When the Angels set out on their quest to land starting pitching, almost nobody anticipated them targeting Hector Santiago. Not only did the Halos land Santiago, but they seemed pretty pleased with themselves for doing so. Is Hector going to be all he is cracked up to be?
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
Part of the reason nobody really saw Santiago as a target for the Angels is because the White Sox never even really saw what they had in Hector. He was a 30th round pick back in 2006 out of New Jersey (hey, New Jersey has been good to the Angels!). He got his first cup of big league coffee in 2011, but didn't stick until 2012 when the Pale Hose very briefly made him their closer to start the season. It didn't go well. He spent most of the rest of the season in the bullpen before they gave him a go in the rotation down the stretch where the results were promising despite Santiago having only worked as a starter in the minors for the first time in 2011.
Come 2013, Santiago found himself back in the bullpen working as a swingman, once again results were mixed. But he again got a shot at the rotation in May and showed some promise in fill-in duty. Then June rolled around and the White Sox were ravaged by injuries, so they turned to Santiago as a starter once more, only this time he didn't relinquish the role.
Santiago earned his keep by posting a 3.56 ERA on the season, 3.51 as a starter but with a 4.49 FIP, which is a little alarming. Part of what has always made Santiago a questionable asset is that he is an extremely flyball prone pitcher, this despite throwing what is nominally a sinker. That was always a bit of a problem in small park like US Cellular, but he managed to escape with a 1.03 HR.9 last season. That's not good, but it isn't bad either.
With this unexpected success and perhaps not the peripherals to match, the rebuilding White Sox jumped on the chance to trade Santiago at the peak of his value.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
With almost no track record as a starter, the projections for Santiago are hard to nail down. ZiPS seems to think quite highly of him while CAIRO paints a much gloomier picture. His home run issues play into that, but the biggest differentiator amongst the projections really appears to be his walk rate.
In his two full seasons in the majors, Santiago has had a lot of problems with the free pass. That wasn't as much of an issue for him in the minors, but Santiago basically skipped Triple-A and was spent about half a season in Double-A so those aren't really great markers to go by. For what it is worth, his walk rate (and for that matter his strikeout rate) has been better as a starter in the majors. That's not usually how things work, which makes Santiago all that much more mysterious.
Just to complicate matters futher, the systems all split Santiago's time between the rotation and bullpen in some way, so depending on what you think lies in store for Santiago, those scenarios might invalidate your own forecasts for Santiago altogether.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
Me, I projected Santiago to stay in the rotation all year. When the Angels first acquired him, I thought they intended to use him as a swingman. Or at least that was the preferred option when Mark Mulder was healthy. Now they don't really have a choice and he has done nothing to make the Angels think twice about keeping him in the rotation, even if they actually had another option to turn to.
With that out of the way, I am here to rain on the parade. Santiago scares me. All those walks are just no way to make a living as a quality starting pitcher in this league. I even have him cutting the walk rate a little bit and it is still at a pretty bad level.
One thing that should help Santiago is moving to Anaheim. The Big A should be much more friendly to a flyball pitcher like him. That being said, Santiago appeared to be the beneficiary of good luck on dinger last season with his 9.2 HR/FB%. I see that regressing luck wearing off and essentially canceling out the move in environment. That means a fair amount of homers to go with a lot of walks. That's a bad combination.
To be fair to Santiago, my FIP projection is right in line with the other systems and actually a slight improvement over his 2013 FIP. So this is less about me disliking his pitching profile and more about him losing the four-leaf clover or rabbit's foot that has been blessing his career to this point seeing how his career ERA is over a full run better than his career FIP.
What are the known unknowns?
We really just don't know what Santiago can be as a starter over a full year because he has never done it. He made 23 starts last year, but that was a career-high as was the 149 career innings he logged. There is nothing to suggest that he can't handle that kind of a workload other than he just hasn't done it before and until he does, it will be a question.
What that also means is that we don't know how the league will react to him after getting to see him so much. Santiago is a unique pitcher because of his varied repertoire. He throws a four-seamer, a cutter, a sinker, a slider, a curve, a changeup and, of course, a screwball. That kind of variety keeps batters guessing, but how long will it hold up. One thing about pitchers who have that kind of a kitchen sink approach is that they often throw all of those pitches because none of them a particularly good. Once the league figures out which of those pitches Santiago can even throw for strikes or use to miss bats or generate poor contact, they could avoid the good pitches and hammer the bad ones. That or Santiago is going to have to figure it out first, which would obviously be preferable, but we aren't going to know for sure until he proves it one way or the other on the mound.