This season, the NL East is up for grabs, as the five time defending division winners, the Philadelphia Phillies, are struggling mightily with injury problems and aging with each passing game. The youth movement in the rest of the division should have the Phillies worried, as the Nationals are beginning to flourish with the rise of young prospects and the Miami Marlins are stocking up for the long haul on young talent, of note, signing Jose Reyes from the Mets in the offseason. The Atlanta Braves are never a team to count out as they have been a solid squad for the last few decades.
The underdog in the division seems to be the New York Mets, and with David Wright already nursing an abdominal injury, their relevance in the division hinges on the comeback of Johan Santana. General Manager Sandy Alderson must certainly be pleased with the former Cy Young award winner’s comeback story, as he mowed down the Cardinals in his most recent spring outing to the tune of a 6 IP, 6H, 0BB, 1ER stat line, while setting down six Cardinal hitters by way of the ‘K’.
Johan was lights out in his first full season with the New York Mets back in 2008, the last year in which he managed to pitch over 200 innings during the regular season and strike out more than 200 hitters. Since 2008, Santana has seen a rise in ERA equivalent with the flux of his use of the changeup. In 2008, Santana threw his changeup 31.9% of his pitches, keeping the pitch almost exclusively down and away towards right handed hitters, and mostly on the outside lower half towards lefties, with a few sneaking up and inside.
This pitch was his swing and miss pitch, causing batters to whiff 40.2 percent of the time they went after the offering. That season he compiled a 16-7 record with a 2.53 ERA and an ERA+ of 166. In 2009, he threw 7.6% less changeups and watched his line change to 13-9 with a 3.13 ERA and a 130 ERA+. He threw 5.5% more fastballs, a pitch that he was not hiding very well from left handed hitters. The fastball was rarely missed when swung at and slugged for a high percentage, especially when left on the edges of the strike zone.
In 2010, Santana returned to his roots and upped his changeup usage by 5%, lowering his ERA to 2.98. Over the course of his career with the Mets, his changeup has moved an average of 6.6 inches downwards and 6.8 inches to the inside on left handed hitters. This remains the most effective pitch in his arsenal, and utilizing the changeup will help him complete his comeback and give the Mets a relevant ace at the top of their rotation.