Sunday, August 12, 2012

Santana May Have Sucked, But He's No Virgil Trucks

Last night at Citi Field, Johan Santana came off the disabled list to make his first start in three weeks  Prior to his time on the DL, Santana had not pitched well, becoming the first Met since Pedro Astacio in 2002 to allow six or more runs in three consecutive starts.  The extra time recovering from his ankle injury should have given him enough time to sort things out.  It did not.

Santana picked up right where he left off, facing 13 Braves and allowing nine of them to reach base.  In doing so, he became the first starting pitcher in Mets history to allow eight runs and eight hits while retiring four batters or less.  (Calvin Schiraldi was the only other Met to accomplish this in 1985, but he stunk up the joint in a relief "effort".)

Since pitching his no-hitter on June 1, Santana has been absolutely awful, going 3-6 with a 7.98 ERA.  Santana has allowed opponents to hit .328 against him with 11 home runs.  He has also not been very durable, averaging less than five innings per start since since the no-hit gem (nine starts, 44 innings pitched).

It seems unconscionable that a pitcher could be as good as Santana was during his no-hitter and then be so bad, as he's been ever since.  It also seems unusual that Santana pitched his no-no during what's fast becoming his worst season since he became a full-time starting pitcher in 2003.  But it's not unheard of in major league history.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Virgil Trucks.

Virgil Trucks has already taken the road Johan Santana is currently on.

Virgil Trucks was never one of the best pitchers in the American League, but he was certainly not a back-of-the-rotation starter.  From 1941-1951, Trucks won 103 games for the Detroit Tigers (against 72 losses) and had a respectable 3.41 ERA.  In 1949, he had his best season up to that point, going 19-11 with a 2.81 ERA, leading the league in shutouts (6) and strikeouts (153), which earned him his first trip to the All-Star Game.

Things were looking up for Trucks as he entered the 1952 campaign.  But the Tigers stopped hitting for him when he was on the mound.  And he stopped winning.  In his first 20 starts, the Tigers were held to three runs or less in 15 of them.  Trucks lost 13 times in those first 20 starts.  However, in his fifth start, Trucks no-hit the Washington Senators, defeating them 1-0.  In his 17th start, he pitched a complete-game one-hitter, once again versus Washington and also by a 1-0 score.  If not for an Eddie Yost single to lead off the game, Trucks would have fired his second no-hitter of the season.  He wouldn't have to wait much longer to get another chance at a no-hitter.

On August 25, facing the three-time defending World Champion New York Yankees, Trucks threw his second no-hitter of the season, holding the Bronx Bombers hitless in yet another 1-0 victory.  No-hitting the perennial cellar dwellers in Washington was one thing, but no-hitting a powerful Yankee lineup was something else.  Unfortunately, after his second no-hitter of the season (and third complete game allowing one hit or less), Trucks was a completely different pitcher for the rest of the season.

In his next seven appearances following his second no-hitter, Trucks was awful.   He did not win any of the games he appeared in after August 25 and allowed opposing batters to hit .303 against him.  Trucks also had a whopping 6.75 ERA and allowed 63 runners to reach base (47 hits, 16 walks) in 36 innings.

From 1941-1951, Trucks experienced only one losing season (1947, when he went 10-12).  In 1952, he was an abysmal 5-19 with a 3.97 ERA, which was more than half a run higher than his career ERA was up to that point.

Trucks did recover nicely after his poor season, going 20-10 with a 2.93 ERA in 1953 (his only 20-win season in the majors) and 19-12 with a 2.79 ERA in 1954.  But he was still remembered as the pitcher who threw two no-hitters and a one-hitter in a season in which he lost 19 of his other 21 decisions.

That brings us back to Johan Santana.  Entering the 2012 season, Santana was the proud owner of a 133-69 career record and 3.10 ERA (40-25, 2.85 ERA with the Mets).  But like Virgil Trucks sixty years before him, the team stopped hitting for Santana during the early part of the season.  As a result, Santana was only credited with two wins over his first ten starts despite having an outstanding 2.75 ERA.  Then he pitched his no-hitter.  And after that, everything fell apart.

It's not unheard of for a pitcher to pitch a no-hitter during an otherwise awful season.  In 2011, Francisco Liriano, a former teammate of Santana in Minnesota, pitched a no-hitter for the Twins in a year in which he finished 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA.  A year earlier, Edwin Jackson went 6-10 with a 5.16 ERA for Arizona, but he threw a no-hitter for the Diamondbacks during that otherwise lackluster campaign.  Heck, even Bud Smith pitched a no-hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001.  By the end of the following season, at the tender age of 22, Smith had thrown his last pitch in the major leagues, finishing his career with a 7-8 record and 4.95 ERA.

But as bad as Liriano, Jackson and Smith were (and yes, I'm throwing Santana into the mix), none of them were as bad or as unfortunate as Virgil Trucks was sixty years ago for the Tigers.  Johan Santana might be having his worst season as a starting pitcher, but it could be far worse.  All he has to do is read up on Virgil Trucks' 1952 campaign and he'll know that someone understands.


DyHrdMET said...

I thought Virgil Trucks played for The Allman Brothers Band

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

And here I was thinking it was Bad Blake...