Over the weekend, New York Mets manager Terry Collins officially named Johan Santana, the Opening Day starter when the Mets take on the Atlanta Braves Thursday afternoon at Citi Field. Not having pitched a game since September 2, 2010 due to shoulder surgery, the beginning of the 2012 season will clearly be transition time for Santana as he adjusts to pitching in Major League situations again. However, despite the strong sense of negativity I have had toward this franchise in recent days, I am truly looking forward to watching Johan pitch again in Flushing this week.
There are a lot of people who have concerns for Santana. Many people fear that his drop in velocity will cause him to underperform, as his fastball has been mostly registering in the high-80s. While high-speed is always nice to have, there is no doubt that in the history of Major League Baseball, the most important factors that contribute to a pitcher's success are location, movement, and then velocity, in that order. While Johan's fastball is clearly not as fast as it once was, his ability to control and place the ball within the strike zone seems to have been very consistent and effective over his past few starts in the Grapefruit League, earning a 3.44 ERA in five starts spanning over 18 innings. Granted, Santana has been primarily facing hitters who he will most likely never see during the regular season. But in his most recent start against St. Louis, he showed that he still has the ability to strike real, quality players out, such as Matt Holiday and ironically enough, Carlos Beltran.
Obviously injuries are tough to come back from for any player -- particularly for pitchers that are just about past the prime of their career. And just to protect him, Collins will place limitations on him for probably at least the first month of the season, preventing him from throwing more than 90-95 pitches in a given start. But to assume that this season will be a disappointing one from Johan is simply accepting that by being a Mets fan, all of the worst is going to happen.
The reality is that one year ago, no one, including myself, expected Carlos Beltran (who had been hampered by knee problems) to provide anything effective for the Mets. In fact, I was shocked that he even played a game last year. Yet, while the Mets 2011 lineup did not have many particularly strong showings, Beltran was undoubtedly one of the best hitters in Queens last season, hitting just under .300 with an OBP of nearly .400. While being traded mid-season for star prospect Zack Wheeler, the Mets would have had a very hard time winning as many games as they did without Beltran's bat.
There are a lot of questions as the Mets enter into the season this week. No one is disputing that. But between not having anyone who I consider to be a decent defensive outfielder, a bullpen that cannot seem to get anyone out, and a second baseman whose heart skips a beat every time a groundball is hit, a player who has earned two Cy Young awards and four All-Star selections throughout his career is the least of my concerns.