Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ervin Santana and the 1.80 ERA

Ervin Santana has made 10 starts this season, going 7-2 with a 1.80 ERA.

Wins are an exceptionally noisy stat, but he had seven wins total in each of his first two seasons with the Twins -- and now seven before the end of May.

More significant is the ERA, which is about 2.2 runs per nine innings below his career figure.

He's getting these results even though both his walks per nine innings and his strikeouts per nine innings have not only deteriorated from last season but are approaching career worsts.

According to Baseball Reference, Santana's FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching, an attempt to determine what his ERA would be with an average fielding team supporting him -- is 4.10, which is pretty much in line with his career figure (4.22). The 2017 Twins have been a better than average fielding team, but I doubt that everybody's getting two runs per nine innings of benefit.

Well, let's check it out. Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes are the next highest pitchers on the staff in starts (nine apiece) and innings (50 for Santiago, 47 for Hughes). Santiago has a 3.96 ERA  and a 4.85 FIP -- a significant difference, but less than half what Santana is getting. Hughes, now on the disabled list, is the opposite -- his actual ERA, 5.74, is about a half run worse than his FIP, 5.29.

Small sample sizes are inherently noisy, and there are some subtle differences in the 2017 Santana -- a bit more movement on his pitches, a wider velocity differentation between his slider and changeup. His ERA in his final 18 starts of 2016 was 2.41, so we're really seeing a much longer run of markedly good results.

My expectation is that Santana's walk and strikeout rates will improve, which should lower his FIP. I also expect that his ERA will rise. Thirty-one hits allowed in 70 innings? That is not sustainable.


  1. Maybe the more important question is what to do with him as the trade deadline looms later this summer. Since I don't expect the team to continue to play .580 baseball, trading him sooner than later for some prospects seems like a good long-term strategy. Surely there will be a team that will need him. But they never pulled the trigger on a Dozier deal last year. . . .

  2. Nice to have a team acting like a good team, and in apparent harmony.