Ervin Santana elevated himself into prominence with a no-hitter amid his outstanding season. For a guy whose career has been plagued by inconsistency, does this mean that he has finally arrived? Or is he once again setting us up only to let us down.
2011 Stats: 11-12, 228.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, 207 H, 72 BB, 26 HR, 178 K
2012 ZiPS Projections: 11-10, 195.2 IP, 4.19 ERA, 194 H, 62 BB, 25 HR, 151 K
2012 Bill James Projections: 11-13, 221.0 IP, 3.95 ERA, 217 H, 71 BB, 28 HR, 175 K
2012 CAIRO Projections: 12-11, 205.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 204 H, 64 BB, 25 HR, 159 K
2012 PECOTA Projections: 12-13, 194.1 IP, 3.93 ERA, 190 H, 57 BB, 23 HR, 162 K
2012 MWaH Projections*: 15-11, 214.0 IP, 3.75 ERA, 207 H, 71 BB, 26 HR, 165 K
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2011 in Review: This was truly a big year for Ervin Santana. Not only did he finally break his odd career trend of being terrible in odd-numbered years. Considering how much flack he has gotten from fans and analysts alike, breaking that trend is actually a pretty big deal, even if it was something of a fluke. The point being that Santana has now shown that he can be a consistently strong mid-rotation starter, and sometimes a bit more.
Just to make sure everyone got that point, Santana got national attention for the no-hitter he threw against Cleveland. This was the showing he needed to show to all his detractors that when he is on his game, he is as good as any pitcher in the league. Of course, plenty of pitchers have thrown no-hitters and then gone on to do nothing else of note, but Santana didn't let his go to waste as he finished the 2011 campaign with a career-best 3.38 ERA and a career-high 228.2 innings pitched. From a WAR perspective, this was his second-best season ever after his awesome 2008 campaign.
What's weird about Santana is that he didn't really seem to do anything different than he did in the past. Compared to his good but not great 2010 season, Santana's peripheral stats are almost identical. He struck out roughly the same percentage of batters, walked roughly the same number of batters and gave up roughly the same percentage of homers. He was probably a tick better across the board in 2011, but not by noticeable amounts. The only thing that stands out is that he saw a spike in percentage of groundballs induced. The groundball thing is weird because Santana had always been a big flyball pitcher and didn't really change his approach or repertoire yet he somehow became a groundball pitcher for a year. The only possible explanation I can think of is that he was much more consistent with his fantastic slider, but I have a hunch it was probably more just a fluke.
Three Lingering Questions for 2012:
- Will we get a third straight year of "good" Ervin? Angel fans know all too well how inconsistent Ervin Santana has been. It probably wasn't until his no-hitter that people finally stopped suggesting he be converted to a closer where his inconsistencies would be minimized. People want to believe that he has finally figured it out after two strong seasons, but can anyone really say for sure?
- Will the Angels pick up Santana's option for 2013? Santana has a $13 million club option for the 2013 season. If Santana has another terrific season, picking up the option should be a no-brainer. Then again, if he turns back into "bad" Ervin, declining the option might be a no-brainer. If he is anywhere in between, then the Halos will have a tough decision to make since they already have a lot of money committed in 2013, so letting Santana walk might be their best shot at gaining payroll flexibility to address other areas.
- Is it going to be another year of Ervin being constantly involved in trade rumors? With the addition of C.J. Wilson, many believe that Santana is now expendable. Of course, Santana has long been considered potential trade bait. Is this the year the Angels finally flip him to beef up their lineup? Or will Dipoto be content to hold on to Santana as part of the dynamic and deep and potentially elite rotation that he has built?
What to Expect in 2012: As my projections indicate, I think "good" Ervin is here to stay, or at least "above average" Ervin is. The basis for this assumption is that Santana is finally healthy and confident in his abilities after battling arm problems and the associated drop in velocity that plagued him before 2010. So much of Santana's issues have been related to his mental approach and confidence, but now that he is older and more mature, he seems to finally have a handle on all of that and, to me, the no-hitter was proof of that.
That being said, I'm not going to assume Santana is going to put up ace-like numbers again. Call me a slave to sabermetrics if you want, but with his 2011 FIP, xFIP and SIERA numbers all around 4.00 combined with that fluky groundball rate, Santana seems like a real strong bet for some regression in 2012. That doesn't mean he will be bad, just that he won't be as consistently good. Either way, he's probably the odds-on favorite to be the best #4 starter in all of baseball, for whatever that is worth (which is nothing).
What is worth something is Santana likely pitching well enough to have his club option get picked up. $13 million is a lot of money, but definitely on par with what he would make annually if he were to hit the open market instead. However, just because his option is getting picked up doesn't necessarily mean that he is going to spend 2013 as a Angel. I can't imagine a scenario in which he gets traded mid-season, but after the season is an entirely different story. If Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards both look good in 2012, then Santana does become truly expendable and I have little doubt that he would be flipped by the Angels in order to free up payroll while also bringing back a valuable asset.
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