While Johan Santana looked very sharp in his six-inning performance against the Cardinals this past Wednesday, what has been more encouraging for Mets is that their ace has not experienced any setbacks this Spring and is on track to start this season on the active roster. After missing Santana all last year due to injury, his presence in camp has been a tremendous boost. I once watched an interview with Howie Rose and he described players who have a presence on a team in a unique way. He said that some players can be categorized as the “sizzle” and others can be considered “the steak.” In the case for the New York Mets, Santana is a little bit of both, and having him back and being productive means a lot for them.
During their time in Port St. Lucie, Terry Collins and the rest of the Mets coaching staff has been holding their breath when Johan has been taking the mound. He has looked very sharp in each of his appearances, and they were encourage by his velocity, seeing him hit 90mph on the radar gun on occasion. However, the most important statistic so far for him is not his ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP, or ground out/fly out ratio, it’s the number of starts that he’s made. So far, Santana has made four consecutive starts, and for what seems to be the first time since he started rehabbing, has not experienced any setbacks. It finally seems that he will be back in action when the Mets take on the Braves to kick off 2012 in a couple of weeks.
Why is having Santana on the field so important? Yes, the fact that they’re paying him $24 million this year is quite important, especially since he didn’t play an out in 2011 and still made almost $23 million. However, I must go back to that analogy that Howie Rose so eloquently used. With him leading the way, everything is serious. Since he came over to New York in a trade with the Minnesota Twins before the 2008 season, it was clear that he is a competitor and nothing is wasted. In fact, Terry Collins recalls an instance back in 2010 during Spring Training when Santana was hard at work, leading by example.
He was walking out to the outfield before starting his workout, and he noticed that the players participating in the fielding drill were simply going through the motions. Instead of chalking it up to Spring Training, Santana stopped the drill, then proceeded to lay into his teammates for not taking the drill seriously. Like I said, he’s a competitor and wants to win, and to be successful, one needs to practice the way they would play in a game. Two years later, people around the organization are still talking about it. In regards to what Howie Rose said, that’s “the steak” part.
For the “sizzle,” he covers that quite easily with his popularity. He is by far one of the most popular Venezuelan pitchers in Major League Baseball. On top of that, he is playing in one of the largest baseball markets in the country, and is the clear cut ace of his team. When Johan Santana takes the mound, I equate it to when Pedro Martinez would take the mound at Shea; every time they played, it was considered an event. People would come specifically to the ballpark when Pedro was on the mound, and the same happens when Santana is on the hill; he’s competitive, has some flair while he’s competing, and wears his emotions on his sleeves, which New Yorkers obviously adore.
Even though the Bernie Madoff mess has finally been settled for the Wilpon family, fans are still distraught with everything that has been happening over the past few years. A majority don’t see a reason as to why they should spend money to come and watch the Mets play at Citi Field. Having Johan Santana lead the pitching staff and jog out there every fifth day gives fans a reason to put their behinds in the seats. His presence will have a major effect on how the team performs this year; there are very few pitchers that can help a team perform on a high level without even playing, and he’s one of them. The Mets will overachieve this year, and thanks to his veteran presence and leadership, their chances of fading in the dog days of August have diminished somewhat. I still don’t see the Mets being more than mediocre this year, but being over .500 would not be a shock in the slightest.
And why is that? It’s all because Johan brings a little bit of sizzle, and a little bit of steak to the table. All in one package.