The Machine

Another game, another dominant Johan Santana performance.

In striking out 11 Texas Rangers while allowing just four hits and a single run in eight innings last night, Santana threw his 15th straight Quality Start, improved his record to 14-6, and dropped his ERA to 3.13.

Here’s the game-by-game breakdown of his incredible 15-game steak of Quality Starts (which I may print out, tape to my wall, and stare at for hours on end) …

DATE     OPPONENT        IP     H     ER     BB     SO     HR     W/L
6/9      Mets           7.0     6      1      0     10      1      W
6/15     Expos          8.0     3      2      0      7      1      W
6/20     Brewers        8.0     4      2      2     12      1      W
6/25     Brewers        7.0     4      1      0     10      1      W
7/1      White Sox      8.0     3      2      2     12      1      L
7/6      Royals         9.0     3      0      2     13      0      W
7/11     Tigers         8.0     2      2      2     11      1      L
7/17     Royals         8.0     1      0      4      9      0      W
7/22     Devil Rays     7.0     3      1      3     10      1
7/27     White Sox      6.0     2      1      2      6      1      W
8/1      Red Sox        8.0     2      2      1     12      2      W
8/7      A's            6.1     7      3      1     10      0      W
8/12     Mariners       7.0     7      1      2      7      1      W
8/18     Yankees        7.0     5      2      1      6      0      W
8/23     Rangers        8.0     4      1      1     11      1      W
         TOTAL        112.1    56     21     23    146     12    12-2

Over his last 15 starts, Santana is 12-2 with a 1.68 ERA (the Twins were shutout and scored one run in the two games he lost). He has averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings while giving up an astounding 4.5 hits per nine innings, and has a 6.3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Santana has also averaged 7.5 innings per start while going at least seven innings 13 times, and has pitched against five of the top six offenses in the American League.

However, as dominant as he has been during his 15 straight Quality Starts, Santana has given up his share of home runs. In fact, he’s held a team homerless in just four of those 15 games. Despite giving up a total of only 23 runs (21 earned) in those 112.1 innings pitched, Santana has allowed 12 homers. While giving up 12 homers in 112.1 innings is actually pretty good, that is definitely the one chink in Santana’s armor, although that sort of comes along with the territory when you’re an extreme fly ball pitcher in the Metrodome.

At this point, I think the only thing holding Santana back from being the favorite for the AL Cy Young award is Mark Mulder‘s 16 wins. That’s not to say Santana hasn’t been the best pitcher in the league this year, because he has, but rather that the voters will likely see Mulder’s win total as a lot more valuable than Santana’s significant edge in ERA, strikeouts, batting average against and any number of other areas.

While Santana continues to close the gap on Mulder in the wins department, he is also climbing up the Minnesota Twins’ all-time record books. With his fourth of 11 strikeouts last night, Santana became the first Minnesota pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in a season since Bert Blyleven in 1986.

With 7-8 starts left, Santana has a very good shot at becoming the Twins’ all-time leader in strikeouts in a season. Here’s his competition …

PITCHER                  YEAR       SO
Bert Blyleven            1973      258   
Bert Blyleven            1974      249   
Dean Chance              1968      234   
Bert Blyleven            1975      233   
Bert Blyleven            1972      228   
Bert Blyleven            1971      224   
Camilo Pascual           1961      221   
Dean Chance              1967      220   
Bert Blyleven            1986      215   
Camilo Pascual           1964      213   
Jim Kaat                 1967      211  
JOHAN SANTANA            2004      207 
Camilo Pascual           1962      206   
Jim Kaat                 1966      205   
Dave Boswell             1967      204   
Camilo Pascual           1963      202

Santana has 207 strikeouts through his first 181 innings. If he keeps on that pace for the rest of the year, he’ll end up with around 260-265 strikeouts, so it’ll be close. Of course, when Blyleven struck out 258 batters in 1973, he did it while throwing 325 innings, while Santana will be lucky to top 230 innings this year.

In addition to making 40 starts in 1973 (Santana is likely to make 34-35 this season), Blyleven completed an amazing 25 games, including nine shutouts. Santana has one complete game and one shutout this year, a 13-strikeout gem against the Royals on July 6. During the last decade, no pitcher has completed even 20 games in a season, with Curt Schilling‘s 15 complete games in 1998 being the most. In fact, if you only take Blyleven’s nine shutouts, that would rank tied for ninth on the complete game leaderboard since 1994. In other words, Blyleven was really good, although if you’re reading this you probably know that already.

Looking at strikeouts per nine innings instead of total strikeouts, no starter in Twins history (with at least 25 starts) even comes close to Santana …

PITCHER                  YEAR     SO/9
JOHAN SANTANA            2004    10.29
Dave Boswell             1967     8.23 
Bert Blyleven            1974     7.98     
Camilo Pascual           1961     7.89       
Bert Blyleven            1975     7.61    
Dick Stigman             1964     7.53   
Bert Blyleven            1970     7.41   
Camilo Pascual           1963     7.33    
Willie Banks             1993     7.25    
Bert Blyleven            1971     7.24

Santana’s ability to rack up huge strikeout totals is not only extremely impressive, it is also very unique. He has a tremendous fastball, clocking in at 93-95 MPH on a consistent basis last night, but it is his amazing changeup that results in the majority of his strikeouts. While it’s a lot of fun to watch a guy blow hitters away with pure heat, it’s even more enjoyable to see him baffle batter after batter with 75-MPH changeups right over the heart of the plate.

I compare Santana’s style of striking people out to the best way to get revenge on a high school bully. Sure, fighting back in the cafeteria one day and landing a right hook to the chin is great, but waiting until you’re a successful millionaire with a gorgeous wife and 2.3 kids and then hiring the bully to wash your Hummer in the driveway of your mansion for $10 an hour, while not as immediate or flashy, is a lot sweeter. Santana’s changeup would be that second option.

While Santana is blowing away the competition in strikeouts per nine innings, he’s got a little work to do to be atop the Twins’ leaderboard for hits per nine innings …

PITCHER                  YEAR      H/9
Dave Boswell             1967     6.54  
JOHAN SANTANA            2004     6.56     
Dick Woodson             1972     6.89       
Dean Chance              1968     6.90       
Dave Boswell             1968     7.01       
Bert Blyleven            1975     7.15       
Camilo Pascual           1965     7.27       
Jim Perry                1966     7.29         
Camilo Pascual           1961     7.32       
Camilo Pascual           1963     7.44

Dave Boswell gave up just 162 hits in 222.2 innings in 1967, allowing batters to hit a measly .202 off him in 801 at-bats. Like Boswell, Santana is also holding batters to a .202 batting average this year, including .157 since the All-Star break. Because Santana combines not giving up many hits with also having very good control (he has walked 2.3/9 IP this year, whereas Boswell walked 4.3/9 IP), he is on pace to set a Twins record for fewest baserunners allowed per nine innings …

PITCHER                  YEAR     BR/9
JOHAN SANTANA            2004     8.85
Dean Chance              1968     9.15       
Jim Merritt              1967     9.20       
Jim Kaat                 1966     9.72       
Kevin Tapani             1991     9.85       
Bert Blyleven            1975    10.02       
Jim Merritt              1968    10.06       
Dean Chance              1967    10.11    
Jim Perry                1966    10.13          
Jim Kaat                 1968    10.17

You can see that because of his control issues, Boswell’s 1967 season falls out of the top 10, while Dean Chance‘s 1968 season is currently the best in team history. Chance went 16-16 with a 2.53 ERA in 1968 (“The Year of the Pitcher”), striking out 234 while giving up 224 hits and 63 walks in 292 innings pitched. Pitching was so good that year that Chance didn’t even finish in the top 10 for ERA.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Finally, while I’m not a fan of using wins and losses to judge a pitcher’s value (particularly if it causes Santana to lose out on the Cy Young award this year), it’s worth noting that he has an outside shot at becoming the 13th Twins 20-game winner, following Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Frank Viola, Camilo Pascual, Scott Erickson, Dave Goltz, Jerry Koosman, Brad Radke, Mudcat Grant, Chance, Blyleven and Boswell. All he needs to do is stretch that 15-game streak of Quality Starts into a 21- or 22-game streak of Quality Starts, and I wouldn’t put it past him.

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