Monday will see one of the best starting pitching trade targets take the mound to open the season for his AL Central club to open what will likely be a difficult season. Oh, you thought I was talking about Jose Quintana? No, try “Big Erv”, Ervin Santana of the Minnesota Twins.
Santana isn’t left-handed, he’s already 34, and he’s signed for 2017 and 2018 with a 2019 option with $28M guaranteed and a possible $41M if his option is picked up.
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Many fans have an image of Santana as one of three things – a cheater, a mercenary, or unpredictable. All those are wrong.
Okay, Santana was suspended under the PED policy. That’s not up for dispute here. However, MLB is conducting an investigation (still ongoing as well) into the drug that he was caught using, and it was notable that multiple players mentioned Latin mislabeling/misleading as a possible issue for the players involved.
So, while he was suspended, he has since had more tests than the average player, as per the drug testing protocol, and he’s not had an issue at all after his initial suspension.
While he has played for four teams since 2012, that is not due to Santana being a “mercenary” by any means, as his original team, the Los Angeles Angels traded Santana to the Kansas City Royals after 2012.
He was a free agent after the 2013 season with the Royals, and the Royals tagged Santana with the player-hated qualifying offer. This led to Santana going unsigned until a rash of pitching injuries late in spring training brought the Atlanta Braves to his door.
After one year in Atlanta, he became a free agent, and he signed a multi-year deal with the Minnesota Twins. He has been rumored to be on the move in trade rumors since the Twins signed him, partially due to his initial PED suspension, but that isn’t initiated by Santana looking to get out of the long-term deal he had signed.
Last, and the one that bugs me most is that Santana is unpredictable. While he may not be an “ace” pitcher, Santana has been considerably consistent over the last 7 seasons.
Many point to his seeming even/odd year trend with the Angels, where he had a solid performance in even seasons but struggled in odd years. However, it is notable that his pitch mix and performance changed in 2010. This led to two “good” years, but then he had another rough year in 2012, which led to the the Angels letting him go.
Let’s really look at that 2012. Santana’s ERA was 5.16. Over his career, Santana has stranded between 72-75% of the runners he put on base. In 2012, that number was a fluke 69.8&, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but over 100 base runners, that means that 3-5 extra runs score. Doing that over 90 innings (for a round number example), would change his ERA from 2.50-2.80 to over 3.00, just from that one fluky percentage difference, and that’s not all that was off in his 2012.
Santana’s always been a fly ball pitcher, but he’s sat in the range of a 10% home run per fly ball rate for his career. He posted an incredible 18.9% home run per fly ball rate.
It’s not surprising that when you look up Santana’s Fangraphs page, he had an xFIP of 0.7 runs lower than his ERA when you take out those fluky factors.
Even with that 2012 season in the mix, since 2010, Santana has been a guy who has averaged just over 6 1/3 innings per start every time out. If you take the 2012 season out, when he averaged less than 6, and he’s up to just over 6 2/3 IP per start.
As an age comparison, Justin Verlander has been the same age as Ervin Santana in that same time span. His per start average is 6 2/3 innings, and he’s seen as one of the true “horses” in the league.
Santana has posted a 3.82 ERA since 2010, and that includes that 5.12 ERA season of 2012. He’s also posted a very respectable 1.25 WHIP and 102 ERA+.
Santana is not going to be the guy you pursue as an ace, but he’s consistent, and he throws solid innings every time out, and if the Minnesota Twins put him onto the market, there is absolutely no reason why any contender should be out on Santana as there are very few rotations in the entire league where he wouldn’t be in a playoff rotation.
Hopefully, he can hit the market just so the average fan can see the sort of energy his name starts to bring in the trade market and realize just how good of a pitcher that “Big Erv” truly is.