June 30, 2007

Santana vs Verlander

Great pitching matchup in Detroit yesterday: Johan Santana vs. Justin Verlander. The Twins won fairly easily, 11-1, as Verlander had one of his worst outings of the season (although he was really good for a few innings) and Santana pitched like he always does. Santana's record is a respectable 9-6, but the Twins have scored three runs or less for him in 10 of his 17 starts so far, which is why his win total isn't higher. Santana's the best pitcher in the game today; here's a recap of some random things I noticed about him in this start:

Santana threw a lot of pitches in the first inning, but that wasn't really his fault; he faced five hitters and threw only seven balls. His high pitch total (25) was more due to the fact that guys like Polanco and Guillen were fouling off lots of pitches. Santana did give up two singles to right field; Polanco's was on a fastball up in the zone, and Sheffield's was just a great piece of hitting on a changeup away.

Then, in the second inning, Santana was apparently trying to keep his pitch count down and just throw strikes, as every pitch that inning was a fastball. It worked, too; he sent Pudge, Craig Monroe, and Marcus Thames down in order on only eight pitches. He was lucky to be facing poor hitters, though; both Monroe and Thames saw good pitches up in the zone, but each managed no more than a flyout. Santana resumed mixing in his off-speed after that, although he all but abandoned his slider after the fourth.

Santana's changeup is arguably the best pitch in all of baseball, but he didn't seem to be using it as often as usual. He was throwing more fastballs, but he was still effective. His fastball must have a lot of movement, because the Tigers were fouling a lot of his pitches straight back (meaning they were timing it okay, but couldn't make clean contact). He didn't really have very good command of his slider when he was throwing it, putting it in the strike zone only three of nine times.

Santana's fastball was in the 93-94 range all day, though I've been skeptical of Comerica Park velocity readings ever since last postseason, when all the Tigers pitchers mysteriously added three mph to their fastball. I seem to remember him being more in the 91-92 range when I saw him at the Metrodome last summer. Regardless, his fastball-change combo is very effective, as he takes a good 10 mph off his change (consistantly at 83).

The thing I would be worried about is that Santana was leaving way too many fastballs up in the zone; his change and slider were mostly down, but his fastball was often above the belt. Polanco put one of his fastballs over the left-field fence, and Guillen and Thames each hit warning-track flyballs that might have been homers in another ballpark. I'm guessing this has been fairly common for Santana this season, as his HR rate is at a career high.

As for Verlander...he was great in the second through fourth innings, but he gave up two runs in the first and four in the fifth. In both cases, control was the issue. Verlander walked Jason Bartlett and Joe Mauer in the first to load the bases; Bartlett and Luis Castillo both scored that inning. In the fifth, Verlander walked Jason Tyner to lead off the inning, and then walked Castillo and Bartlett to load the bases again, setting the state for a rare Joe Mauer grand slam. Control problems often are among the first signs of pitcher fatigue. Verlander was pulled after five innings, but he still threw 99 pitches because he was so ineffective. I still believe that Verlander will end up on the DL or with a very bad stretch at some point this season, and this start showed why.

A couple other random thoughts:

Boy, Placido Polanco sure is a battler, isn't he? He saw 16 pitches in three at-bats against Santana, ending up with two hits.

Santana sure knows who to pitch to...Sheffield only saw one pitch up in the zone, while Marcus Thames and Nefi Perez got a lot of fastballs at the letters.

Curtis Granderson is one of baseball's better young players, and he probably deserves to be in the All-Star game this year. But one thing he still needs to learn is plate discipline. Granderson saw 16 pitches, swung at 10 of them, and only put one into play (a grounder to first). Granderson saw a lot more off-speed than anybody else, due to his free-swinging nature; there are players who can succeed with this attitude (Vlad, Soriano), but it's pretty rare.

One of the Detroit announcers (don't know which one) said this about Nefi Perez: "When playing everyday, Perez is a very good bunter." Wow! Jim Leyland must be a fool for not playing him due to his bunting skills! Why wouldn't Perez play everyday, so he can become an even better bunter? Oh, right, his .297 career OBP. And his career OPS+ of 63 (100 is league-average). And the fact that bunting is pretty much his only offensive skill, and it's a pretty useless one at that.

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