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Staying away from Ervin Santana

While being known as a nuisance with the Angels, based off of extreme talent combined with inconsistent performance, Santana really found his stride the past few seasons splitting time with the Braves, Royals and now the Twins. Santana at his best keeps his ERA in the low 3.00s, can get average strikeout rates, and limit the free pass. He’s a poor man’s number two, and a contender’s number three, although always carrying the potential for a tough season.

The past two years with the Twins, Santana has been performing at an excellent level on the surface. His ERA has been at a 3.36, and against the grain of the perceived anti-strikeout attitude the Twins carried earlier in the decade, Santana has been at career highs in strikeout rates at 19.8%. His walk rate has been right at his career average of 7.4%, slightly better than major league average. Nothing but good things on the surface and the beginning peripherals for Santana, but it gets a little less rosy heading forward.

It’s not exactly a hot take to say a 34-year-old who missed time due to injury a couple of years ago is on the decline. But it does fly in the face of his recent trends and current performance. His ERA is very good, his batted ball profiles are similar to career marks and not outliers, and his discipline stats are at career peaks. But when we start looking deeper, the chances of Santana sustaining his pace look a little less optimistic.

He has lost effectiveness of his sinker, a pitch he started throwing in Minnesota to great results earlier. The pitch went from his best to worth -2.4 runs by pitch weighted values. In turn, his excellent HR/FB ratio has regressed well up to 12.8%. While still slightly short of league average, we can expect him to maintain at least this rate heading forward. It’s a large issue in part because part of his value came from limiting the long ball, although we know there’s really only so much a pitcher can control outside of how many fly balls he allows. And Santana has been allowing a much larger portion of fly balls this season at 41.3%, up from last year’s 35.7%. I don’t have to spell it out much for you to understand – Santana allowing more fly balls with a higher rate going over the fence? That’s not a good recipe.

To further dampen his nice ERA, Santana is getting exceptional luck on stranded runners. While we may hear broadcasters and show anchors talk about a players ability to get himself out of tough jams, there really is no discernible skill to it when looked at empirically. The number we use is Left on Base Percentage (LOB%), and it calculated perhaps obviously by percentage of runners left of base. It’s not something that we see pitchers deviate from  Yes, some of the most elite pitchers can live above the average, stranding more than their counterparts, it’s uncommon and is best replicated over a career, not just one season.

Ervin Santana this year has a very high 79.3%. His career rate is a much more tame 73.1%, right around the league average or 72.7%. It’s showing an artificially deflated ERA (might want to ask Tom Brady about that one!) and it’s something that is going to regress. More runners are going to score, just based off of the numbers, plus he’s having more homer issues as well.

While Ervin Santana might be seen as a safe pick the past few years, shedding most of the inconsistencies about himself, his future value is starting to look more ominous. While he’s definitely getting older, most people won’t pick up on his decline because the usual signs aren’t there. His velocity has been fine, not losing anything, and his control has stayed intact. But it’s the deeper numbers that are worrisome, that he’s allowing more fly balls and homers, plus getting exceptional luck on baserunners.

Santana has found remarkable consistency for a short while in Minnesota, but it’s looking like he is getting ready to unravel. He just can’t keep the production at this level without a real increase in performance, and at the current rate it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. In deep keeper leagues try to sell high to anyone who believes he still has a few years in the tank, and maybe skip him all together in 2018 drafts, because his next few seasons are looking to be rough.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.

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