Exit Interviews: Hector Santiago

Lean with it, rock with it…// Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.

The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.

Hector Santiago - Live-armed left-handed social media star who may or may not have what it takes to be an above-average starter.

Age by 2014 Opening Day: 26

Contract: One more year of pre-arbitration salary. Four more years of team control.

Relevant stats: 34 games (23 starts),  149 IP, 3.56 ERA, 137 H,  17 HR, 137 K, 72 BB, 1.9 K/BB, 120 ERA+.

Interpretation: Fun results and plenty of missed bats, but control problems remain a bugaboo.

Emblematic split: Last eight starts: 42 IP (less than six innings per start), 4.29 ERA, 51 H, 5 HR, 26 K, 23 BB, 1.13 K/BB. The “tired” narrative really fits beautifully if Hector was ever willing to accept it.

Pre-season expectations: While I was curious why Jose Quintana won the fifth starter slot over Santiago with no contest, his end-of-2012 flourish was just enough to spur speculation of what could be if he got past his readily apparent control limitations, and whether more confidence would lead him to dig further into his toolbox.

“Hopefully, increased comfort with his repertoire will make Hector more willing to utilize a wide complement of offerings in short outings, or venturing outside of obvious counts for throwing his scroogie in, since the pen is still a very possible destination for him.”

Quote of the year:

Hector’s story: Most of Santiago’s best memories and moments of the season came from his electrifying starts, so it’s surprising to look back at his gamelogs and see just how much he was jerked around. He spent all of April working various assignments in the bullpen, with his quick promotion to the starting rotation coming right after a long relief outing where he wore it for 10 hits over 3.2 innings.

Gavin Floyd‘s Tommy John surgery pushed Santiago into the rotation at the beginning of May, where he immediately shined and showed an ability to naturally miss bats with his mid-90′s fastball. Over the five starts he received in the month of May, he struck out 31 over 27.1 innings, which included an impressively rugged win in Texas in his first start, and standing toe-to-toe with Matt Harvey‘s near-perfecto in New York.

John Danks‘ return and Jake Peavy‘s DL stint gave him a whiplash start to the month of June. He made four distinctly uncomfortable looking relief appearances, walked seven batters over four innings and was back making starts for good on June 9.

The first look at Hector’s stuff completely falling apart came at the front end of the disastrous end of June home doubleheader with Cleveland, where he showed a strange ability to struggle with control, get some whiffs on his fastball, and absolutely get hammered all at the same time while coughing up a five-run lead. But since that was snuck in the middle of two of his finest outings in Kansas City and against Baltimore and a stretch of seven other starts where he struck out 46 batters in 47.1 innings with a 2.47 ERA, it mostly was allowed to pass by without comment.

He’s making this face in, like, 50% of the photos in this database. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Aug. 7–a typically valiant losing effort where Hector took an L for having the temerity to allow two runs in Detroit over seven innings–was probably the last time anyone saw primetime Santiago. His velocity dived over the final two months, and without easy whiffs in the zone, it became a lot more difficult for him to work efficiently with so-so secondary offerings and an inconsistent screwball. He didn’t complete the seventh inning of a start again, and only completed the sixth three times out of his last eight. While he treaded water with a 4.29 ERA over the stretch, hitters had an .843 OPS against him and walked just as often as the struck out.

Perhaps Hector’s matter-of-fact approach to pitching in jams served him well in avoiding complete disaster, but his struggles as he breezed past his career innings high mostly earned him tough love and emasculating challenges from Don Cooper. Eventually his fatigue earned him sympathy. He made just three starts in September, the last one coming on 10 days rest. Though he squeezed out a quality start in Cleveland to cap off his season, there was little trace of his mid-summer electricity.

Assessment:

With all of the rotation excavation going on, Hector’s days flying between the bullpen and the starting rotation are likely a matter of organizational depth. Even with his control problems and peripherals predicting a slide back to average, it’s hard to slide Santiago down any lower than the fourth-best starter on the major league roster. If he stays, he should start, and give Andre Rienzo advice on how to adjust to being jerked around.

But with Jose Quintana being talked up as an untouchable member of the organization, Hector–left-handed, young, inexpensive with intriguing raw talent–becomes the rotation’s most tradable starter. With some worrisome peripherals and little pedigree to suggest what he’s accomplished is sustainable, this would be a logically sound time to sell on Santiago, even though his continued development in the White Sox organization has been fascinating and compelling.

Which, would of course, hurt a lot.

Watching players transcend humble beginnings and carve out major league careers for themselves is an awful lot of the fun and joy of following this sport, and in a doomed season, Santiago’s unflappable nature provided some of its brief moments of enjoyment. In terms of intangibles, Santiago is a dream. As easy it is to understand why many might crave someone as well-spoken and charismatic as Curtis Granderson as the face of the White Sox, but Santiago is perfectly apt for the role. His outreach work combined with his unfathomably open Twitter presence reflect someone willing to do the work of a player-fan relations figurehead.

These aren’t factors that should necessarily cripple a front office from making a move, but it’s part of why Hector sticking around would go over just fine.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

Topics: Chicago White Sox, Hector Santiago

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