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December 18, 2013

Hot Stove Scouting Report

Ervin Santana

by Ryan Parker and Steffan Segui

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Filed by: Ryan Parker

Player Name: Ervin Santana

Date Filed: 12/1/2013

Throws

Role

Arm Angle

Wind Up

Rubber

R

ST

3/4

3rd

Delivery/Mechanics

Santana’s mechanics are solid albeit unspectacular. Slow and controlled throughout the initial phase of the delivery but will ramp up the pace after his hands break. The negative features of his mechanics include tilting his spine to achieve a higher arm slot and a slight head jerk. Both of these occur in the later portion of the delivery. Gains some deception thanks to an early twist of his hips and an exaggerated reaching out of his glove hand. No obvious mechanical red flags. Repeats delivery well but can get greedy and in an attempt to gain extra movement either raise the arm slot for his breaking ball or lower the arm slot for his newfound two-seam fastball. Out of the stretch he continues to repeat delivery using a full leg lift even with runners on base.

Breakdown of Pitches

Fastball

Velocity

Sits:91-94

Peak:96

Santana has always had above-average fastball velocity. His velocity has held consistent over the course of his career. The biggest development is the addition of a two-seam fastball which features some arm-side movement and just enough sink to miss barrels. This new two-seam has been useful in helping to revitalize Santana from a miserable 2012. It allowed Santana to actually get some groundballs rather than rely on fly balls and strikeouts to get him through a lineup.

He has better command of both fastballs when he’s throwing to his arm side. Lefties see mostly arm-side (outside) fastballs with the token fastball inside just to keep them off the slider. In the games used in this sample Santana never purposefully threw two straight fastballs inside to lefties. Righties are a different story as Santana will use both sides of the plate with both the four and two-seam.

Santana will use his fastball in an East/West style rather than changing the hitter’s eye level by elevating the fastball above their hands. This will get him into trouble occasionally when he tries to spot a fastball to his glove side only to see it fade back over the plate.

It can be frustrating watching Santana pipe a fastballs down the middle of the plate even when it seems like he’s had control of it all game. This can happen to any batter in any count when Santana is going out of the windup. This seems to happen once every game where Santana lays a fastball over the white of the plate for a home run.

These center-cut fastballs become rare with runners on base. Santana maintains the same control of his fastball but his command sharpens. For a pitcher maligned for giving up so many home runs Santana gave up one three-run bomb in 2013. Most of the home runs he serves up (19 out of 26 in 2013) are solo shots.

Out of the stretch Santana holds his velocity and can even add a few miles per hour to the heater when he is really in trouble. Hitters have to be wary of Santana missing to his glove side with runners on. When he tries to add that extra velocity his arm will get ahead of his body leading to balls pulled off the plate to his glove side.

The biggest question mark with Santana comes in his improving peripherals with his fastball (improved whiff rates, increased groundball rates, constant batting average against, and velocity holding steady) running counter to pitchers traditionally falling off the effectiveness cliff with their fastballs as they progress into their 30s. Combine that enigma with the flip-flopping of Santana’s statistical baseline from year to year and it is easy to see why teams have so far been hesitant to shell out the big bucks for a multi-year deal.

Slider

Velocity

81-85

Santana’s slider is something special. It has hard vertical drop and can generate strikes both looking and swinging. From a pure movement standpoint the slider is a 70 offering. Santana will throw his slider at any count, preferring to spot it just off the plate low and to his glove side. Righties see the slider nearly as often as a fastball while lefties tend to see it about 30 percent of the time.

The movement is nasty but like any pitcher Santana will throw an occasional cement mixer (hanging slider) that ends up in the hand of some lucky fan sitting in the bleachers. Considering he is throwing the slider nearly 40 percent of the time it becomes more clear as to why Santana is giving up so many home runs.

Beyond the movement of the pitch the other signature to an Ervin Santana slider is the location. He throws it almost exclusively to his glove side below the knees. While most pitchers would need to vary their location a bit with any breaking ball, Santana’s faith in his slider is so high his catcher doesn’t even bother signaling location when he puts down the fingers for a slider.

Santana can get swings on sliders that bounce in the dirt so whatever team doles out the contract needs to be sure they have a capable backstop. In KC Santana had a great catcher in Salvador Perez who would routinely block those sliders with ease. One of Santana’s worst starts of the year came in August against the Red Sox. Perez was not behind the dish that night and Santana never looked comfortable. He threw fewer sliders in that game than usual and was much more deliberate on the mound without his security blanket waiting behind the plate.

Change-up/Split

Velocity

84-87

Santana’s changeup could be a wild card in his continued development as a pitcher. The pitch is nothing to be wowed with at the moment. It’s a 40-45 offering that can flash some decent movement to his arm side but lacks deception. Hitters rarely appeared caught off balance by this pitch. Unlike some pitchers who throw a change as a “show me” pitch, Santana will throw his changeup in important counts albeit only to lefties. He can throw it for strikes but sometimes it would be better if he didn’t. When he misses it’s usually over the plate and about thigh high. As he ages and matures there is enough of a chance of this pitch becoming at least league-average that he needs to not scrap the cambio.

Pitch Usage

Date Range: 2013 Season

Splits

vs. LHH

vs. RHH

Total Usage

Total Usage

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

1059

-

585

232

855

-

715

6

Percentage Out of Strike Zone

Percentage Out of Strike Zone

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

58.3

-

70.3

65.5

47.84

-

64.2

83.3

Swing/Miss Percentage

Swing/Miss Percentage

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

6.6

-

19.8

9.5

6.8

-

18.7

0

Approach

Lots of arm side fastballs and glove-side breaking balls. Will vary fastball location more to righties. Righties don’t have to worry about seeing any changeups. Lefties need to be ready for the back-foot slider when behind in the count. Batters would be wise to stay aggressive. Santana can be dominating a game then lay a fastball right over the middle so hitters need to be ready. First time through the order is a big indicator of what kind of success Santana will have that day. If he is spotting the slider for called strikes then batters are in for a long day. Runners can afford to take more risks on the bathpaths. Santana is 1.35-1.5 to home plate and bounces a fair number of sliders.

Makeup

Good composure on the mound. He understands home runs are bound to happen when he’s throwing so many sliders. Santana can rebound from a bad batter or two, settle down, and end up pitching well. At times Santana can slow the game down when he gets frustrated but he never lets his mechanics get away from him. When he does become frustrated he has a tell much like a bad poker player. He will get the throw back from the catcher, turn his back, look up to the sky and exhale before slowly getting back on the rubber. When things are rolling he just gets the throw from the catcher and gets right back on the mound with no hesitation.

By no means is he a high-energy pitcher but he is still a great competitor. There is something to be said for Santana’s willingness to add a new pitch (two-seam) in 2013 and ride it as heavily as he did. His changeup is improving so it appears he is putting in solid work off the field.

Grades and Projections

Role

Present

Future

No. 3 starter

4-5 starter. Should be a decent innings eater over his contract. On a multi-year deal teams need to be ready for at least one bad season. Consistency will be key.

Years expected to perform at current level: 2

Strengths

Solid fastball, devastating slider, and improving sinker. Even with a limited repertoire he mixes up his pitches surprisingly well. His slider is so good there have been times when he throws it up to four times in a row to the frustration of the hitter. Continues to challenge hitters even when he misses early. He limits damage when runners do reach. Gets lefties out nearly as well as righties. Holds velocity over the course of a game and season. Has averaged more than 200 innings the past three years, all with a clean bill of health.

Weaknesses

Live by the slider, die by the slider. When he can’t spot his slider or get it to move he is in trouble. If he doesn’t have the slider in the first few innings he won’t adjust and find it later. Throws far too many center-cut fastballs. Changeup tends to be in the zone coming in on a flat plane with little deception. Benefitted hugely in 2013 from great KC defense. If he goes to a worse defensive team expect his numbers to take a hit.

Means of Exploitation

First time through the lineup hitters need to be very aware of how Santana is pitching that day. Doesn’t make in-game adjustments so teams can jump on him if he is missing with the slider. Let him work himself into bad pitchers count then sit on the fastball. Early in games watch for changes in arm slot as he will try to get extra movement on pitches. Lowers the arm for sinker and gets on top for slider. Don’t let him get in your head when he shakes off pitches. These are all “fake shakes”. Works quick on the mound so teams need to be able to slow down his rhythm. With runners on he prefers to work quick, sometimes at the expense of checking the runner. Good baserunners can essentially get a walking lead off first especially if they were the first batter on their team to reach base.

Conclusion

If a team signs Santana to a multi-year deal they need to be ready for at least one bad season. Historically this has been the trend. He will always give a team innings and should serve as a solid back-end piece in most rotations. He will need to be on a team with a catcher he can trust. Look for increased use of his two-seam and changeup as his four-seam loses some velo. Santana benefited from a stellar KC defense (especially in the outfield) and would not be a good fit on team that is poor in the field. Even with inconsistent statistics there is no reason Santana should ever be as bad as his 2012 indicated but don’t expect much improvement from his 2011 or 2013 seasons. There is always a market for guys who will toe the mound for 200 innings a year and this is where Santana will make his money.


***

Filed by: Steffan Segui

Player Name: Ervin Santana

Date Filed: December 13, 2013

Throws

Role

Arm Angle

Wind Up

Rubber

R

Starter

3/4

Compact

Right Side

Delivery/Mechanics

Does a good job not rushing through windup and staying under control with balance and rhythm. Raises hands above head for timing and comes compact at his balance point with a high knee in tight and his hands relaxed at his belt. Speeds up at separation and throws uphill over a high front side. Also closes front shoulder a bit creating good deception while staying linear down mound. Finishes strong out front. Keeps it simple in the stretch, staying compact.

Breakdown of Pitches

Fastball

Velocity

91-95

Very good two-seamer with late run and some sink. Throws to both sides of plate well with good command down in zone. Adds and subtracts well.

Slider

Velocity

84-87

Hard with late, short sharp break that he throws well to RHH. He occasionally gets around it versus LHH and leaves up. Better glove side down in the zone with the chase quality to it. His main secondary pitch.

Changeup/Split

Velocity

85-88

Only uses versus LHH. Harder with some sink to the arm side.

Fades down and away. Doesn’t throw in zone very much.

Pitch Usage

Date Range: 2013 Season

Splits

vs. LHH

vs. RHH

Total Usage

Total Usage

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

56%

31%

12%

55%

45%

Percentage Out of Strike Zone

Percentage Out of Strike Zone

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

58%

70%

65%

52%

64%

Swing/Miss Percentage

Swing/Miss Percentage

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

3.3%

20%

9.5%

6%

19%

Approach

VS LHH: Likes to get ahead with FB. Throws CH early in counts and SL later, especially when ahead with two strikes when he tries to bury it back foot. Stays away with FB.

VS. RHH: Trusts slider in most counts but likes to get back in to count with FB. Will throw a majority of sliders low and away below the zone with two strikes.

Makeup

Very good makeup. Quiet, confident nature about him. Notable for quote “F*** it, lets pitch” when he got a bad nose bleed while warming up for a game with the Angels in 2009. Went out and pitched 8.2 innings that game. From supportive family in the DR. Bilingual; speaks very good English and native Spanish. Never had any documented off field problems or attitude issues in clubhouse.

Grades and Projections

Role

Present

Future

No. 2-3 Starter

Santana is a smaller more athletic power pitcher. He will have over 2,000 IP under his belt after 2015. As seen with Roy Oswalt and Pedro Martinez, these type of starters usually don’t decline steadily, they go quick. That tends to happen around 34, three years away.

Years expected to perform at current level: 3

Strengths

Durability: Has made 30-plus starts four years in a row and 20-plus nine years in a row.

Slider: Plus pitch, gets substantial swing and misses, over 20 percent.

Control: Career 2.8 BB/9, 2.2 in 2012.

Weaknesses

Offspeed: Only throws CH vs LHH and doesn’t throw any off-speed vs. RHH. Lives and dies by SL.

Home runs: Led the league while giving up 39 in 2012 and usually is in the top 10 allowed.

Injuries and Age: While recently he’s been durable, he does have some light injury history from throughout his career that could creep up on him as he approaches is mid-30s.

Means of Exploitation

Santana was a fly-ball pitcher early in his career who has turned himself into more of a neutral pitcher with more experience. The best way to beat Santana is to ambush early and often. Contact can be made and he will throw fastballs early to try and get ahead. In 2013, hitters that swung at the first pitch hit .279/.303/.456 against him while those who did not hit .222/283/.350. If he gets ahead he will bury hitters with the good slider. He maintains velocity, control and effectiveness well throughout games so waiting him out does not work.

Conclusion

Santana will continue to be effective for at least three more years. He has a delivery that is easy on the body and has been very consistent throughout his career. While he may not pitch like a no. 2 this whole contract he should still continue to be an innings eater. He has maintained his velocity throughout seasons and I don’t anticipate that high innings should have a significant impact on him staying consistent. While 2012 may be a red flag, the only actual difference that year was bad luck in that a lot more fly balls became home runs. I do believe that when he declines that it will be fast and it will happen sometime between 2016 and 2018.

Ryan Parker is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ryan's other articles. You can contact Ryan by clicking here
Steffan Segui is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steffan's other articles. You can contact Steffan by clicking here

Related Content:  Kansas City Royals,  Scouting

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