Minnesota Twins: Ervin Santana’s unlikely dominant streak enters May

Ervin Santana continues to defy expectations, allowing just three runs through his first six starts of 2017. How long can the Minnesota Twins expect this to last?

The first month of the 2017 MLB season provided us with plenty of excitement, intrigue and incredible performances. While sluggers and their tape-measure moonshots are generating a lot of headlines at the moment, Minnesota Twins right-hander Ervin Santana just might be the most amazing – and downright perplexing – story over on the mound.

Santana has had a solid, if somewhat erratic career over 12-plus seasons in Major League Baseball. He currently owns a lifetime 4.03 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 102 ERA+, which places him just above average as a big league hurler.

The Twins were likely expecting another strong campaign from the 34-year-old after he posted a 3.38 ERA (124 ERA+) over 30 starts in 2016. But no one could have predicted just how dominant Santana would be through his first six outings of the new season.

To put it bluntly, he’s been practically unhittable. Over 41 innings, Santana has allowed only 16 hits. That comes out to a minuscule, MLB-leading 3.5 hits per nine innings. Opponents simply aren’t breaking through against the veteran righty.

Santana has surrendered just three runs so far, and two of them were on solo homers. He has managed a 33:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last night’s six-inning, three-hit scoreless outing against the A’s lowered his ERA and WHIP to virtually unfathomable levels: 0.66 and 0.71, respectively, which are both the top marks in all of baseball.

Obviously, Santana won’t sustain this all year. He’s holding opposing hitters to a tiny .141 BABIP, which will rise over time. He is also stranding base runners at a mind-boggling 99.2 percent rate. That will fall back toward his career average of 73 percent. Essentially, more hitters will start reaching base and Santana won’t keep preventing them from scoring as well as he has thus far.

But will the eventual regression be that drastic? At Santana’s age, it might be easy to write off his early-season surge as temporary fool’s good. He has also had the benefit of four of his six starts coming against the White Sox, A’s and Royals, who rank 24th, 29th and 30th in the league in runs scored, respectively.

Nevertheless, it’s not like Santana is getting by on pure good fortune either. Several of his peripheral statistics suggest he’s pitching well any way you look at it. His 2.98 FIP, for instance, is certainly nothing to scoff at. Even once he comes back down to earth, there’s not much reason to believe he can’t at least put up numbers similar to last year’s. The Twins would have to be satisfied with that.

For now, they’ll just enjoy the ride as long as it lasts. Who would have thought that at any point in 2017 we’d be eagerly awaiting each start by Ervin Santana? He’s pitching like of one the game’s elite right now, a pretty fun notion in itself. He has potential meetings with the Red Sox, Rockies, Orioles and Astros lined up later this month, so he’ll certainly be tested.

All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.

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