a lesser talent offer.
Thus it happened that baseball’s best pitcher went from Midwest to Northeast this week, from small-market to big-market. Analysts and dreamers no doubt are already making the case for a Mets postseason run in 2008. After all, they had been so close in 2007.
With 17 games left in the regular season, the Mets led the National League East by seven games over the Philadelphia Phillies. But in a stunning turnaround, the Mets proceeded to win only five of those games while a red-hot Phillies squad ripped off 13 victories to steal the division on the season’s last day.
As the argument might go, add Johan Santana to that Mets team… they would have had to win at least one or two more games, wouldn’t they? Certainly. And just one more win would have forced a play-in game for the NL East title, with just two more wins would have kept New York on top. So Santana on the 2007 Mets would have equaled playoffs…!
That’s purely hypothetical reasoning. The end of the 2007 season can never be played over again, and it is foolish (and a darn annoyance) for a Mets fan to replay those moments over in his or her mind. Johan Santana can only affect the Mets from 2008 onwards.
During the last four seasons, Johan Santana made 34, 33, 34, and 33 starts, posting a won-lost record of 70-32 (.686 winning percentage). Optimistically carrying that same winning percentage over 33-34 starts in 2008 gives him approximately 23 wins, but factoring in no-decisions brings it down to a still-optimistic 17-20 victories. Plug Santana in as the #1 starter in place of departed ex-#1 Tom Glavine (13 wins) and the Mets gain four to seven more victories. Figure on Santana pushing the holdover members of the starting rotation down a slot, featuring Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Orlando Hernandez in some order, replacing a mishmash of #5 starters in 2007 that combined to go 10-12, and New York gains seven to ten more victories. Additionally working to Santana’s advantage, the National League has been far easier for pitchers. And Shea Stadium is relatively a pitcher’s ballpark compared to the league average. A big season may very well be in store for the goateed Venezuelan…!
We find ourselves once again in the realm of the hypothetical.
We do not know, nor can we know until the season begins, how the Mets will fare with Santana at the top of their rotation. We do not know how the bullpen will perform, a key ingredient for any starting pitcher’s success. We do not know how Santana will endure the scrutiny of the notorious New York media, which has felled many a sensitive star athlete. We certainly do not know how injuries will affect the roster; a season ago, injuries held the great Martinez to a scant five starts.
Most significantly, we do not know what type of competition the Mets will face. Defending champion Philadelphia lurks with a new confidence, having added via free agency slugging Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins, Giants third baseman Pedro Feliz, and Cardinals role-player extraordinaire So Taguchi, and traded for Astros closer Brad Lidge. The Atlanta Braves have also reloaded, acquiring the aforementioned Glavine as well as Athletics outfielder Mark Kotsay and Tigers utility infielder Omar Infante.
As analytical as it may feel to attempt a forecasting of 2008 season, the utter length of the 162-game campaign makes such effort laughable. Too many variables exist.
More significantly, these are people involved, and as such, performances are invariably unpredictable. It’s more fun this way, you know. Imagine, for example, that the best pitcher in baseball was unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft and then traded away (with cash) for a minor leaguer. Who would know better about unpredictable results than the great Johan Alexander Santana?© 2008 PER Sports, Inc.
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