What can we expect from Hector Santiago in 2015?


When the Los Angeles Angels first acquired left-handed pitcher Hector Santiago in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox in the 2013-2014 MLB offseason, I thought they had gotten an absolute steal. But then games were actually played and he was anything but a steal for the Angels in ’14, as he sported a mediocre 3.75 ERA, 4.29 FIP and 0.7 fWAR in 127 1/3 innings of work.

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Those aforementioned mediocre numbers were helped by the fact he posted an exceptional 2.98 ERA in baseball’s second half; the southpaw’s 4.50 ERA in the first-half was not cutting it. As a consequence of his early struggles, Santiago pitched a few games as a reliever before making the transition back to a full-time starter, save a relief appearance on the last day of the season

The 27-year-old’s dwindling fastball velocity – from an average of 93.8 mph in 2011 to 92.8 mph in 2012 to 91.8 mph in 2013 and finally to 90.7 mph last season – along with his tendency to walk batters at a high rate, makes his future outlook look questionable. Regardless, in all likelihood he will be one of the Angels’ starters in 2015, especially considering Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs‘ health issues. With that in mind, the question becomes this: what can we expect from Hector Santiago, the starter, in 2015?

Well, Steamer, an objective projection system, is not too hot on him, forecasting him to produce a career-worst 4.07 ERA and -0.5 fWAR as well as a pedestrian 4.56 FIP in 145 innings. It is worth noting that Steamer sees Santiago starting 20 games and relieving 30 next year.

Anyway, those numbers surprised me. I understand he is one of the worst pitchers in baseball at generating ground balls, the batted ball type with the lowest OPS by hitters other than infield flyballs. In fact, among pitchers who logged north of 120 innings last year his 30.7 ground ball percentage ranked the third-worst ahead of only Jake Odorizzi (29.9%) and the league-leader in fly ball rate by a substantial margin Chris Young (22.3%).

However, he has always been and has had reasonable success as a fly ball pitcher, but every year he is garnering a lesser percentage of ground balls and a higher percentage off fly balls. Ideally, one would shoot for that trend to be heading in the opposite direction. Here is his GB/FB (ground ball to fly ball) ratio over the past three seasons.

  • 2012 (70.1 IP): 0.92 GB/FB
  • 2013 (149 IP): 0.84 GB/FB
  • 2014 (127.1 IP): 0.61 GB/FB

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  • Last season, as one should be able to see, was his worst mark in that regard. Taking a quick glance Santiago’s Pitch f/x data over at Fangraphs, I do not see a certain pitch, in terms of either increasing or decreasing its usage, that correlates with Santiago’s GB/FB ratio. That is not to say that there is not a reason because there most likely is. With that said, that information is not necessary for the completion of this article; therefore, if interested, I’d suggest heading over to Fangraphs or Brooks Baseball and doing some digging of your own.

    While batted ball data is imperative for projecting a player’s future performance, Steamer does not, to my knowledge, offer projected batted ball data for players. Thus, my research into why Santiago is projected to perform so poorly would ultimately prove futile or just plain out speculative if I were to render it the cause of his batted ball data.

    So, yeah, his waning ground ball percentage and increasing fly ball percentages could certainly play a role into why he is not projected to fare too well from a run prevention (ERA) standpoint. And it probably does; I just do not know, with any certainty, the extent to which it has a bearing.

    What I can make a reasonable conclusion upon is why his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is projected to hit 4.56 in 2015 despite Steamer thinking Santiago’s walk rate will decline slightly.

    Well, it is, for the most part, tied into the declining fastball velocity I mentioned earlier and the subsequent declining strikeout rate that has come along with it. To prove what I mean, here are the 200-pound pitcher’s strikeout rates over the past three seasons accompanied by Steamer’s projection next season.

    • 2012: 10.11 K/9
    • 2013: 8.28 K/9
    • 2014: 7.63 K/9
    • Steamer 2015: 7.47 K/9

    The fact Steamer surmises his HR/9 rate will jump from 1.06 to 1.19 in 2015 does not help, either. I am less confident asserting that his projected HR/9 rate increase will occur opposed to the projected decline in strikeout rate, though. I say this because Santiago’s team, the Angels, play half their games in Angel Stadium of Anaheim and it is not very hard to suppress long balls in that ballpark. Nevertheless, a combination of both are evident reasons why Steamer is so down on Hector Santiago.

    Now, projection systems are not the end all, be all, obviously. If I had to take a guess, I would say that Santiago will not be a negative win player in 2015 and his ERA and FIP totals will be in somewhere in the middle of his career marks and his projections. But baseball will be baseball, and only time can legitimately answer what Santiago will do next year.