As of right now there are only eight active pitchers with at least 150 major-league wins on their resume: CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, John Lackey, Justin Verlander, Zack Grienke, Felix Hernandez, Jake Peavy, and Jered Weaver. Unsurprisingly, Jon Lester is only four wins away from joining the group. Cole Hamels is 14 off the mark. With a little bit of run support from the Minnesota Twins’ juggernaut of an offense, Ervin Santana can also join this exclusive group in 2017. Without a little research, it would’ve taken me at least a couple dozen guesses before I arrived on Mr. Santana as a candidate to join this group. He has flown under the radar for years now and it is about time he got his due credit as a solidly above-average major-league starting pitcher.
The problem with Santana is when he’s bad, he’s extremely bad. His disastrous seasons in 2007, 2009, and 2012 left us wondering when his next implosion would arrive. With those seasons well in the rear-view mirror, we can look at them as anomalies rather than Ervin’s reality. His 2012 in particular looks like a result of huge misfortune. His HR/FB shot up to 18.9%, 6.1% higher than any other season of his. As a result, his HR/9 approached 2. While Ervin has always been semi-homer prone, it is safe to say that a season like his 2012 was either a fluke or could be attributed to some kind of injury.
Early in his career, what plagued him was his low GB% and high walk rate. Slowly, as his career has progressed, he has become much more of a groundball pitcher and gotten control over his ballooning walk rate. His groundball rate has been above 40% every year since 2011 and his walk rate has been around or below three walks per nine every year since 2007, something that could not be said for his first three years in the league.
He is at 25.3 fWAR for his career, which is good for 19th among active pitchers, hovering around names with a much more successful connotation such as Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. It is easy to look past Santana and more towards guys such as Jimenez and Kazmir because the latter have done it with much more flash. Santana’s only standout season was way back in 2008, and since then he has only posted one season above 3.0 fWAR, his 2016 season. In other words, Santana has done it with under-the-radar consistency a la Bartolo Colon.
In the hypothetical world where there exists a Hall Of Solidly Good, Ervin Santana would be a first-ballot Hall-Of-Gooder. What strikes me is how different the baseball world seems to view him from what the numbers say about him.