Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Ervin Santana Paradox...

For the better part of a week, several members of Ron Shandler's outstanding Baseball HQ site have had a very spirited discussion in the forums about Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels pitcher Ervin Santana. You may recall my "Jekyll and Hyde" column on Santana back on April 11th. In that column, I wrote of Santana and how over the course of his career he's been almost "Johan-like" at home - referring to the great Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins, yet he's just been dreadful on the road.

In our discussions of Santana, many of the HQ subscribers have insisted that the huge gap between his home and road numbers is merely due to randomness and probability. Even Angels manager Mike Scioscia made this rather erroneous comment about Santana this past week, stating "his issue is not home or away. His issue is the location of his fastball." Seeing him pitch for all of his two years with the Angels, I know better. At home, he's VERY confident, while on the road he is not. The three main tendencies I've noticed about him are these: His control is better at home than on the road. His fastball is low in the strike zone at home, on the road he leaves the ball up, resulting in lots of home runs allowed. Lastly, when he gets into trouble, he is good at getting out of it at home, when he's on the road, baserunners often will lead to a HUGE disaster inning.

Last night was a typical game for Santana at home as the Angels took on the Seattle Mariners. He struggled in the first inning, giving up two hits, two walks and a run before inducing Kenji Johjima to ground into an inning ending double play. Santana threw 25 pitches in that first inning. Over the course of the next six innings, he only needed 72 pitches in limiting the Mariners to just two more hits. For the night, his line was just another night at the Anaheim office for Santana - seven innings pitched, one earned run, four hits and two walks allowed to go along with four strikeouts. Scot Shields and closer Francisco Rodriguez (who tallied his 17th save) pitched two scoreless innings to preserve a 4-1 Angels win.

Now for the numbers... with last night's gem, Santana put his career ERA at home under 3.00...

HOME: 23-6 2.95 1.13 .226 51.35 2.27 (36 games started)
ROAD: 9-15 6.98 1.63 .295 19.38 1.73 (31 games started)

Santana's numbers over the course of his 67 career starts tell lots of stories. I'm not sure which stat is the most glaring... I've always been of the opinion that there is some randomness involved in getting wins, though when you compare his other numbers, it's no wonder that Santana has won nearly 80% of his decisions at home, while struggling to win 37.5% of them on the road. To me, the most amazing difference is between his home and road ERA... His road ERA is FOUR runs higher than at home!!! His WHIP (walks + hits allowed per inning) is also 44% higher on the road. Gopheritis is also a problem for him on the road as he's over 2 1/2 times as likely to give up a home run outside of Anaheim. Control is an issue for him on the road as well - his strikeout to walk ratio being 31% better at home than away.

While the numbers are very convicting, one has to wonder why Santana is just so awful on the road. Clearly, as his home numbers demonstrate, he has the ability to be a great pitcher. I'm of the opinion that it is mostly mental with him... he simply doesn't look confident on the mound when he's on the road (with the lone exception of when he pitches in Oakland where he's managed a 2.73 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in four career starts). I also think that maybe the mounds on the road may not be to his liking - he might not be able to get comfortable on them. The mounds in the major league ballparks are all supposed to be uniform, but as any pitcher will tell you, they aren't!

Whatever the case may be, Ervin Santana is certainly a fascinating study. As a fantasy baseball player, I've done my best to exploit this tendency over the past year and a half or so. Simply put, I use him to kill two birds with one stone!

Here's how this works for the fantasy leaguer... First off, Ervin gives everyone hope that he's "gotten it all together" after putting together some good home starts, so owners pick him up and use him (usually in his awful road starts) in their leagues. After the usual two bad road outings, he often finds his way back onto the waiver wire... which is where I come in... I scoop him up and use him for his home starts, and then as soon as that last start of his latest homestand takes place, I send him right back out the waiver wire! This accomplishes two things: I get his good home numbers, while some opponent gets his awful road ones!!! Needless to say, it's in your best interest to follow suit and exploit this tendency in your leagues if at all possible... and heck, if you're a betting man, perhaps a trip to Vegas should be in your future!!!


No comments: