The White Sox have made it clear they think playoff competition is right around the corner, and they place that faith squarely on the shoulders of Chris Sale (which seems reasonable), Jose Quintana (who doesn’t enjoy him?), John Danks (that’s a surgically repaired shoulder), the very raw Andre Rienzo (or eventually Erik Johnson) and Hector Santiago.
Santiago’s got the results part down, since he has a 3.14 ERA in 111.2 innings since coming in from the bullpen, which has been a surprising and welcome leap forward from his work as a reliever, where his career ERA is 3.62. The importance of drawing the distinction is that he hasn’t become magically worlds better since moving.
–As a starter this season, hitters are batting .231/.327/.389 against him.
–As a reliever for his career, hitters are batting .221/.338/.373 against him.
You can pick up a lot from just this. Santiago misses a lot of bats, so it’s hard to square him up for crucial hits, but he’ll put himself in plenty of tight situations by putting on lots of baserunners. Also, when there is contact, it’s pretty loud.
For someone as reliant on strikeouts as Santiago, he’s basically a fastball-changeup guy, with a cadre of breaking balls that act either as show-me pitches, or like his screwball, are not consistent enough to be relied on as part of his arsenal on a night-to-night basis (Keep in mind, that every crap breaking pitch looks a little bit like a poorly-located changeup in the Pitch FX system).
That removes the stress of contemplating what Hector’s future will be if he throws even 15 screwballs per night, but also explains why he stagnated in the lower minors until his velocity jumped, why he’s not uniquely effective against left-handers and why concern about the Sox’ lefty-heavy staff is pointless if there’s no discussion of how each one gets outs.
The issue I have been dancing around for 300 words now, is that every run estimator worth its salt says Hector’s ERA should be a full run worse than it is at the moment, which would likely place him in a situation where he’s looking over his shoulder at Erik Johnson rather than Rienzo. Plenty of men have found a way to defy statistical models for significant stretches, but the onus is on them to prove they’re capable and that their formula for defying expectations is reliable.
He’s stranding 79.3% of his baserunners as a starter, which is important since he allows a lot of baserunners. The league-average rate is around 73%, but high-strikeout pitchers can tweak that figure in their favor, and Hector does a fair bit more
While Hector isn’t one for generating a lot of weak contact, he has been generating a large amount of useless outs with runners on. White Sox defense caveats aside, an infield pop-up is basically an automatic out in the major leagues and it doesn’t advance runners. It’s effectively a less-impressive strikeout. Since moving to the rotation, 14.9% of contact against Santiago has been infield flies, compared to the league-average of 9.6% and the abnormality of Santiago not generating a single pop-up coming out of the bullpen. When there are runners in scoring position, that rate jumps to 18.2%. The pop-ups seem like a reasonable by-product of someone who works up in the zone with above-average velocity from the left side.
But it sometimes seems like Santiago is better off working with runners on. Along with the pop-ups, the strikeout rate goes up too. Reducing his margin for error is fine since his deceptive little whip delivery gives him the fifth-lowest zone-contact rate in baseball for pitchers with over 110 innings. When Hector’s in the zone, he’s golden, so it’s fun to imagine what would happen if ever stayed there.
White Sox Lineup:
Hector Santiago, SP
Red Sox Lineup:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury – CF
2. Shane Victorino – RF
3. Dustin Pedroia – 2B
4. David Ortiz – DH
5. Jonny Gomes – LF
6. Mike Napoli – 1B
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia – C
8. Stephen Drew – SS
9. Will Middlebrooks – 3B
Ryan Dempster, SP
Where to Watch: 6:10 pm CT on CSN Chicago and NESN
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan