Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hector Santiago Has Derailed For Twins

After the month of April, Hector Santiago turned the calendar owning a 2.43 ERA for the Minnesota Twins. He'd made five starts and owned a 2-1 record for his efforts. Given the results, there may have even been a line of people ready to question whether or not he was an "ace." Then reality set in, and regression hasn't just gone towards the mean for Santiago, it's been straight up mean to him.

Early on in the season, Santiago danced around danger, and has peripheral numbers that suggested his career norms were much more indicative of who he was. Despite the sparkling ERA, his FIP still didn't view him kindly, and a .276 BABIP seemed to be doing him wonders as well. For a sinkerballer that gives up a ton of longballs, Santiago had allowed just two, and had done a good job of avoiding damage.

Fast forward to where we are now, and Hector Santiago has made eight more appearances (seven starts). The results have been nothing short of ugly. There's the 7.64 ERA, the .910 OPS against, an ugly 24/20 K/BB ratio, and a ridiculous 12 HR allowed in just 35.1 IP. Still compiling just a .255 BABIP, Santiago is just watching his mistakes blow up as the ball leaves the park. What's even more worrisome, is we probably haven't seen the slide quit.

With a 5.84 FIP, Santiago is actually still being afforded a better ERA (5.26) thanks to the fielding prowess behind him. It's a sad turn of events, but given that his FIP of 5.31 in 2016 was present (5.82 FIP with Minnesota), there's not much room to suggest it couldn't be seen coming. The Twins hurler is on pace to allow a career worst 38 homers, and with all of the runners he's put on board, it's only going to balloon the numbers across the board.
Opposing hitters are spraying the ball to all fields against Santiago

There's a lot to unpack with Santiago when it comes to his troubles. Chief among them may be just how often Santiago gets behind in the count. He's allowed batters to be ahead in 146 of 285 plate appearances on the season, and he's surrendered a ball before a strike on 127 different occasions. Because of his inability to get ahead, and the relative lack of plus stuff, opposing hitters are also clubbing a whopping 1.156 OPS off of him when swinging at the first pitch. Thanks to the results, he's struck fear in no one, and batters step into the box ready for the early mistake.

Maybe somewhat of an oddity, the platoon splits have also been a detriment to Santiago in 2017 as well. For his career, righties have compiled a .742 OPS off of him while lefties have worked a .703 OPS. That number in 2017 rises substantially on one side of the box. While righties own just a .611 OPS in 234 PAs this season, the 51 lefties to face him have totaled a ridiculous 1.609 OPS. He has a negative (5/10) K/BB to same handed batters, and six of his 14 long balls have come at their doing, despite having just under 1/4 of the PAs righties have seen.

Of the 65 base hits against Santiago, 15 have been barreled (23%)
Another underlying cause is no doubt a dip in velocity. Since 2011, Santiago has lost roughly one mph on his fastball speed each year. In 2017, he's averaged just 89.4 mph on the pitch, and with the lack of plus movement, it's getting hit. He's actually decreased his sinker usage about 4% while deferring to his slider a bit more, but with just a 7.4% swing strike rate, he's still not fooling anyone.

Santiago's contact rates all remain in line with career norms, as do his walk and strikeout rates. The numbers don't suggest that there's any one point in the at bat that has dramatically changed in favor of opposing hitters. What seems to be happening is a perfect storm of a pitcher getting behind, with mediocre stuff, and allowing every instance of getting burned to be significantly detrimental.

Coming into 2017, I wasn't a big fan of offering Santiago arbitration. He's making $8 million this year (which is more like $12 million given the $4 million Minnesota had to pay the Angels for Ricky Nolasco), and there was very little room for any upside. He'll be a free agent come 2018, and there's next to no reason for him to remain within the Twins organization. It's fair to suggest that other options to take Santiago's rotation spot may have been lackluster, but at a lower cost, they could've been more easily jettisoned or shuffled.

At this point, Hector Santiago is a 29 year old pitcher so far removed from his 2015 All Star season, that it must appear another dimension away. His velocity has waned, the homers have spiked, and nobody steps into the batter's box thinking they won't have their way with him. The Twins are going to have to weather this storm for a while. He could be placed on the DL, or even DFA'd (can't see them eating that much money though), but there's no one ready to claim his spot either. It's a bed the organization made, and now their being forced to sleep in it.

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