Ervin Santana Back in Form?

Quick answer: sort of.

In 2008, Ervin Santana had a fantastic season. He struck out nearly a batter per inning and walked fewer than two per nine. He sustained this performance for a remarkable 219 innings, amassing 5.8 wins in the process, with his FIP, xFIP, and ERA all under 3.55.

Last year was not so kind, as he was worse in every facet of the game. The major culprit behind this descent was a nearly two MPH drop in fastball velocity, from 94.4 to 92.2. In 2007, as well, Santana posted a 92.2 average fastball velocity and struggled mightily. In both 2007 and 2009, Santana posted FIPs above 5.00 and xFIPs above 4.60.

Santana’s results have been fantastic so far, as he has a 3.29 ERA in 82 innings. His peripheral numbers are improved as well. Strikeouts are up, walks and home runs are down. However, neither of these numbers are at the point at which we would expect such a low ERA; his FIP is 4.36 and his xFIP only slightly better at 4.19.

The fastball velocity which Santana showed in 2008 simply isn’t back. Santana’s fastballs in 2010 have averaged 92.7 MPH, still nearly 2 MPH below their 2008 mark. It appears that he is making up for this lack of velocity with deception. Batters are swinging at far more pitches outside of the zone (30.2% vs. 25.8%) and far fewer pitches inside it (57.9% vs. 64.4%). Naturally, hitters’ contact percentage is far worse outside of the zone, and so Santana is drawing slightly more swings and misses. Presumably, these pitches chased out of the zone, which are still contacted just over half the time, are not hit as well as those in the zone, which could also be contributing to Santana’s success, particularly with regards to his decreased home run rate.

He’s still not drawing ground balls, and so he will be limited by a prevalence for the home run ball going forward. Still, even if his ERA reverts to the levels that his advanced metrics would suggest, he will be a productive, average or slightly above starting pitcher. Santana will likely never be the pitcher that he was in 2008 without that upper tier velocity, but he’s showing this season that he can still be effective without it.

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4 Responses to “Ervin Santana Back in Form?”

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  1. Jason says:

    I recently picked Santana up after his complete game against Toronto. Since, I’ve watched him pitch and seen him regularly hit 95 on the gun. I’m not claiming his velocity is back to ’08 levels, but that’s definitely up from ’09, and I think his average velocity is going to continue to rise, and by the end of the season it will be somewhere between 08′ and ’09 levels.

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    • Sweet Lou says:

      was he actually hitting 95 or was it the dialed up number that most networks throw on the screen?

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      • Alireza says:

        Some TV guns measure low. The Dodgers secondary, over-the-air station is one that comes immediately to mind.

        Anyway, Santana dealt with elbow problems last year. This year, he has been healthy and has slowly seen his velocity come back up and has regained trust in his slider.

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  2. Greg Andrew says:

    So Santana’s average velocity was about 94+ last night. He threw only one fastball lower than 92. Only in the 8th did he clearly stop throwing particularly hard; that, his last inning, he had only 92-93 mph on his heater. In the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 7th, he reached 94-96 on at least half his fastballs.A lot of fly outs in the early innings – then, as his velocity decreased a bit, he got more pop outs and ground outs.

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