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Scouting Pitchers: Ervin Santana

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

(Statistics as of 4/28/08)

This week, we'll look at the Angels' resurgent right-hander. Santana broke into the majors successfully in 2005 and 2006 before running into a brick wall last year. He has shown improved velocity and control in 2008, leads the Angels in strikeouts (26) and is tied with Joe Saunders for their lead in wins (4).

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

Anaheim signed Santana (6-2, 185, born 12/2/1982) in 2000 out of the Dominican. He was known as Johan then, and said his birthday was in 1983, but there was no confusion about his 95 MPH fastball. Santana struck out 146 in 147 innings in Low-A in 2002, then went 10-2, 2.53 in the hitter-friendly California League in 2003. This earned him the Pitcher of the Year award for the Cal league and Anaheim. Elbow and shoulder trouble that did not require surgery sidelined him for most of 2004.

Santana opened 2005 at Double-A and made his major league debut in May, shutting out the White Sox in his second start. He was up for most of the second half and overall tossed 133 2/3 big league innings. Santana established himself more in 2006, as he reached 200 innings and won 16 with a 4.28 ERA. Santana's road woes gradually became evident. His career home ERA is 3.28, while it's 6.85 away from Disneyland. Although 2007 was generally a lost season for Santana (7-14, 5.76), he still pitched well (3.27 ERA) at home. This year, he has a 3.71 road and 1.93 home ERA.

Ervin Santana: (G/F 0.78)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	70		60
Curveball	55		10
Slider		65		25
Changeup	50		  5
Control		55
Delivery	50
Composure	45

Santana's velocity has returned in 2008. He now throws the same 93-96 MPH four-seam fastball and 85-87 MPH slider he had when he came up. Santana was clocked at 90-93 MPH for much of 2007, but apparently he wasn't hurt. This year he is using his fastball more, has improved the command of his slider and his 79-84 MPH curveball, and looks more confident. Santana has a good 80-83 MPH changeup that he threw more often earlier in his career. He seems to be relying on his hard stuff so far this year.

Santana is also pitching inside more, and his fastball has good riding action. He isn't afraid to bust right-handed hitters inside either to break their bat or set up an outside breaking ball. His slider is his most reliable secondary pitch. Santana's curveball has a similar motion to his slider, and it's hard to tell the difference between them.

Santana's troubles on the road can't be explained by any one reason. His velocity was certainly a factor in 2007. Santana does appear emotional and a little immature. He will run off the mound when he anticipates a strikeout and visibly pulls for his defense to make plays. This act might work when the home crowd is behind him, but on the road it probably fires up the opposition as well as the umpires. Santana has had trouble pitching out of jams, as the .295 average against him with RISP attests.

Santana's command also appears a little off on the road. He needs to have this to pitch inside, as this is a high-wire act when facing good AL hitters. Although Santana has improved his efficiency this year (to 16.1 pitches per inning), he could try for more quick outs by using his changeup more, especially against left-handed hitters. Santana does have an 88-91 MPH two-seamer, but he doesn't use it much. Santana's motion is a little clunky, and he needs to be consistent with his release point, but he has been more compact this year.

While Santana's 2008 success is legitimate, there are holes in his game. He needs to watch Tom Glavine pitch and wear his heart on his sleeve less. The Angels probably brought him up too early, as he still has just 21 starts at Double- and Triple-A. As long as Santana has his command, he will win and eventually contribute on the road. Wildness leads to arm problems, and he needs to avoid this like the plague.

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Radar Love:
April heat in the last week:

94-96: Josh Beckett in his 13-strikeout loss in Tampa Bay on April 27th.
94-96: Mike Pelfrey against the Braves on April 25th.
93-95: Francisco Cordero in St. Louis on April 28th.
93-95: Chien-ming Wang in Cleveland on April 27th. Wang also featured a nasty 87-88 MPH slider.
91-93: James Shields in beating the Red Sox on April 27. It looks like Shields struck out five of his seven with his backdoor 87 MPH slider. Or is that a cutter?
88-91: Adam Wainwright in his 126-pitch complete-game win against Houston on April 26th.
87-88: Aaron Laffey versus the Yankees on April 28th.

Next week: NL West: Hiroki Kuroda

 

Article first appeared 4/30/08