Everyone insists Johan Santana is healthy despite 7.98 ERA

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Johan Santana got rocked for eight runs in 1.1 innings Saturday in his return from the disabled list and now has a 7.98 ERA in nine starts since throwing a no-hitter against the Cardinals on June 1.

Since racking up 134 pitches while making history Santana has allowed 39 runs in 44 innings, serving up 11 homers and a .328 opponents’ batting average while failing to make it beyond five innings in six of his nine starts.

And yet everyone, including Santana, continues to insist that the former Cy Young winner is healthy. Here’s what manager Terry Collins told Conor Orr of the Newark Star Ledger:

I’m planning on, certainly, in five days, seeing him back out there. Any conversations we have about the future, that’s going to be down the road. They’re not gonna be right now. I think Johan’s shoulder is fine, we’ll take a look at him after a few more starts and decide how he’s feeling… but right now, according to me, I have no plans of shutting Johan Santana down.

Here’s the thing, though: Either he’s hurt or he’s just terrible. And which is better, really?

It’s like someone being a complete jerk at a party, making a fool of himself and harassing everyone, and then insisting that he’s not even drunk. OK fine, you’re not drunk, but doesn’t that just mean you’re a huge (sober) jerk? And in Santana’s case, if he’s truly not pitching through more arm problems and still has a 7.98 ERA in his last nine starts … well, that’s hardly any less disturbing.

Justin Verlander changed his mechanics to prolong his career

Justin Verlander mechanics
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Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.

As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.

Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”

Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012.  He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.

The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.