As one of the most important players on the Angels roster, Hector Santiago has a lot to prove in 2014. The 26-year-old lefty was acquired along with fellow youngster Tyler Skaggs in the Mark Trumbo trade. Santiago’s raw numbers on paper look good, as he has a career 3.41 ERA across 2012-2013 as a starter and reliever.
Santiago wasn’t viewed as a starter in the White Sox system through his first 4 years in the system. Santiago was drafted in the 30th round of the 2006 draft with the future role of a reliever blooming. The most innings he pitched in the 2007-2010 span was 64 1/3 innings in 2008. Santiago was a high 3’s ERA guy in the first few years but his FIP, which was much lower than his ERA, showed that he was a much better pitcher than what his ERA said. He had gaudy strikeout totals, posting a strikeout rate no higher than 9.05 K/9 and reaching an 11.61 K/9 rate in 2008. After seeing his walk rate drop from 6.16 BB/9 to 3.88 to 2.82, the White Sox decided it was time to give Santiago time as a starter.
At High A Ball in 2011, Santiago posted a 3.68 ERA, albeit a mediocre 4.47 FIP and 1.43 HR/9 rate, which earned him a promotion to Double A. In 15 starts at AA, Santiago kept an above average strikeout rate, had a miniscule HR/9 rate and posted a 3.56 ERA. He did, however, walk a lot of batters, posting a 4.21 BB/9. His success in 2011 earned him a very small cup of coffee with the big league club in September, allowing no runs in a 5 inning stint.
The idea of Santiago starting games in 2012 was thrown out the window as the year started. Santiago started the year as a reliever and promptly struck out more than a batter per inning. His walk rate of 5.12 BB/9 was far too high and his 1.59 HR/9 rate was too high but he posted a 3.88 ERA across 51 innings in the bullpen. Santiago did start 4 games late in 2013 and actually performed better as a starter in those limited innings. In 19 1/3 innings, he posted a 1.86 ERA, striking out 26 batters. This brought his ERA down to 3.33, a very good number as a starter or as a reliever.
In 2013, Santiago once again started the season as a reliever but struggles in the White Sox rotation led to Santiago making 23 starts and throwing 149 innings. Once again, Santiago performed better as a starter, but he did this in a big sample size. In 130 2/3 innings as a starter, Santiago posted a 3.51 ERA, 8.40 K/9 and a 4.27 BB/9.
Even with his success in the majors so far as a starter, many sabermetrically minded analysts and scouts have written Santiago off. They claimed him to be a swingman or reliever, citing his 4.49 FIP as a recipe for regression next year. His walk rate of 4.53 BB/9 was far too high to see his success continue in the rotation.
While I agree that Santiago could possibly decline, he does have a few things going in his direction. Santiago has had a lower walk rate and higher strikeout rate as a starter compared to his work in the bullpen. In his 150 career innings as a starter, he has a 3.30 ERA along with a 8.88 K/9 and 4.38 BB/9.
Santiago pitched at US Cellular Field, which has been a top 15 run scoring park the last 3 years and has also been a home run hitters haven. Last season it ranked as the 7th friendliest park to hit home runs in. In 2012, it was the 4th friendliest park for home runs. In 2011, it was 5th. This is evident when you look at Santiago’s splits. Santiago has a .302 opponents wOBA on the road compared to his .333 wOBA against at home. His career ERA on the road is 2.98 while it is 3.82 at home. Moving to Angels Stadium, which has been one of the most pitcher friendly parks in baseball, should help Santiago see an improvement in his numbers.
Santiago is also entering into his prime seasons and a time where many pitchers with command struggles tend to figure it out. This means Santiago could actually improve upon his career 3.41 ERA!
Santiago features a very unique 8 pitch arsenal, which is a huge rarity in today’s game. Santiago throws a four seam fastball, two seam fastball, cutter, sinker,curve ball, slider, split finger and screwball. According to the pitch value system at Fangraphs, Santiago’s most effective pitch has been his four-seam fastball, which clocked in at an average of 91.8 MPH last season. His collective group of fastballs was worth 9.2 runs above average, his only pitch that ranked above average. All his other pitches were slightly below average or. His slider and changeup were both pitches that didn’t have effectiveness last season. His unique screwball, however, has garnered a lot of attention the past few years and could turn into a very good pitch. It’s early in Angels camp but reports on the screwball are encouraging.
His lack of an effective off speed pitch could hurt him but with 4 different fastballs, he should be able to get by without having an elite breaking ball. His changeup, slider and split finger were all closer to average pitches in 2012 so I’m not entirely concerned about his repertoire. It’s pretty clear that Santiago throws enough good pitches to be an effective starter. Look for Santiago to have effectiveness with a newer pitch as he continues to learn his strengths and weaknesses as a starter.
Santiago happens to also be one of the biggest class acts in all of baseball. The 2013 White Sox nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, Santiago has done tons in the community and has helped many charities. There was a heartwarming story released by the OC Register that shows how good of a person he is. The impact a player can make in his community is immeasurable, which gives fans an even bigger reason to root for Santiago to succeed. He’s very active on Twitter and is always interacting with fans. Santiago is going to help in more ways than just on the field and that’s a big bonus for trading for Santiago.
Santiago’s future looks very bright as an Angel. Projection systems like Steamer and Oliver see Santiago as a low 4’s ERA pitcher next season, which isn’t exactly an insult. I think he’ll be better than that, however, and settle in as a high 3’s ERA type of guy. The Angels have Santiago under control for 4 more seasons, which means the Angels could have a cheap mid-back rotation starter for 4 years. That’s a super valuable commodity when the market for starting pitchers has gotten super expensive. Santiago is essentially replacing Jason Vargas, who got 32 million dollars on the open market.
Hector Santiago should see his best years in an Angels uniform. I see Santiago settling in as a solid #4 starter who should pitch around 175-200 innings a year with a high 3’s ERA. His command may stop him from reaching a higher ceiling but this is still a guy who is learning how to pitch as a starter. A lefty with a power arsenal is a very valuable commodity in this game. I have an optimistic outlook on Santiago as this is a easy guy to root for and his inexperience as a starter gives me hope that he can turn into a very solid rotation option.