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Hector Santiago Departs the Windy City, Heads to Disneyland

Well not quite. The Angels front office would likely be a bit annoyed if Hector Santiago visited Disneyland during their home games, rather than show up at Angel Stadium. Two weeks ago, Santiago was part of the three-team trade that sent him from Chicago to Anaheim. Eno Sarris summed up the winners and losers of the deal at that time, but I am going to expand upon the Santiago analysis.

After surprisingly opening the 2012 season as the White Sox closer, having just 5.1 innings of Major League experience, Santiago eventually transitioned into the rotation and made 23 starts this season. Predictably, his fastball velocity fell, as did his strikeout rate, but his surface results were only marginally worse. His walk rate improved, but it was nearly impossible for it not to. Still, it remained far too high, especially considering that he has been a fly ball pitcher throughout his short career. Multi-run homers are much worse than solo shots, trust me.

His SwStk% was below the league average, but a high rate of looking strikes led to an xK% (an updated formula that also incorporates Strike%) of 24.5%, which was well above his actual mark and just below what he posted mostly as a reliever in 2012. Looking strikes, though, aren’t as consistent from year to year as swinging strikes are, but they still clearly are a skill. This would suggest that Santiago’s strikeout rate could improve next season. He certainly needs it to, as his SIERA was a whopping 0.78 runs higher his actual ERA. So better skills could help fight off the luck regression dragons.

That is all of course if he was staying in Chicago. But he isn’t. He’s moving to a much more pitcher friendly environment. Let’s check out the park factors in 2013:

Team Basic 1B 2B 3B HR SO BB GB FB LD IFFB
Angels 96 100 95 88 95 100 97 99 100 99 97
White Sox 104 98 98 87 112 102 107 97 102 98 102

As we figured, Angel Stadium suppresses runs, while U.S. Cellular Field inflates offense. Both parks reduce triples totals, while the differences in singles and double factors looks like a wash. The biggest differences come from their effects on two statistics that are quite relevant to Santiago.

First, Angel Stadium reduces home runs. It was actually the eighth worst park for home runs this season. On the other hand, The Cell was the second best park to hit the long ball in. As a fly ball pitcher, Santiago will greatly benefit from the park switch in terms of keeping the ball in the park. Of course, he didn’t have any HR/FB issues this year and actually held a slightly lower mark at home than away. But we couldn’t assume that would continue, so the move is still beneficial.

Second, The Cell actually increases walks. This time, Santiago’s performance did jive with the park factors, as he posted a higher walk rate at home. The Cell was easily the worst place for a pitcher with poor control to pitch, as its park factor was significantly higher than the park that ranked as second worst. Angel Stadium decreases walks and it tied for the third best park in walk suppression.

So the factors the two parks diverge most in are the two areas that Santiago struggles with most. Aside from moving to the National League, there are few, if any, better moves he could have made from a home park perspective. Add in the likelihood of better offensive support and outfield defense behind him, and it’s all positive.

The park and team switch alone is unlikely to be enough to keep his ERA from regressing, but it will ensure that it doesn’t rise that far. With the promise of a higher strikeout rate and hope for better control, there is even some chance he can repeat that mid-3.00 ERA. If not, he should be able to keep his ERA under 4.00 and maintain a bit of mixed league value.