With the injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy thinning out the depth in the rotation, the Braves signed free agent pitcher Ervin Santana to a one-year deal. Santana has had a volatile past five seasons, with three sub 4.00 ERA seasons and two over 5.00 ERA seasons. So, what should we expect out of him this year?
The first big positive is that he will be moving to the National League for the first time. Like Gavin Floyd, that's a good help for overall rate stats like ERA and FIP. That doesn't necessarily mean he will be a better pitcher, but he should see better results as he faces overall weaker lineups that lack a DH. The second thing to notice is his fastball velocity.
For his career Santana has averaged 92.8 mph with his fastball. Last season, his 3.24 ERA year, he threw a healthy 92.3 mph average heater. The year prior, when his ERA ballooned to 5.16 and he recorded -1.0 fWAR he held an average fastball of 91.7 mph. That is not a gigantic difference, but as a guy who is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, velocity obviously is very important.
In terms of style, as I mentioned he is a two-pitch pitcher. He throws a slider other than his fastball, while he has occasionally shown (6%) a changeup. According to PITCHf/x, Santana received the 10th most value from his slider last year of all pitchers in the major leagues. It is his go to pitch and he throws it on just over 1/3 of his pitches. Last year he threw his slider more frequently than he ever had in the past but not by a substantial amount.
ZiPS and Steamer, the two projection systems you see my quote often, have Santana at a 4.26 and 3.99 ERA respectively while throwing over 185 innings. The key here, to me, is to expect Santana to basically be a full season Gavin Floyd and not a knight in shining armor brought to save the pitching staff. He should be reasonably expected to provide around 2.5 wins this season, which is valuable as a middle rotation member.
The success of the rotation still lies upon the shoulders of Julio Teheran and Mike Minor as the top end starters, and Alex Wood's potential is right there with both Teheran's and Minor's. Having Santana and eventually Floyd fill in on the back end makes for a quality and reliable veteran back end, which again has plenty of value. Expect Santana to perform as a solid mid-rotation starter, and hopefully perform well enough to earn himself another qualifying offer this winter that gets the Braves the pick back that they lost.