This story done by new Halo Hangout staff writer Christof Ludwig.
A strong start to the 2015 season earned Los Angeles Angels lefty Hector Santiago an All-Star nod, replacing the Athletics’ Sonny Gray. As good as he was in the first half, he was equally as bad in the second half, allowing more walks, home runs, and earned runs than in the first half despite pitching 36 fewer innings. How good Santiago really is, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. What does his 2015 performance say about how he will fare in 2016
Let’s take a look at some numbers that will help us predict his 2016 performance, starting with BABIP, or Batting Average on Balls in Play. This stat measures how often a ball put into play is converted into outs by the defense, and is important because it takes into account defense, luck, and talent level. League average is usually right around .300. In Santiago’s first season as a starter, 2013, his BABIP allowed was .289. In 2014, it was remarkably similar, at .288. In 2015, it dropped all the way to .252. Such a large difference between his 2015 BABIP and his career average suggests that he got lucky last season much more often than he didn’t, and as a result I don’t expect to see the number back anywhere near there. FanGraphs’ Steamer Projections predicts that his BABIP in 2016 will be .274, which is slightly better than his first two seasons as a starter, but not as good as last season.
Another number we can look at is FIP, or Fielder Independent Pitching. This stat measures a pitcher’s run prevention independent of the performance of his defense. The league average FIP is adjusted each year to be the same as the league average ERA, which in 2015 was 3.96. Santiago’s FIP was 4.77, the highest of his career and the highest in the AL. His ERA, however, was 3.59. Throughout his career, his ERA has always been much lower than his FIP. What accounts for such a large difference?
Some possible factors: 1) He is left handed, which means he is in a better position than righthanders to control the running game. 2) He is an extreme fly ball pitcher, and fly balls become hits less frequently than line drives and ground balls. 3) He leaves a lot of runners on base: his strand rate last season was 80%, and has never been below 73% in his career.
The flip side of the coin is that being an extreme fly ball pitcher leads to giving up a lot of home runs. He allowed 1.44 home runs per nine innings last season, second most in the AL, including 10 in his final 35.3 innings. His ground ball rate of 30% was the worst in MLB. His line drive percentage of 16.5% was second best in the AL, but it’s probably unsustainable because he doesn’t have swing and miss stuff. He also walked a ton of guys, 3.5 per nine innings, second most in the AL but somehow a career low, and when you allow runners on base and home runs as frequently as he does, the damage can add up quickly.
Santiago’s other numbers suggest his high FIP might not mean as much as it does for other pitchers, but those numbers also suggest that he walks a tightrope every time he’s on the mound. FanGraphs’ Steamer Projections predicts that his FIP will come down to 4.57, more in line with his 4.37 average in his first two seasons as a starter.
Santiago has produced well for half a season in both 2014 and 2015. Santiago started 2014 1-7 with a 4.50 ERA before the All-Star break, but recovered to go 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA after the break to finish 6-9 with a 3.75 ERA. In 2015 Santiago reversed his trend going 6-4 with a 2.33 ERA in the first half, but falling to 3-5 with a 5.47 ERA after making the 2015 All-Star team for a combined 9-9 record while finishing with a 3.59 ERA.
The Los Angeles Angels are hoping that Santiago put a full season together in 2016. If that could happen it would bolster the Los Angeles Angels playoff hopes. Only time will tell.
Overall, the numbers suggest that Santiago won’t get any better in 2016, but if the Los Angeles Angels are to compete, he needs to improve, and quickly. Cutting down his walks and home runs allowed and inducing more ground balls will go a long way toward helping him regain his All-Star form.
All stats, projections, and definitions courtesy of FanGraphs.