Hector Santiago deserves a full write-up on one fact alone: he throws a screwball. Other than Daniel Herrera — the short former Red and Met with floppy hair that hasn’t seen the majors or minors since 2012 — there’s really nobody who can claim the pitch. And with Herrera MIA, well, there can be only one. Now that Jake Peavy is down for at least six weeks with trunk issues, there’s even more reason to take a look at the new-former-new-former White Sox starter.
With a strikeout rate over one per inning in both the majors and minors, you’ll own him for the Ks. Or at least that’s what you’ll tell yourself, because you know you’ll own him for the screwball. That pitch is legendary for its arm-side fade (like a changeup), but also downward drop (like better changeups). Why isn’t it a changeup? Well, in Santiago’s case, the screwball goes even slower than the changeup (76 to 83), and also drops almost six inches more than his changeup (according to Brooks Baseball, which took the time to separate out his screwballs from his changeups, by hand). Fernando Valenzuela approves.
You can see the screwball in the blue diamonds below his changeup clump here:
With 93 mph of gas, a 79 mph curve that breaks a bit horizontally like a slider, an 88 mph cutter, an 83 mph changeup and that 76 mph screwball, Santiago is a bit of a kitchen sinker. Sort of — he throws about three-quarters fastball and changeup, and mixes the rest in about equally. There is the very real chance that he does have the kitchen sink problem, though. Despite owning a fastball that gets good whiffs (10%), his changeup (12%), curve, cutter and screwball (7-8%) all get below-average whiffs. At least on the career level, where Santiago himself doesn’t have a great whiff rate (8.6%). This year, the change is up to 13% and the cutter is just shy of 10%, so he’s making progress.
Some of that progress might be focusing on the changeup and throwing the screwball less often. Tug McGraw does not approve, but Santiago’s use of the scroogie is down to 4% this year. It’s also diving less than it used to, with less vertical drop. It kind of looks like an extreme, slow two-seamer in PITCHf/x.
But that’s another matter. What about how Santiago will do this year, in the rotation.
The projection systems take note of his bad control last year (5.1 BB/9, 13.1 BB%) and this year (4.5 BB/9, 11.8 BB%) and have seen enough to project him for that level of control or worse. But he was up and down in the minor leagues, and his 4.1 BB/9 (10.7%) career work down there, and his 58.4% first strike rate (60.2% average) suggest that maybe he can just be below-average and doesn’t necessarily need to have horrid control going forward.
If Santiago can pitch to a strikeout per inning and closer to four walks per nine, he’ll beat his rest-of-season projections. He’ll still be a fly ball pitcher in a hitter’s haven of a home park, though, so the home runs will matter. But something like his current WHIP (1.31) plus his Steamer Rest-of-Season ERA (3.97) actually seems possible if he pitches to those peripherals. In mixed leagues, that probably makes him a spot starter, albeit one you might be able to roster in between the tough matchups at home. Paul Byrd had a few useful seasons, too (although his control was much better).
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