Deep statistical dive breaking down Ervin Santana on the cusp of the AL Wild Card Game

Coming into this year’s American League Wild Card Game, the Yankees will be sending their ace Luis Severino to the hill to face Ervin Santana of the Twins. Santana, 34, enjoyed one of the best years of his career in Minnesota this year pitching to a 16-8 record with a 3.28 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and .225 BAA in 211.1 innings. While he is the Minnesota ace, there are plenty of signs that the Yankees can jump all over him in his win or go home playoff.
Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri | Getty Images
1. Pitch Repertoire/Tendencies
Santana sports a four-pitch repertoire consisting of a four-seam fastball, a sinking fastball, a changeup, and a slider. His fastball sits in the low-mid 90’s, sinker in the low 90’s, slider in the mid-80’s and changeup in the mid-80’s. Though he has a four-pitch arsenal, the movement is not too drastic, but his accuracy is what makes him effective, as he walked just 2.60 batters per nine innings, down from his career number of 2.79. Here’s what Brooks Baseball had to say about his pitches this season:
“His fourseam fastball has essentially average velo and has slightly less natural movement than typical. His slider has less than expected depth. His sinker has surprisingly little armside run, has little sinking action compared to a true sinker and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' sinkers. His change has a lot of backspin and is slightly firmer than usual. His cutter (take this with a grain of salt because he's only thrown 9 of them in 2017) generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers' cutters, is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers' cutters, has below average velo and has good ‘rise.’”
2. 2017 Splits
Santana made his second career All-Star appearance in 2017, but that was due to his successful first half. However, he regressed a bit in the second half, going 6-2 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and .249 BAA. Meanwhile, Severino was light’s out as he went 9-2 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and .181 BAA in the second half.

As for his lefty/righty splits, Santana actually had more success against lefties holding them to a .215 batting average, with righties hitting .234 off him. Additionally, Santana’s WHIP vs. lefties was just 0.99 with his WHIP against righties being 1.25. The Yankees will send out a lineup tonight that features four lefties and a switch hitter, so it’s clear Joe Girardi prefers the matchup, despite what the numbers may indicate.

One key note on Santana in 2017 is that when he was on, he was dominant, and when he was off, he really struggled. In his 16 wins, he pitched to a 2.03 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and .188 BAA as opposed to a 7.35 ERA, 1.63 WHIP and .306 BAA. He was also solid in no-decisions with a 2.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .225 BAA. Point being: if he’s on, the Yankees are in trouble but if he’s off, the Yankees may tack some early runs on.

3. Postseason history
In his career in the postseason, Santana has made eight appearances, with just two of them being starts. Additionally, he has not pitched in the postseason since 2009. Say what you want about Severino not having experience, but it’s been a while since Santana has pitched in October as well.

As for his postseason numbers, Santana is 2-2 with a 5.56 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and .241 BAA. With that, Santana has not pitched in the postseason in a number of seasons, and he has not had much success in the postseason with particular troubles as a starting pitcher. Against the Yankees in the postseason, he has a 3.27 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and .256 BAA. He also has a 0.00 ERA in Yankee Stadium in the postseason, albeit in just 2.1 innings of relief.

4. Yankee Stadium history
In his career against the Yankees, Santana is 6-10 with a 5.66 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, and .306 BAA, which is one of his worst career lines against any team that he has faced. As for pitching in Yankee Stadium, Santana is 0-5 in six career starts with a 6.43 ERA, and 1.71 WHIP. His lack of success against the Yankees, and particularly in Yankee Stadium should give the Yankees plenty of hope.

5. Keys to beating him
-Get ahead in the count
In order to get to Santana, the Yankees are much better off when they are ahead in the count. When hitters were ahead in the count on Santana in 2017, they managed to hit .254 with 11 homers. However, when Santana was ahead on the hitters, he held them to a .185 batting average with just five home runs. The Yankees have a home run heavy lineup, and their best chance to hit the ball over the wall will come when they are seeing pitches and getting ahead in the count.

-Score early
Santana tends to have a lot of success the first time through a lineup, with clubs hitting just .213 with eight homers off him their first time through. If the Yankees can rough him up or even scratch just one or two early runs the first time through the lineup, they should be ready to rock the second time through. When Santana goes through a lineup for the second time this season, he has allowed opposing batters to hit .265 with 16 homers.

-Knock him out of the game before the fifth inning

If the Yankees accomplish do both of the aforementioned keys, they will likely knock Santana out of the game early. The Yankees knocked Santana out a few weeks ago after 5.2 up and down innings where he allowed seven hits and surrendered two earned runs in a 5-0 Yankees victory. The Yankees should certainly look to put up more than two runs against him tonight, and if they are able to get ahead in the count and scratch some early runs, it should be a good night in the Bronx.

Article by: Chad Raines


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