Because the 2017 MLB season makes absolutely zero sense, Ervin Santana has been lead the Minnesota Twins to a tentative hold on first place in the American League Central. In fact, Santana has been leading the entire league in a number of categories (as of 5/30)
That’s two months of season with an ERA higher than Keuchel, Sale, and Kershaw.
Two months leading in Innings pitched.
Two months leading in LOB%
Two months leading in BABIP.
Yep. Two months leading the league in Batting Average on Balls In Play. Things are going to go down hill for Ervin as also evident by his 4.09 FIP and 4.67 xFIP but for now he is riding a massive high. It is worth finding out, however, why Santana has been so dominant despite these troubling signs. (In part to further understand the importance of Peripheral statistics)
Let’s begin by analyzing two of Santana’s most prominent pitches: his fastball and his slider.
Santana’s fastball has been extremely effective this year. Opposing hitters are slashing just .174/.291/.357 off of the pitch for a total WRC+ of 90. The odd thing about his fastball is that hitters are making contact 88% of the time and it has only generate a swinging strike rate of 5.5%. The pitch has been both dominant and easy to hit. The key to the success can again be traced back to BABIP where Santana’s most common pitch has a mere .159 average.
Santana has been locating his fastball extremely effectively as well.
Despite leaving slightly more fastballs over the plate, Santana has been spreading the pitch all over the strike zone. Batters have not been able to hit the pitch well regardless.
Obviously, pitches left over the middle of the plate are going to be hit slightly harder but those slugging percentages are well bellow the league average of .416 in 2017.
Let’s move on to Santana’s out pitch and arguably his best pitch: his slider. Using the same metrics as the fastball, opposing hitters are slashing .063/.138/.100 against the pitch with a remarkable WRC+ of -23. Batters are making contact 67.9% of the time and swinging through 13.6%. As with most of Santana’s statistics, the BABIP on the pitch is .077. Yes you read that correctly, a .077 average.
Similarly to the fastball, Santana has been excellent in locating his slider.
Santana is dropping that slider inside to left-handers and away from right-handers. Almost nothing is getting left over the plate.
No one is hitting that slider anywhere.
Santana has been both extremely lucky and extremely gifted in his pitching this year. His fastball and slider combination continuously dominates opposing lineups despite clear evidence that he should be pitching worse. A clear way to tell the differnce between a pitcher like Santana and true ace is to simply compare them.
Dallas Keuchel and Ervin Santana have almost identical surface statistics in 2017. They have thrown around the same Innings, have ERA’s within .05 points of eachother, and WHIP’s within .03. Underneath the surface it becomes clear. Keuchel is striking out near 8 batters per 9 while Santana trots in at 6.55. Keuchel is only walking 2 per 9 while Santana is walking 3.4 per 9.
When we compare the BABIP and FIP’s of the two pitchers it becomes even more obvious.
Santana cannot and will not continue his torrid pace. Even if hitters keep falling on their rears trying to hit his slider.
Was that enough Charts and Graphs?
Data from FanGraphs.com