The roof had been closed. It was a hot and humid day. He threw 116 pitches in his last start. And the Jays have a lot of power. There were lots of reasons being thrown around last night for the four home runs that Johan Santana gave up in Toronto's Sky Dome. But there's one we shouldn't ignore: Santana is giving up a lot of home runs this year.
They've been a problem all year. They're up over 50% from his career rate before the season started, and his career rate was only slightly better than average. We're used to seeing Johan's name atop leader boards, but now we find it in third place in home runs against. Second place winner Jamie Shields gave up 10 earned runs on Sunday to be the active leader. First place winner Ervin Santana was awarded a trip to AAA.
It's not necessarily evidence that Santana is somehow slipping - his ERA is still just 2.82. It's not necessarily evidence of anything, but....
Remember how a month ago, Santana threw his first shutout this year? There were lots of strange things about that game. First, there was the fact that he was challenged to do so by a Hall-of-Fame caliber pitcher earlier in the day. Then there was the fact that there was only one strikeout. And I couldn't help but wonder if Santana had changed his approach for that game, like he decided to "pitch to contact".
Could it be that Santana's pursuit of strikeouts is hurting him? And the Twins?
Tonight feels like another data point. The Twins entered the night desperate for a long outing. (Desperate enough to trust a two-run deficit to long reliever Ramon Ortiz, because he wanted to rest more effective pitchers.) They needed a win and they needed innings.
From the first inning, the general agreement is that Santana was struggling with his location. So why continue to challenge the hitters over the plate? Well, he still racked up four Ks in five innings. And gave up four home runs. And lost the game. Oh, and burned a few more innings in the bullpen.
And then there are all these home runs. At exactly the time when he's clearly chasing another pitcher (Baltimore's Eric Bedard) for the strikeout title for the first time in several years. Meanwhile, the Twins face a shortened bullpen, and could consistently use someone to go eight innings at a time, instead of six or seven. But Santana's starts are averaging slightly less than in previous years.
We pay a lot of attention to strikeouts, but we do so because it is an indicator of dominance, not because strikeouts themselves are that impactful. Occasionally a pitcher needs to strike someone out to get out of a jam, but for the most part strikeouts are vanity. Or as Crash Davis would say "fascist".
But they're also valuable financially. They're always referenced in the Cy Young race and a pretty good case can be made that Santana's Cy Young awards would've gone to someone else if he had fewer strikeouts. And besides the value that has for a future contract, a top three finish for Santana automatically kicks in a no-trade clause, which can be handy from a negotiating standpoint.
It's strange to think that fewer strikeouts might lead to better pitching, or a more valuable pitcher. But baseball is a strange game. And if we're going to be exploring the effect of a closed roof or humid air, it may not be so outlandish to look at the pitcher's approach. And the vanity of the Ks.