Yesterday we got our first Major League look at Ervin Santana and he certainly did not disappoint. Santana threw hard, pounded the strike zone, and was able to keep the ball on the ground. All in all, against a not too impressive Mets lineup, Santana dazzled. Let’s take a look at what made him so dominant.
In breaking down his PITCHf/x charts, Santana kept a very consistent release point and kept the ball on the outer half of the plate for the most part. Against righties, he really pounded the outside part of the plate with his slider. To lefties, Santana showed his changeup far more frequently than he had in the past. This could be McDowell noticing that the pitch is better than other coaches believed in the past, as he 9 of his 88 pitches were changeups. On its face that may not sound like a lot, but that’s a 10.2% rate compared to his career average of 6.3%. Even last year in one of his best seasons he threw his changeup just 5.6% of the time.
Coming into the year I expected Santana to be more-or-less a two pitch pitcher. If he is able to consistently throw a quality changeup to left-handed batters this could be a memorable season for the newcomer. Of the nine changeups, just two were to right-handers. With such a devastating fastball and slider combination, he shouldn’t have to do much else but throw those two pitches to be effective against same handed batters. For his career, lefties have a .336 wOBA against and a 4.61 FIP against lefties. The increased usage of his changeup along with pounding his slider to the back foot of left-handed batters should help him bring those numbers down in his first season in the National League.
On top of just a tremendous pitching performance, Santana got some help from his defense in Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward. Thankfully, the difficult plays were hit to them, the top two defenders on the team, and they came through when they were called upon. With a home stadium on the bigger side, a move into a weaker hitting division, and a quality defense behind him, Santana should be able to keep the ball in the park and rely on his defense as he did yesterday.
What I also really enjoyed about Santana yesterday was his velocity. Santana had a miserable 2012, recording a 5.16 ERA in 30 starts, and his average fastball sat at 91.7 miles per hour. In his superb 2013 season in which he recorded a 3.24 ERA in 32 starts he averaged 92.3 miles per hour on his heater. Yesterday, one of his fastballs dipped below 90 miles per hour, he peaked at 94, and he averaged 92.4. If he can maintain that velocity I am confident that he will have a good season. And if Roger McDowell and company can tinker with his approach against lefties to allow for more changeups, this could be a season to remember for Ervin Santana. My hope, while I am not necessarily expecting it, is Javy Vasquez part two.