Sunday, March 1, 2009

Get well soon, Johan.

I'm a refugee from a small midwestern town, who's currently stranded in New York, so I don't have any particular affinity for the local ballclubs. In fact, given the fact that roughly 60 percent* of the locals I know are Mets fans, and 70 percent** of that group is insufferable, I think it's fair to say that I downright dislike the Amazin's. In the NL East, I tend to pull for the Marlins and Nationals. Call me a sucker for lost causes.

That said, as a baseball fan, I can't help but be terrified to lose a year of Johan Santana's prime to an elbow injury. Santana has been experiencing recurring soreness and tightness as he trains in Florida. There's talk that he could miss the start of the season because of the injury and, well, we've been down this road so many times before with so many pitchers.

Not Johan, though. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has been largely healthy for the duration of his career -- aside from a surgery to remove bone chips prior to the 2004 season -- and he's arguably the best pitcher in the game. He's the proper heir to Pedro Martinez as the most entertaining pitcher in the Majors.

Santana has seen his fastball decline in velocity from 93.1 MPH in 2006 to 91.2 MPH in 2008, which could be an indication of lingering, or developing, injury. His walk rate has also increased, from 1.81 BB/9 in 2006 to 2.42 BB/9 in 2007 2008. His K/9 has decreased from 9.44 in 2006 to 7.91 in 2008. These dropoffs in stuff could be indicative of an injury, or they could be indicative of Santana getting a bit older and craftier.

Even a diminished -- loose usage of this word -- Santana is still an elite pitcher, and the results remain phenomenal. To wit, his 166 ERA + in 2008 was his highest since he put up a 182 ERA + in 2004.

Still, throwing a baseball is one of the most stressful things you can do to a joint, and every Major League pitcher is a high risk to blow out his elbow. If Santana has developed a serious injury, it would be a shame but not wholly surprising. But hopefully he's just sore, because the only things more intolerable than Mets fans when their club is winning are Mets fans when their club is awful.

* Probably lower.

** Probably higher

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