The Real Problem Behind Johan Santana's Run Support: Opposing Pitchers

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The Real Problem Behind Johan Santana's Run Support: Opposing Pitchers
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Monday Night Baseball game on May 12 (in which the Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets) reminded me of a couple things.

Derek Lowe can pitch like an ace when needed, even if he doesn’t strike people out; he can get so many grounders it is ridiculous.

Jerry Manuel is a terrible manager. Pedro Feliciano is a lefty specialist, and Matt Diaz is a platoon player who destroys lefties. The bullpen gets the blame, but this one was on Manuel.

Steve Phillips has officially become my least favorite announcer (congratulations to Tim McCarver, who falls from that spot).

I somehow dealt with his billion references to when he was the Mets GM. I got through his million jokes about the time difference when games were being played in Japan last year.

I didn’t even promote him due to his discussion of Mr. Met's anatomy (he is a mascot; he doesn’t have to be anatomically correct to function). But his logic on the Mets not scoring for Johan Santana may be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

This is roughly what he said. I took out the play by play and probably left out a couple of insignificant words while trying to copy this off ESPN 360.

“You know, we're talking about the run support for a pitcher, and I believe that pitchers often earn their run support, and here is why. I was in the front office for 13 years, at every home game, for many of the road games up in the box, and you start to feel the pattern of the game for each of the starting pitchers.

"Over the course of time it seemed to me there the same guys started to get runs, there was a pattern and rhythm to their game, and the same guys didn't get runs because of the pattern and rhythm to their game.”

Orel Hershiser then asked if Santana had a bad pattern or rhythm for an offense, and Phillips responded with this:

“I think it is the feel of his game. Whether it’s his teammates...I don't think it’s a conscious thing. Players always go, 'Nah, there is no way, there is no way,' but I see it, I feel it every time you watch games. They don't hit for Santana.

"I think part of it is because he is the ace on the mound. They think it’s a low-scoring game, he is not going to give up runs. It’s just this rhythm of the game that he has. Steve Trachsel used to pitch for the Mets, the slowest worker ever. He never got run support, and I think he earned it.”

Honestly, it’s a waste of time to try to make any sense out of what Phillips said, but it did get me interested in looking further into the Mets' performance in Santana’s games.

Most people will bring up three things when discussing Santana’s record: lack of run support, bad defense, and a bad bullpen.

While I don’t have a lot of statistical evidence to explain the last two, I do think that there are reasons to explain why Santana seems to suffer from them more than other pitchers.

First, the bad defense. So far Santana has allowed four unearned runs this season. While this number is above the league average, there are 16 other pitchers in the majors who have allowed four or more unearned runs.

In fact, I’m guessing that you didn’t know that Daniel Cabrera leads the majors with 13 unearned runs.

The only reason that we hear so much about the defense behind Santana is that it is always in a tight game.

In other words, because Santana is such a good pitcher, and therefore always puts his team in position to win, whenever the defense is bad it likely will change the outcome of the game (whereas Cabrera has an ERA near five and likely would be losing a lot either way).

Second, the bullpen. Santana isn’t the first pitcher to have a bullpen take wins away from him. Recently, while with the Braves, John Smoltz went through the same exact thing.

In 2008, Santana received no-decisions in 11 games, six of which were wins. In six of the games, Santana left in position to pick up the win, only to have the bullpen blow the lead. The Mets had seven blown saves in games Santana pitched.

The Mets blew a total of 29 saves last year, a number which, divided by five, would be an average of 5.8 blown saves per starter. When you consider that Johan typically was their best starting pitcher, and therefore probably left with a lead more often than the other pitchers, the fact that he suffered through seven blown saves really isn’t that hard to fathom.

Finally, the point that I have done the most research on is the lack of run support that the Mets have given Santana. While everyone has searched for different reasons, it seems clear that the reason for the lack of run support goes no further than the opposing pitcher.

Santana is the ace of the Mets, meaning that most of the time he will be facing another team's top starting pitcher. The reason that his opponent is considered the team's top starting pitcher is likely that he rarely allows many earned runs, so it would make sense that the Mets scored fewer runs on those days.

In 2009, Santana has now started seven games. Of the seven games, five of them have been against opponents who are the best pitchers in their pitching staff (Aaron Harang, Josh Johnson twice, Yovani Gallardo, and Derek Lowe).

In 2008, the Mets scored fewer than five runs in 18 of Santana’s 34 starts. Of those 18 starts, 13 of them were against ace caliber pitchers.

While Johan Santana may be slightly unluckier than most other pitchers, it seems that the Mets' lack of run support may be due to the fact that Santana tends to face good pitchers who tend to give up fewer runs than the rest of the league.

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