Sergio Santos had a fine go around on the south side while he was a member of the White Sox organization from 2009 to 2011. He has not, however, had a great career north of the border in Toronto, pitching for the Blue Jays. He’s struggled mightily the last two seasons, which is why they designated him for assignment before their Triple-A affiliate’s season ended. That would lead me to believe it’s highly unlikely they willl pick up his $6 million club option for 2015. That means Santos will be a free agent this offseason.
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In two seasons at the major league level with the White Sox he pitched 115 innings, posted a 3.29 ERA with 148 strikeouts and 31 saves, according to baseball-reference.com. During the 2011 season, which he served as the White Sox primary closer, Santos converted 30 out of 36 save opportunities, an 83.3% rate. The current White Sox closer, Jake Petricka, has converted 77.7% of his save opportunities in exactly half as many opportunities. That 5.6% conversion difference is the equivalent of two wins over the course of a full season. Two wins weren’t going to make or break the 2014 season for the White Sox, but could mean the difference between playing in October or not in 2015.
However, Gregor Chisholm with MLB.com notes that a shoulder injury limited Santos to only 6 games in 2012 and bone spurs kept him from seeing major league action for the first half of 2013. The injuries could be contributing to a slight decline in his fastball velocity. Per fangraphs.com, Santos’ fastball velocity averaged 95.5 mph in 2010, compared to only 93.8 mph this season. To compensate, he has been throwing his slider more, which may be a blessing and a curse. As you can see below, it froze the batter on that occasion, but the placement of the pitch leaves it vulnerable to better hitters who eat breaking balls near the middle of the zone for breakfast.
The question is which Sergio Santos would the White Sox be getting, the flame-throwing closer of 2011, or the unreliable hurler that the Blue Jays demoted last month? I tend to believe having Santos reunited with Don Cooper, with whom he is already familiar, would give Sergio the best opportunity to regain his old form. Cooper seems to know how to help Santos utilize, and more importantly control, all the pitches in his arsenal. He would likely be an adequate replacement for Ronald Bellisario at the very least.
It is worth noting that Santos may have just run into some bad luck in Toronto, as his .426 BABIP (batting average balls in play) in 2014 may attest to. Not only that, but 25% of the fly balls he surrendered ended up as home-run souvenirs, a rate that can certainly be lowered with proper coaching.
Santos has the pitching arsenal needed to be a good reliever, and possibly even a good closer again. Maybe a return to the Windy City and a few sessions with old Coop is all he needs to begin realizing his potential once again.