I was just reading a three day old report in the New York Daily News that the Yankees were backing off in their pursuit of Johan Santana. This is all well and good, I don't root for them and so it doesn't effect me negatively if they don't end up with, possibly, the best pitcher in baseball. I'm fine with that, trust me. What does seem odd, though, is the reaction this news garnered in the comments section. Posters named bronxbomber, edman2222, and QNSFDGUY718 rejoiced hearing that their team wouldn't be mortgaging their future for the the likes of Santana, writing things like, "Santana is hittable.. Hes no sandy koufax in his prime and fast approaching 30," and, "Check his lifetime stats...not that impressive" (not my ellipsis), as well as, "We have an arsenal of pitchers! All though they aren't all proven 100% who cares?" Not to spend too much time belaboring an obvious point, namely that Johan Santana is really good, but it might be worthwhile (it probably isn't) to examine the truth behind these statements.
First, while it's true that his numbers aren't on the level of Sandy Koufax in his prime (should be noted that pitching today might be significantly more difficult than it was in the 1960's), it might be important to remember that Koufax's prime was a little bit better than phenomenal. During his last four seasons, from 1963-1966, he posted ERA+ numbers of 159, 187, 160, and 190 and posted a cumulative K to BB ratio of 1228-259 (in those seasons he averaged 307 strikeouts a year despite missing a decent amount of 1964). At a time when the Cy Young award was given to who was believed the best pitcher in the Majors, rather than handing out one award in both the American and National Leagues, he won the three times, only losing deservedly to Dean Chance in 1964. That's an incredibly difficult bar to match, and Santana hasn't done that, but in addressing the second point, that his lifetime stats aren't that impressive, it should be noted that in his last six seasons, he has posted an ERA+ of 149, 148, 182, 155, 161, and 130. He was a part-time starter in those first two seasons, starting roughly 44% of the games he appeared in, so if one chose to throw them out, I'd understand. Limiting ourselves to his four seasons as a full-time starter, that leaves us with two seasons in which he received the Cy Young deservedly, one in which he was jobbed (he threw 9 more innings, posted an ERA .61 lower, and struck out 81 more batters than the winner, Colon, whose primary credential was that he was on a better team that allowed him to be credited with more wins), and one merely very good year, his most recent, which is likely the reason his abilities are being discounted. I think the fact that he is 28 and has managed to string together, already, three Cy Young worthy seasons consecutively would suggest that, indeed, his lifetime stats are really, actually, kind of, sort of, impressive, especially if we assume he's not going to have to retire prematurely due to arthritis, which is reasonable because not a lot of pitchers do (as far as I know).
As for the current state of the Yankees pitching staff, at the moment it looks like they're going to be throwing out Wang, Pettitte, Hughes, Mussina, and Chamberlain and barring injury that could be solid. I'd certainly feel better about my team if we had that rotation and not, you know, Hernandez, Washburn, Batista, Silva, and Ramirez (Horacio is the Josh Barfield of pitching), but that's for another blog entry. After the two known quantities, the Yankees are counting a great deal on a second year starter who was simply league average last year (he had an ERA+ of 100), a former ace who is making, according to the unreliable source that is baseball-reference.com, 11 million dollars and has pitched exactly one good season in his last four, and a second year pitcher that excelled in relief, but hasn't started at this level. No, this staff is not 100% proven, and considering that this team, like every Yankee team I'm able to remember, is constructed to win this year, I'm not sure I understand how any fan of the team could not care --go Yankees!-- that they essentially know what they're going to get from 40% of their rotation, and even that's assuming both Wang and Pettitte stay healthy.
Understanding how good Santana is, and how willing they've been to throw money around in the past (according, again, to baseball-reference, their top five highest paid starting pitchers --who I believe were Clemens, Pettitte, Mussina, Pavano, and Igawa-- made nearly 60 million for 92 starts last year) to shore up pitching, unless the Yankees are positive that Hughes and Kennedy are going to be very good at the major league level, I don't understand why anyone would rejoice hearing their team won't be adding someone who could easily be the best pitcher in the league (an opinion on track record, not just potential) this coming year.
So, in conclusion, yeah, Johan Santana's good and can help a team. If you're reading this, you're likely my girlfriend, and in that case, you're hearing it here first.