Sometimes, an act of desperation can bring about the change that is needed in life. Sometimes, doing one thing, regardless of how strange it may seem, can bring about the change that is needed to succeed. For the Los Angeles Angels Hector Santiago, the screwball was just that.
At the time, Santiago was a 30th round selection that had spent four years in the minors, never getting past A ball. He was in his second year in the Venezuelan Winter League, and appeared as though he may just be minor league filler. The White Sox were attempting to turn him into a submarine pitcher, in hopes that he could carve out a career. As it turned out, Santiago ran into former Brewer Angel Miranda, who felt that he had the perfect arm angle to throw the screwball. Desperate to find a pitch that could set him apart, Santiago agreed to try it.
“I’m not a top prospect, I’m a 30th-rounder. They have no money invested in me,” Santiago recalled. “I’m like, ‘Why not?’”
With the use of the screwball, Hector Santiago reached the major leagues three months into the 2011 season. For now, Santiago uses it as a situational pitch, throwing it only on occasion to keep hitters off balance. However, given his success with the screwball, that may change.
Last season, Santiago used his screwball only 3.85% of the time, making it his fifth pitch. However, opponents only produced a .257 batting average and a .428 slugging percentage against the screwball. Both marks were the second lowest for any pitch that Santiago throws, ranking only behind his fastball.
While the screwball is a unique pitch these days, as Hector Santiago is the only current practitioner of the screwball, it may just be that rarity that makes it effective. Most batters have not faced the screwball, or if they have, it was years ago. Santiago is presently the last of a line of pitchers that includes Carl Hubbell and Fernando Valenzuela. As Santiago spots the pitch currently, increased usage may lead to hitters getting a better read on the screwball, making it less effective.
Yet, this is something that Santiago is determined to try. Over his 2.2 inning performance yesterday, Santiago threw four screwballs, resulting in three strikes and a weak ground ball. For comparison sake, Santiago threw a total of nine screwballs during the month of September last year. In fact, only twice in his career has Santiago ever thrown more than 20 screwballs in a month, in May and July last year.
It is going to be interesting to see how well Hector Santiago performs during Spring Training as he uses his screwball more frequently. Perhaps, by having a pitch that no one else throws, Santiago can be the pitcher that steps up to solidify the Angels starting rotation.