Saturday, March 07, 2009

Who cares about Opening Day?

The coverage of Johan Santana's elbow has focused overwhelmingly on the question of whether or not he will be able to pitch on Opening Day. I am not agnostic on this question. I have a strong preference for "Yes," and the latest is that it is still possible and that's all to the good. But the focus on Opening Day specifically, as opposed to say Game 4 of the 162 game regular season, seems to miss the point.

I'm worried about Opening Day only to the extent that Santana's inability to make his first scheduled start would bode extremely ill for the total number of starts he makes. I don't care if he misses one, or which one it is, as long as he makes the vast majority of them. The Mets are in Cincinnati for their first series anyway.

It's good to hear that he and the Mets are trying to keep hope alive for Opening Day. And the fact that they have him throwing at all means the medical staff must be supremely confident that nothing is about to explode, but I'm still very worried. And I'll remain worried even if he makes his (all-important) Opening Day start and throws a gem. Something must have really scared Omar Minaya for him to give assurances to the Daily News that he still has minor league chips left to trade (say if the ace of the staff went down for the season).

And that elbow has a lot of miles on it for a guy who hasn't quite turned 30. Every year since he was 25, Santana has tossed at least 219 innings. Last year he threw a career high 234. Of course this is the "damned if you do" paradox of staying so healthy for so long, but you'd have to think that kind of workload eventually catches up even to durable players. And while his out pitch may be his change-up, he's not exactly a finesse pitcher, either.

In any case, the metric that people should be following is not % Chance of Making His Opening Day Start it's the Over/Under on starts for the season (I'd put it at 28 personally). They're related, but the former is only significant to the extent it changes the latter.

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