This afternoon, the Yankees will face the 26 year old right handed Angel pitcher Ervin Santana. In 2003 (Johan Santana back then) and 2004 he was ranked as Baseball America’s #51 and #29 prospect in their annual top 100. The lanky pitcher made his debut in 2005 at 22 years old and held his own for the next couple of seasons. Although he struggled in 2007, he came back in 2008 to have the best season of his career, posting a 3.49 ERA, an 8.8 K/9, a 1.9 BB/9, a 1.119 WHIP, in 219.0 innings pitched. It was his first and last year posting a FIP in 3 range, yet he has figured out how to make his flyball style work in the large confines of Anaheim. At home, Santana sports an impressive 3.76 ERA, but on the road he has a very poor 4.77 ERA. Luckily for the Yankees, they’ll be facing off against him at the ever so homerun prone Yankee Stadium this afternoon.
Aside from his statistical data, I’d like go deeper into Ervin Santana’s pitching style, and take (steal) a method used by ex-Baseball Prospectus (and now big shot scout) PITCHF/x researcher Dan Fox. Let us look at what Santana ‘s pitching repertoire, where he throws it, when he throws it, and the results. Amongst that we’ll look at his velocity and pitch movement in his only start this year, as well as his history facing pitching against the Yankees.
Ervin Santana is primarily a two pitch pitcher, a slider and four-seam fastball. It’s not that simple though. Although he trashed the curveball a long time ago, the right-hander has a changeup that he threw only 3.2% of the time last year. This year, he plans on throwing the pitch more, and for the better considering how hard it is to pitch 200 innings a year with only 2 pitches.
The image above shows his release point for all of last year. Labeled in red we have four-seam fastballs, in green sliders, and in purple changeups. While some pitchers will use different release points for different pitches, to gain different angles, or to downright confuse a hitter, Santana uses nearly one release point. It’s certainly a strength, and nearly a must in the majors to maintain the same release point for your changeup and fastball to prevent tipping the batter off on the pitch type. The slider is more likely to deviate, and although the point is in the same area, it is important to note that it tends to be released a few inches higher in some instances.
Here we have the pitch break starting from the pitcher’s release point on the right to home plate on the left. Identified are each of the four-seam fastball in red, the slider in green, and the changeup in purple. The top image gives you a birds-eye visualization of the pitch’s horizontal break. The fastball and changeup are nearly identical here, another strength to keeping the hitter from identifying between the two. Both pitches also break in to right-handed batters, the slider, of course breaks away at around a difference of a foot. Looking at the side view, or visualization from the 3rd base or 1st base side, the fastball obviously has the least vertical break, as it fights gravity to stay elevated. The changeup breaks the second most in its attempt to mimic the fastball, and the slider drops the most.
Here we have the movement of each pitch, plotted across an x and y axis as if we’re from behind the plate. Again we have the fastball in red, slider in green, and changeup in purple. The difference between the slider and fastball is pretty straight forward, in that the fastball will break in to right handed hitters and fall less, and the slider will break away from righties and fall vertically around the rate of a no-spin ball. While this is all very typical of a pitcher, we’ll see that Santana’s four-seam fastball is somewhat erratic and unpredictable and will actually “rise” or “jump”, cut in and out, and even sink from time to time due to the spin. The other question many will be asking is how we know that the purple is a changeup.
We can usually look at a speed versus vertical movement chart to differentiate changeups from fastballs, but here we can kill two birds with one graphic. While the spin angle of the fastball and changeups remain the same, the velocity is clearly different, to where we can consider anything from the mid to low 80’s and with the same spin a changeup. The difference between the average of the two pitches last year (92.7 mph on the four-seam and 86.0 mph on the change) was 6.7 mph, which is below the average 83.1 mph, giving us reason to believe he only threw 109 changeups because the velocity doesn’t change enough. From this graphic we can also see that the spin angle of the four-seam is pretty diverse for only a four-seam fastball, which shows us why his fastballs were breaking in so many different ways compared to most pitchers.
Where he throws it
Let’s start with left-handed hitters since they’re most likely to give the right-hander trouble. Above we have all the different pitches and the locations he threw from a catcher’s perspective. The first thing I notice is the most of the pitches are down and away. This is typical of any pitcher facing opposite side hitters. The fastball and changeup match up most with each other, but while you can see that the fastball includes pitches up and in, if he missed with his changeup, it was almost always down or away. A changeup in from a right handed pitcher to a left handed batter is not a good combination. Then there is the slider, and it’s pretty evident that is he’s throwing a slider, it’s probably going to be a strike or lower. In fact he had the greatest success in 2011 throwing the slider for strikes at a 65.7% clip, compared to a fastball at 63.1% and the changeup at 57.4%. Of how often each pitch was thrown, it was 62.3% fastballs, 32.4% sliders, and 5.4% changeups.
Here we have his pitch locations to righty hitters. Notice anything missing? Where are the changeups? Well there are 8 in there if you can find them, and that’s because his changeup is used to neutralize lefties only. If you’re a righty you should be looking for that fastball that he’s willing to throw anywhere on the plate. Unlike lefties where he tried to hit down and away, he doesn’t fear throwing the fastball anywhere. The slider on the other hand was almost always thrown down and away, a good place to look if you know you’re getting a breaking pitch as a right hander. Again he threw the slider for strikes the most, at 66.2% and the fastball at 63.5%. For pitch selection, he threw the fastball most at 53.8% of the time and the slider at 45.7%. (The changeup was 0.5% of the time)
When he throws it
|Count||Fastball (Righty)||Slider (Righty)||Changeup (Righty)||Fastball (Lefty)||Slider (Lefty)||Changeup (Lefty)|
In the chart above, I attempted to list the pitch counts from the batters favor to the pitchers favor to see what he threw when he needed a strike behind in the count, compared to looking for the strikeout ahead in the count. To righties, when he was behind in the count he predictably used his fastball to even it up. Except for the 1-1 count, he used his slider the majority of the time when he had 2 strikes. Even in a full count, Santana was willing to use the slider 5% more of the time. Against lefties, he was less apt to use the slider overall. Even in the counts when he used the fastball the least, 1-1 (Oddly the same deal against righties), he still used it 50% of the time. His high use of the fastballs when behind in the count should prompt the lefty hitters to guess fastball down and away when they have a favorable count. His use of the changeup really only happens when he has lefties on a 1-1 or 0-1 count, probably because it’s unexpected, yet doesn’t draw a lot of swings and misses.
As a four-seam fastball guy, Santana is naturally more of a flyball pitcher. Although it works for him in Angel’s Stadium, he hasn’t had success away from his home ballpark. As mentioned above, Santana does tend to put unpredictable spin on the fastball though, which I’ll assume helps him sit around a 38.3% groundball rate for his career. He also does fairly well with strikeouts. His slider is the main culprit for swings and misses, and at a 17.6% whiff rate, it’s something to watch out for in the batter’s box, especially with 2 strikes.
Against the Yankees
In his 71.1 inning career against the Yankees, Santana has a very unimpressive 5.55 ERA, 1.584 WHIP, a 3.9 BB/9, but also has a strong 7.3 K/9. Between the new and old Yankees Stadium, Santana has a 2.0 HR/9, which shows you how much he struggles as a flyball pitcher in small ballpark. He faced the Yankees twice last year, once in June where the pitcher went 7.0 innings, giving up 3 runs, and once in September, where he went6.0 innings giving up 6 runs. In both starts, Santana struggled to limit homeruns against the club, giving two up to Robinson Cano on sliders down in the middle of the zone , one to Alex Rodriguez on a fastball down in the zone, and another to Curtis Granderson on a fastball down in the zone.
|Probable Yankee Lineup||At Bats||Triple Slash|
|Derek Jeter SS||38||.447/.512/.737|
|Curtis Granderson CF||34||.235/.333/.529|
|Robinson Cano 2B||32||.344/.353/.781|
|Alex Rodriguez 3B||31||.290/.333/.581|
|Mark Teixeira 1B||34||.176/.286/.294|
|Nick Swisher RF||33||.182/.308/.394|
|Raul Ibanez DH||27||.259/.394/.630|
|Russell Martin C||17||.294/.333/.353|
|Brett Gardner LF||14||.286/.333/.357|
So far this year
So far Santana has only see one start against the Kansas City Royals. In that start he went 5.2 innings, giving up 6 runs, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, and 2 homeruns. Although he mixed in a few more changeups for a total of 5.2% selection, he also decreased his slider use to 27.1%. According to the PITCHF/x data, his slider had an unusual vertical break, and it appears it didn’t sink as much. Although the pitch had a 23.1% rate, it was also put into play 26.9% of the time. Eric Hosmer had an early rbi single off of the slider, and later a homerun, which likely scared Santana off the pitch. Still the numbers are oddly low, and the Yankees might want to prepare to see more fastballs.
Considering the team’s heavy lefty bats, the short right field porch, and the right handed flyball pitcher on the mound, the odds are not in Santana’s favor. His best bet is to avoid pitching to Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano with men on base. Considering all the homeruns given up to Yankees’ down in the zone to lefties, he should probably pitch away, far away. With success against Teixeira and Swisher, he’ll have a hole in the lineup he might be able to maneuver around, but 30 something at bats is nothing to rely on with the types of hitters they are. It’ll be a tough night for Santana, with the Yankees sending Hiroki Kuroda to face the Angel’s lineup. See you for the game at 1:05 pm EST on YES.
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