Ex-Lax

By Taryn “the Coop” Cooper

Prior to the All-Star Break, the Mets were riding high.  Easily, one of the best and intriguing stories was the emergence of R.A. Dickey and his use of the knuckleball (not to mention his Renaissance man-like quality by climbing Kilimanjaro, writing a book and appearing in a movie on the pitch).  David Wright appeared to find his swing and was hitting close to .400.  The Mets young pitchers Jon Niese and Dillon Gee were really strong.

Johan Santana’s lackluster return on Saturday night against the Braves leads fans to ask, “Was it the no-no?”

And then, there was Johan.  The pitcher, as they say, was “so smooth.”  Missing all of 2011 due to a traumatic shoulder injury, none of us knew how Johan Santana would rebound in 2012.  He was certainly the “X” Factor, either way, at the beginning of the season.    If he got 30 starts, we said, it would be a good comeback for Johan.

In addition to that first half riding high scenario, something happened in Mets history that had not happened before: the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise.  And it was Johan Santana who pitched it.

It would only be so telling, right, that a guy who didn’t pitch at all in 2011, was one of the biggest trades/signings in Mets history, one of the best pitchers in baseball who was all of a sudden marred by injuries.  This was a cautionary tale.  Minnesota writers and fans, who loved Santana, warned us that he was an injury waiting to happen.  Yet, he of the limited pitch count this season, went out and pitched 130+ pitches to secure his legend in the Mets history books.

On August 11, Santana came back from a stint on the DL to face the Atlanta Braves.  He didn’t make it out of the second inning.  Which led fans and sports enthusiasts alike to ask, “Was the no-hitter worth it?”  Or “The no-hitter messed him up!”

Let’s take a look at his stats prior to the no-no on June 1.  Santana had made 10 starts previous to that, he faced 239 batters, 59 IP (one complete game too).  His record was 2-2, with an ERA of 2.75, 60Ks, 16 BBs, and .225 BA against him.

I won’t include his no-no game till later.  But remember, because of his high pitch count that game, they pushed his next start back.  It was nothing short of unspectacular.  He got the loss, throwing 86 pitches in 5 innings.  It seemed as though people wanted to jump on the no-hitter to blame his lackluster start post-euphoria.  Yet he came back the next week with a win, 96 pitches thrown in 5 innings.  In the first game post-no-no, he gave up 7 hits, 6 ER, 5 Ks.  The second game, it was slightly better, but seemed wilder walking more batters than in the previous game.

Since the no-hitter, Santana has started 9 games.  He’s pitched 44 innings, given up 11 HRs, with 18 BBs, 39Ks.  Batting average against is .328.

Prior to his recent stint on the DL, what’s interesting to note is that he started 8 games, threw 42.2 innings, gave up 53 hits, 17 BBs, 37 Ks, and hitters had a .305 BA against him.

But when you look at other anomalies this season for Johan, you’ll see he was almost merely regressing to the mean.  While under a strict pitch count limitation, he was averaging about 5 innings per game.  The only game he went 9 innings was the start right before the no-hitter, against San Diego on May 26.  Then of course, a complete game no-hitter on June 1.

I guess my rhetorical question would be…why aren’t people pointing to the game against the Padres, which was his only complete game prior to that?  Or the three games he threw over 100 pitches, when, again, it’s noteworthy to say he wasn’t supposed to be up that high?

Oh, and it’s also interesting to note that another game Santana got sent packing after 1 1/3 innings was against the Braves, the same team on Saturday, with 4 ER, no Ks, 1 BB in a game in April.

So let’s throw out the no-hitter, and pretend it never happened.  Santana has started 20 games, thrown 112 innings, boasting a 4.58 ERA, .255 BA against, has given up 15 HRs, 107 Ks and 39 BBs.  I think it’s important to note that he’s started 20 games…since coming back from a very difficult shoulder surgery.  Having not pitched an entire season and then some prior to April 5 of this year.

Johan Santana has not pitched 200+ innings per season since his first season with the Mets in 2008.  If anything, it’s the contracts and players like Johan Santana and Jason Bay that have remained a cautionary tale for the Mets, investing in players that have performed for other teams.  Santana has not been horrible for the Mets…it’s just that rather than being smooth, as the song suggests, the Mets have essentially had to use Ex-Lax to get the most out of him over the years.

So now what?

Perhaps Adam Rubin’s column from April of this year may shed some light on how a torn anterior capsule shoulder injury should be treated.  While Chien Ming Wang famously has not returned to his previous form, his erratic pitching style was an injury waiting to happen.  Other pitchers have included Rich Harden, Dallas Braden and Mark Prior.  Remember all the jokes about Rich Harden and his injury history?

Yet, in Rubin’s column, you get insight to Santana’s bravado.  He was hurt, severely, but he still wanted to go out there and pitch.  If he’s hurt or hurt-ing, chances are, no one is going to know about it till it’s too late.

It’s easy to look at the numbers and blame the no-no.  But if you look at the context of the season, and see that Johan’s return has been steady, and potentially better than projected.  Barring another setback or another trip to the DL, he could still be on pace to give the team 30 starts. Whether they are quality starts remain to be seen.

Did you really think this would be as easy as smooth sailing as pitching a no-hitter and dominating the rest of the season?

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