On Thursday, Mets manager Jerry Manuel removed Johan Santana in the 8th inning of a 3-1 game after only 104 pitches despite the fact that he was showing no signs of getting tired or ineffectiveness. This is not new. Santana has been pulled from games giving up two runs or less ELEVEN times. His high in pitch count in those games? 116. Once. The rest were all under 110 pitches.
What obviously makes this an issue is that in those eleven games, the Mets lost five of those games. Wow. A scary stat. The Met broadcasters on SNY pointed out that the Mets have now blown more saves for Johan in 24 starts then the vaunted Twins bullpen did in his last 100 starts. Scary stuff.
So why not ride your $137 million man? Especially with Billy Wagner on the shelf, and the rest of the pen struggling mightily, why not leave Johan in to decide the game himself. Like all great pitchers, he has an extra gear that he can go to when he gets into jams (Just ask Adrian Gonzalez). And Manuel replaced him for Duanar Sanchez?
The reason for the strategy, which is obviously team policy since Willie Randolph did the same thing when he was in charge, is that Santana has never been an 8th-9th inning pitcher. Look at this -
Complete Games -
2004 - 1
2005 - 3
2006 - 1
2007 - 1
2008 - 1
A grand total of 7 complete games in his career. He won Cy Young Awards in '04 and '06 pitching the way the Mets have used him this year.
Now, look at this -
Pitches per start -
2005 - 101
2006 - 101
2007 - 101
2008 - 103
So the Mets have actually extended Santana a little more than the Twins did. He never was a guy who threw 130 pitches in a game, and that's probably a good thing. Using Baseball Prospectus' Pitcher Abuse Points, its interesting to note that those pitchers who did routinely throw a lot of pitches in 2006 now mostly reside either on the DL or at the end of their team's rotations. The top ten list included -
That's 7 out of the 10 'bulldogs' in 2006 who are now paying the price for their work. If you are looking for a reason for Zito's inexplicable drop in velocity and command, how about throwing over 110 pitches eighteen times in 2006? Looking for a solution to Dontrelle's problems? Maybe, just maybe its his eighteen starts over 110 pitches. And the cause of Smoltz's elbow woes? How about the four times he threw over 130 pitches?
For the record, the only guys still performing at a high level are Carlos Zambrano, CC Sabathia, and Jake Peavy.
And remember, this only the effects of throwing a lot of pitches consistently two years ago. The Mets have Santana signed for seven years. If they want to have a decent pitcher for that time, it makes sense to continue to keep him healthy. Abusing him because the pen sucks is a shortsighted, and frankly stupid, move.
Forget Nolan Ryan and his 238 pitches in game. He was a freak. The Mets have 137 million reasons to do the right thing and treat Santana like a human. Live with it Met fans - you'll be glad in the end.