28 January 2014

Could Ervin Santana Improve the Orioles Rotation?

Ervin Santana (photo via Keith Allison)
Unless you count signing players to minor league deals with spring training invites and failed physical exams, it’s been a pretty slow offseason for the Orioles.  Spring training is just around the corner, and there are only 9 free agents remaining on Keith Law’s top 50 free agent list.  Having said that, many of them don’t fit the current Baltimore roster, who still need to improve at several positions to be considered serious contenders.  One of those positions is starting pitcher, but as Matt mentioned yesterday, with the signings of Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza, the number of difference makers on that market is quickly becoming diminished.  One of those pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez, was the topic of yesterday’s post.  Today, we’ll take a look at Ervin Santana.

Santana has primarily worked with three pitches during his career, relying heavily on his low 90’s fastball and low 80’s slider, while occasionally throwing a change-up (<10% of the time).  He’s been durable as well, with two separate 15-day DL stints in 2009 for UCL sprain and triceps soreness in his throwing arm. Here is a quick look at how Santana has pitched over the course of his career.

Year Age Tm ERA IP ERA+ HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
2005 22 LAA 4.65 133.2 91 1.1 3.2 6.7
2006 23 LAA 4.28 204.0 106 0.9 3.1 6.2
2007 24 LAA 5.76 150.0 79 1.6 3.5 7.6
2008 25 LAA 3.49 219.0 127 0.9 1.9 8.8
2009 26 LAA 5.03 139.2 87 1.5 3.0 6.9
2010 27 LAA 3.92 222.2 102 1.1 3.0 6.8
2011 28 LAA 3.38 228.2 111 1.0 2.8 7.0
2012 29 LAA 5.16 178.0 74 2.0 3.1 6.7
2013 30 KCR 3.24 211.0 127 1.1 2.2 6.9
9 Yrs 4.19 1686.2 100 1.2 2.8 7.1
Generated 1/27/2014.

As you can see, it’s been an up and down career, with his best year coming in 2008 and his worst in 2012.  In fact, among qualified starting pitchers in 2012, Santana ranked dead last in fWAR, producing -1.0 wins.  This wasn’t all entirely due to bad luck either, as his .241 BABIP in 2012 was a career low.  However, in 2013, he rebounded nicely by adding a sinker, which not only helped him keep the ball in the park (a HUGE issue for him in 2012), but also allowed him to pitch more effectively against left-handed batters, who had a .371 wOBA against him in 2012 compared to a .296 wOBA in 2013.  He was also able to decrease his walk rate by more than 2% while also slightly increasing his strikeout rate.

Santana is ranked #6 on Keith Law’s 2014 free agent list (ESPN Insider required, and recommended), and like many of the higher profile free agents remaining, comes attached with the loss of a draft pick for the team that signs him.  This isn’t something that should necessarily prevent a team from signing him, as long as there is a need and the team is contending for a playoff spot, meaning the added value of a win is extremely high.  Additionally, the fact that signing Santana results in the loss of a draft pick likely makes him available at a lower price than the market would otherwise bear (see 2013 Kyle Lohse).  In fact, Santana began the offseason seeking a contract worth more than $100 million, but has now reduced his asking price to somewhere in the 4 year, $60 million range.

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun recently quoted Orioles GM Dan Duquette saying that he expected the team to have a payroll of $100 million entering the season, meaning they had about another $17 million to spend.  However, despite that ability to spend and Santana’s current asking price of $15 million annually, Santana won’t provide very much of an upgrade to the projected starting rotation.  Take a look at the starting rotation depth chart in the 2014 Baltimore Zips projection posted at Fangraphs in December.

Depth Chart courtesy of Fangraphs
While the Orioles clearly lack an ace in their starting rotation, they do have roughly league average pitchers occupying the #1 to #5 spots in the rotation.  And at just over $10 million total, it’s a very cost effective group.  Assuming that Santana produces 3 fWAR in 2014 (Steamer projects him at 2.7 fWAR), then slotting him in the rotation at the expense of one of Gonzalez, Norris, Chen, or Gausman only adds approximately 1 more win to the 2014 Orioles.  And unless there would be additional significant improvements made by the team (highly unlikely this close to spring training), that one additional win Santana provides them will not only cost them approximately $15 million annually and their 2014 first round draft pick, but it's also unlikely to make them any more of a playoff contender than currently constructed.


Unknown said...

forgot to mention that Ervin Santana follows Camden Depot on twitter! also follows almost 30,000 other people, so he may not see that we posted about him.

Tainio said...

For me it is possible he only need to be wise cause every game you should be wise.

Arving Gonzalez said...

Santana doesn't have a sinker. You can check it at http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=3200&position=P#pitchtype

Unknown said...

according to Keith Law (the link provided in the article) and Brooks Baseball pitch f/x, Santana does have a sinker, and only started using it consistently last year.

Jon Shepherd said...

Here is an article where Santana mentions his sinker last year. http://www.morningjournal.com/general-news/20130427/ervin-santana-pitches-kansas-city-royals-past-cleveland-indians