Is Johan Santana clearly diminished from the ace he was from 2003-2008? Almost definitely.
Is this cause for serious concern regarding this teamâ€™s ability to continue winning? Almost definitely not.
No matter how â€œoptimisticâ€ a Met fan is, to educated realists, Johan simply is no longer going to be the pitcher who was among the gameâ€™s very best from 2003-2008.
As pointed out by several in recent comment threads, Johanâ€™s velocity, command, and runs allowed over the last few weeks have clearly shown a pitcher diminished by multiple surgeries.
Santana keeps himself in shape, and remains a fiery leader who obviously wants to win. He still can hit 90 and throw 88-89 with consistency, and there is every reason to feel that he will do what is necessary (even if this means working hard on a new pitch or overhauling his overall repertoire) to remake himself into a still-effective pitcher despite the clearly diminished velocity.
Regardless, despite the potential trouble his massive contract may cause with payroll over the next few years, the on-field team results during Johanâ€™s down period have still been exceptionally encouraging.
During this period Johan has been, in terms of effectiveness and results, the teamâ€™s fourth best pitcher. Pelfrey, Niese, and Dickey have all been better than Johan over the last 4-6 weeks. Can we count on this continuing over the course of the entire year? Frankly, very possibly.
Pelfrey has shown not only the ability to be dominant, but to work his way through games when his best stuff is absent, and still keep the score low and the team in the game.
Nieseâ€™s curve is becoming more dominant each time out, and his poise and consistency combined with his youth must be encouraging to even the most negative fan.
Dickey seems to be the lostâ€”and maybe the bestâ€”Niekro brother. The late-comer to the knuckleball, who appears to have mastered it, can be doubted less with each successive fine outing.
Overall this gives us a top four which almost any team would envy. Incredible diversity, guys who have been going 6 or 7 almost every time out, and a wily veteran in Johan, who, even if he does not regain his past dominance, certainly will make a fine mid-rotation starter.
So where does this leave us? With a really good team, being led by its stars, receiving surprising contributions from young homegrown players all over the place, and getting great performances from unexpected places in Dickey and Dessens. If Tejada and the seemingly matured Parnell are for real, the timetable for winning simply continues to accelerate.
And it must again be said that this is all being presided over by a manager who has been guiding the team to consistently excellent efforts (and wins) for an impressively long time now.
Jerry won Manager of the Year in Chicago, and if the Mets make the playoffs this year, this writer will again admit how wrong he was to think he knows better than a successful MLB skipper, and will be the first to hail Jerry as he adds a second Manager of the Year trophy to his case. No matter how hard it may be for us armchair experts to accept, the 2010 Mets areâ€”thus farâ€”a wonderful example of how a managerâ€™s day-to-day leadership and the tone he sets can in fact be infinitely more important over a 162-game season than nitpicking over a bunt here or a questionable bullpen move there.
The Johan contract further underlines the questionable nature of the 6-year deal for an older pitcher. This surely points out the validity of the idea of preferring Oswalt over Lee, as Oswalt is under contract for the next two years, and the preference of Lee as a rental (without giving up Ike, Niese, or both Mejia and FMart) over the idea of signing Lee for 5-6 years.
This team simply keeps on rolling. Since the jettisoning of the Bogus Brigade of Ollie, Maine, Matthews, and Jacobs, the on-field play, the hustle, the camaraderie, the comebacks, the bouncing right back after tough lossesâ€”every week it all seems less transient and more real.
It says here that Johan is going to be a valuable member of this team. Heâ€™s just no longer an ace. Which is fine, as we have had three other pitchers throwing like near-aces for quite a while now.
The overall picture still projects a team seriously on the rise much quicker than could have been reasonably expected. Letâ€™s support Johan and not overstate the impact of his decline. After all, winning as a team is what matters. As long as this team continues to play great ball and gel as a unit, it can overcome the decline of the previously great Johan Santana.