It’s only the middling 5th starter types who become the talk of the baseball world in mid-November, but Hector Santiago has been getting a lot of attention from FanGraphs the past two days.
Santiago is a pretty natural target to for affection from the internet baseball community. He throws a screwball, which is the sort of anachronistic oddity that spurs video examination and historical research for comparables. He also reads FanGraphs, which would indicate that he’s data-friendly (he claims to regularly bone up on his pitch data–maybe use BrooksBaseball and Texas Leaguers, Hector) and willing to have more interesting and explorative conversations about his results than many.
But he’s also dominating one of the few professional baseball leagues going right now, even if that’s a league in Puerto Rico where Andy Gonzalez is one of the best hitters.
For all the focus on Santiago’s screwball, it wasn’t a huge story throughout the 2012 season. If anything, he became notably fastball-dependent and predictable. In an interview with David Laurila, Santiago blamed that on the need to drill down his approach while working out of the bullpen.
"“It‘s tough to come in for one inning and throw screwballs. As a starter, you have more opportunities to throw it.”"
Hopefully, increased comfort with his repertoire will make Hector more comfortable with 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. Curiously, while Santiago was talking up his own pitches, he gave a hint as to why they can fail.
"“[The screwball is] similar to a changeup and the only way I can see a hitter picking it up is if I slow my arm down.”"
Funny, that’s what Jim Margalus at South Side Sox noticed Santiago doing in late April when he was piling up home runs. The general assessment provided by everyone on Santiago is that he has an interesting arsenal, and will be useful if he learns command, but that could simply be improved by maintaining his arm deception enough to get hitters to chase. The percentage of swings outside the strike zone, and swinging strikes in general that Santiago generated in 2012 were both below the league average.
While we’re just continuing to stockpile semi-interesting Hector Santiago facts, Tyler Flowers claimed that he probably calls for the screwball more often than A.J. Pierzynski does. Since the screwball exists in a gray area of pitch classification, and this would likely take forever to check, and be too small of a sample to mean anything–the only reasonable response is to let Pierzynski walk in free agency, lest we suffer him being possibly less open-minded to the third pitch of the team’s sixth starter.
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