ESPN and its tentacles have done more to promote sports than any entity in human history, and I have a good personal relationship with many people in Bristol, so I always feel a bit weird picking on them. However, there was a piece of content up there today that just begs to be hammered. Earlier Monday, there was a box in the upper right of the MLB page with a picture of Johan Santana and the following copy: “…Santana picked up his fifth loss of the season…Sunday. Can he turn things around like he has in years past?”
The point, expanded upon in Diamond Daily in a Web companion to “Baseball Tonight,” made it seem as if Santana was struggling like his fellow Venezuelan on the North Side of Chicago. While Santana has a win-loss record of 6-5, a look at virtually any other number is in stat line shows quite clearly that he doesn’t have anything to turn around. Santana’s ERA of 3.30 is 13th in the AL, he leads the league in strikeouts and he is in the top ten in a number of categories. Santana is fifth in the AL in VORP for pitchers, ninth in SNLVAR. Hell, if you’re so into wins and losses, notice that he’s fifth in the league in wins.
Johan Santana isn’t struggling by any rational, reasonable standard. He isn’t struggling by most irrational standards. He’s been one of the seven or eight best starters in the league, the ace of his team’s rotation. He’s yet to be removed in the middle of an inning. He’s yet to allow a stolen base. Those five “losses”? He averaged 6 2/3 innings with an ERA of 4.09 and a K/BB of 38/9. That’s in his losses. Santana’s flyball rate is up this year, and his home-run rate with it, which is the primary reason why his ERA is 3.30 and not much lower. That’s the only nick in his record, and it’s left him as “only” one of the top pitchers in the league.
It’s OK to position yourself as a content provider for the masses. In an age with Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Reference and Retrosheet and real-time play-by-play across any medium you want, it’s not OK to make things up. Positioning Johan Santana as a player who needs to “turn things around” is shredding your credibility. It’s not 1952, guys. We know better than to look at win-loss records.