It is no secret that Ervin Santana has dominated in his first two starts this season. He has only surrendered one run thus far in 14 innings, boasting a remarkable 17:2 strikeout-to-walk. However, there was one area I wanted to focus on from last night's start, the amount of swing-and-misses, or whiffs, Santana generated.
By the end of the night, according to Brooks Baseball, Santana induced 24 swing and misses from Phillies hitters. By pitch type, he got 2 from the fastball, 3 from the sinker, 9 from the changeup and 10 from the slider. Ben gave a great breakdown after his last start, including talking about his new changeup,
"To lefties, Santana showed his changeup far more frequently than he had in the past. This could be McDowell noticing that the pitch is better than other coaches believed in the past, as he 9 of his 88 pitches were changeups. On its face that may not sound like a lot, but that's a 10.2% rate compared to his career average of 6.3%. Even last year in one of his best seasons he threw his changeup just 5.6% of the time... If he is able to consistently throw a quality changeup to left-handed batters this could be a memorable season for the newcomer."
Santana dazzled with the changeup again last night throwing 24 of them, 17 going for strikes. This looks to be a very solid addition to his arsenal, getting tons or arm-side run and downward movement again last night.
Back to the swing and misses though. Like I said, he induced 24 of them, which was by far the most in a game in his career. His previous high was 21 back in 2010. Last night's game blew that out of the water when you consider he did it on 96 pitches, or 1 out of every 4 pitches... thats some serious dude stuff.
To put that into perspective, I went and found the most whiffs in a game from some of the top "swing and miss" type pitchers. This simple, but not perfect test, to quickly gauge a pitchers "stuff", whether it is generating swing and misses in the zone or getting hitter to chase outside the zone. Below is a quick list off the top of my head of pitchers who are known for their "swing and miss" abilities from 2007 on (PITCHf/x era)
Again, this isn't a complete and exhaustive list of the top whiff counts from every pitcher in every game, but it does help quickly put Ervin's start and "stuff" from last night into perspective. Many of these were actually pretty memorable games. Lincecum's 31 whiffs came against the Braves during the 2010 playoffs, where he threw the CG 2-hit shutout, fanning 14. King Felix's 26 swing and misses came in his 2012 perfect game against the Rays. Darvish's 26 whiffs came opening day 2013 when he took a perfect game into the 9th against the Astros, before giving up a two out single.
Santana isn't is the same category overall as any of the pitchers listed above, but his start Monday stacks up with the best of 'um. If Fredi let him go another inning and break the 100 pitch threshold, you probably would have seen jump up a few more spots on that list.
Now it is possible we have seen two of the best starts we will see out of Santana this season. Being able to strike out that many batters with so few pitches is about as ideal as it gets, no matter who he is facing. I was skeptical when he was acquired about how much of Kris Medlen's production he would be able to replace, but with the added changeup that has been almost unhittable, and the continued emergence of his sinking fastball (which, by the way, sat 94-95 last night, topping out at 96.7), he might just do the trick.