The Strange Case of Ervin Santana

(Cross posted with edits from L.A. Angels Insider. I don’t do a lot of cross posting, but this one fit the bill for both blogs.)

It all started with an absolute dearth of run support — because if what the rest of the Angels’ starting rotation experienced early in the 2012 season was a lack of run support, then clearly we must resort to stronger vocabulary when describing the strange case of Ervin Santana. In his first six starts of 2012, the team scored exactly three runs for Santana and all three of those came during his rocky first start against the Royals. The end result was an 0 and 6 record that belied his steady improvement over that time period which culminated in two quality starts, including the final game of that stretch wherein he struck out 10.

Unfortunately for Santana and our impressions of his season, his quality starts only overlapped with the Angels improving offense for two wins in May before his control slipped again. Then Santana began having entirely different issue with runs, namely with giving them up, frequently in the form of early inning bombs launched solidly into the stands. After a dismal performance in Colorado that can only partially be blamed on the stadium’s notorious altitude, fans had all but forgotten any quality starts.

Ervin Santana locked in, with game face on. Angels at Dodgers, Spring Training, April 3, 2012. Photo by This is a very simple game…

 

But just as more and more fans were calling for a change, ‘Hey, that Garrett Richards kid looks pretty good. Once Jered Weaver comes off the DL, couldn’t we…’ Santana threw everyone a curve, pitching a one-hit shutout against the D-Backs that for six and two-thirds glorious innings was perfect in every sense of the word. Okay, so what do you do with a conundrum like that? It’s the strange case of Ervin Santana, indeed.

We all know the Angels’ most likely answer. Sometime this week, perhaps even as I post these thoughts, Jered Weaver will come off of the DL and Garrett Richards will head back to AAA. The Angels typically back the veteran, but in this case I don’t think fans should take issue with the decision. Yes, the four games leading up to Saturday’s gem were ugly, but Saturday didn’t happen in a vacuum. Lost amid the Angels’ April and early May offensive woes were enough strong starts to indicate that Santana’s latest flirtation with control issues, however hot and heavy it may have seemed, is just the same old on again, off again fling he’s had his entire career and not an all encompassing, season long relationship.

Looking at Santana’s record for the last four seasons, he heats up with the weather, giving the Angels strong Julys and Augusts, even during seasons where he’s struggled. I’m not saying that every start is going to be sunshine and rainbows from here on out but, given the near perfection we just witnessed, I think the Angels would be foolish not to at least see what late June and July have in store. If this weekend turns out to be an aberration and Santana’s control reverts to Colorado-like performances, it’s not like they can’t bring Richards (who pitched his own weekend gem) back up again.

Besides, we Angels fans know how our team has a tendency to torture…er…thrill…um, er…thrillingly torture?…us with more excitement in the eighth and ninth innings than is strictly necessary even at the best of times. Smart fans stocked up on plenty of antacid back in March. You know, just in case…

 

10 Comments

Situation normal all Santana’d up. It’s frustrating when a pitcher isn’t consistent, but as you point out, the hot weather months tend to get him going. I’d still take him over Garret Richards.The longer resume speaks to me.
–Jeff

Ooooh, I like that SNASU Jeff. depending on how the next start or two go, I may steal it. :)

– Kristen

Merely speculation, but it really only went south for four starts, right? Perhaps he and the coaching staff considered one a fluke, two a concern, three a pattern, then on the fourth had him make adjustments; maybe even working in a few changes on the third start.
Look across the dugout as the first sign of bizarro-ball that’s going on this year. Who is the losingest pitcher for the Giants this year? I’ll give you a hint: multiple Cy Youngs. The man getting the most support is notoriously unsupported Matt Cain, this year’s Cain is Madison Baumgartner.
It’s a similar case with the L.A. squad. Clayton is not having a bad season, but he’s in no danger of repeating his 2011 Cy Young effort. His closest rivals, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, are nonfactors. Instead, True Blue look to Chris Capuano for quality starts. Once that sinks in, go for the second bottle of chianti with your linguini and clams.
I’m really not sure what the change has been this year, but if you look at who is winning, Jonny Cueto is the only “ace” near the top of the win column, and he had a weak spring. There’s something topsy turvy about the way this year has gone and, while I’d love to put it all on inept officiating, there’s too great a pattern among “elite” pitchers to ignore.
Let Santana work through whatever has him off the horse and maybe he can right himself. Meanwhile, enjoy C.J. every time he doesn’t face Texas.

Well it went waaaaaay south for four starts after he had come back from a bad start to the season. Santana is chronically inconsistant, but all signs are good in my opinion that we are entering a period of control. Yeah, I know all about Timmy’s woes and Zito’s temporary return to grace and all the rest of the bizarro NL pitching situation, but things are more normal in the AL (including Santana being Santana), a few first half oddities but mostly the usual suspects in each pitching category’s top 5 – Price, Verlander, Sabathia, blah blah. Weaver was more highly ranked before the DL stint but he’ll be back up there too soon.

– Kristen

True, true.

It’s a simple game but chalking things up to altitude may have contributed in the end it could have been an off game. The Angels are still the team to beat out west.

It was more than one off game. Basically, when Santana is off, the longballs start in the 1st inning. In CO, as you might imagine, this tendency wasn’t exatly subtle. But so far he looks preeetty good now, so we’ll see…

– Kristen

Not getting run support can into a pitcher psyche, and they trying aiming the ball, trying to be too perfect, instead of relaxing and pitching. With the Angels offense improving, maybe they can get him to relax and pitch more. Nothing wrong with a little cross-post, either. Glad you’re getting your name out there!
–Mike

That might explain a few things, Mike, especially as I think Santana is generally a little more sensitive than some of the other pitchers. Hopefully he can relax now, as you say.

– Kristen

I remember watching Jim Abbott for the Angels, and he had very little run support, too, which led to a ‘not-so-impressive’ record, yet he was still a very solid pitcher.
–Mike

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