Tuesday, March 25, 2014

By Greg Bird, AngelsWin.com Statistical Reporter - 

Is Hector Regressing or Progressing? 
After following Hector Santiago on Twitter and interacting with him I, like most Angel fans, am excited to watch him pitch. He seems like a genuinely nice, friendly, standup guy. If you’re on Twitter he’ll likely follow you and retweet you. He has interacted with fans at Spring Training and signed a lot of balls. He does charity work. He came to FanFest 2014 and was definitely fun to hear speak. As a person he will be very easy to root for every fifth day. The one question remaining is a big one; will he be a good starting pitcher for the Halos? 

In big league games this spring he has done well. He has an ERA of 2.76 and a WHIP of 1.041. His strike outs per nine innings (SO/9) are up at 10.5. This is 2 strikeouts higher than his career average. Walks per nine innings (BB/9) have always been his Achilles heel and he has kept those down at 3.3. This is down from his career BB/9 of 4.5. The problem is we’ve seen something like this before in 2013. Our best Spring Training pitcher last year is likely not to make the roster this year.
We all want to see Santiago carry these numbers over to the regular season but will he? I don’t believe I can answer that definitively but we can look at him and his pitching style in depth to see what we can expect from him. This could also give us something to compare him to as the season goes on to see if he is regressing or progressing. Regression is one of the things a number of analysts have predicted for Hector. PECOTA has predicted his 2014 ERA at 4.80 with a WHIP of 1.49. ZiPs has him doing a bit better putting up a 2014 ERA of 3.81 with a WHIP of 1.34.
Santiago has said he is trying to do some things better this season. He wants to use his screwball more and get better control over it. He is trying to minimize walks which would help his WHIP a lot. Will his improvements really pan out? How does he pitch batters? What kind of a pitcher is Hector Santiago? Let’s look at his asenal.

Santiago has six pitches but five he primarily relies on. His primary fastball is of the four-seam variety that usually clocks in around 93MPH. He throws two other fastballs. Mostly he cuts his fastball and every once in a while he sinks it, but very rarely. When asked he says he throws his sinker only 2% of the time despite FanGraphs having him throwing it 30+% of the time. He has three off-speed pitches: changeup, curveball, and screwball. His changeup is his primary off-speed pitch and it clocks in around 83MPH. He uses his curveball mostly against left-handed hitters (LHH) and his screwball against right-handed hitters (RHH). Both of those pitches clock in around 76-77MPH.

The best news I can bring Angel fans is that Santiago’s four-seam fastball is a plus pitch. It has good movement and good speed from the left side and hitters reactions to it tell us a lot more about the quality of the offering. It doesn’t always get hitters to swing but of all of Hector’s pitches it is the one that gets the most whiffs. 10% of all four-seamers Hector throws are swung at and missed. Right-handed hitters struggle more than lefties as they whiff at 10.73% of all four-seam pitches. Most of those whiffs are all up in the zone or above it and usually away from RHH. This pitch isn’t used as his strike out pitch as he generally uses it early in the count or when he falls behind the hitter.

Santiago’s four-seamer is the hardest for hitters to put into play of any of his pitches. Only 11.06% of them are put into play and hitters only have a .192 batting average against (BAA) through his career. He also gets a fair amount of pop-ups by pitching up in the zone which translates into easy outs. Pitching up in the zone could make him prone to the long ball but that only seems to happen when his fastball drops lower into the middle of the zone. This is a great sign because it his primary pitch and he uses it about two thirds of the time. 

The changeup is Santiago’s next most used pitch and he prefers to use it against RHH but not exclusively. RHH whiff at this pitch at a 10.06% rate whereas LHH only whiff at it 8.57% of the time. Hector gets those whiffs when he keeps it down or down and away to righties. While he gets whiffs on his changeup it gets hit pretty well too. The changeup has his highest batting average against at .283. Those hits aren’t just singles either as hitters are slugging .457 against it and 8 of his 26 homeruns given up are on changeups. 7 of those homeruns were to right-handed hitters facing it.
The changeup is his easiest pitch to put into play. 23.04% of all changeups he throws get put in play. Hector doesn’t throw it much to LHH as only 7% of all pitches thrown to LHH are changeups whereas 25% of pitches thrown to righties are changeups. Lefties seem to struggle more getting hits off of it posting only a .233 BAA. It seems Hector doesn’t throw it to lefties much because they make more contact with it, but it might be something he could use in 2014. Lefties seem to hit it best if he throws it inside on the plate or down and away. This isn’t Hectors best pitch and it accounts for some of his struggles because he relies on it so much versus RHH.

Hector’s curveball is decent and is mostly used as a put away weapon against lefties. He uses his curve almost a third of the time when he gets ahead of lefties and only 8% of the time when he is ahead versus righties. This is because LHH whiff 8.66% of the time and righties only whiff 3.15% of the time. Hector throws it down and away to lefties for swings and misses but when lefties do connect with this pitch they get hits. LHH have a .255 batting average against his curve and this is their best BAA any pitch in his arsenal. The good news is they hit it with almost no power as the isolated power (ISO) is only .039. Isolated power is slugging percentage minus batting average to give a sense of how many extra base hits there are.
Right-handed hitters do well against the curve hitting .292 against it with a .333 ISO. A third of all of Santiago’s curveballs were thrown to righties and it is the easiest pitch for RHH to knock out of the park. Out of the 24 righties who’ve faced the curveball 2 have hit homeruns. Righties also have an easier time laying off this pitch as they swing at it fewer than any other pitch he throws to them. It looks like the curve is something righty hitters like to hit off Hector and he needs to minimize use of this pitch to them. Hopefully by using the screwball more Santiago will do this.

The screwball is an exciting pitch since nobody else throws it in the majors right now. It has been used by Hector as a put away pitch to righties. It is almost a compliment to his curve to lefties as it breaks the opposite way of his curve. Both righties and lefties like to swing at this pitch with a 46.83% swing rate for all hitters. It is a plus pitch because not only do hitters swing at it they whiff at it a lot too. Righties whiff on 9.34% of screwballs and lefties whiff 13.04%. Be aware the lefty numbers are based on a very small sample size.

While it gets a lot of swings and misses it can get hit by both lefties and righties fairly well. Righties have a .255 BAA but they also have some of their lowest power numbers against this pitch. Lefties hit it very well but again this is a small sample. They have a .333 BAA with 3 hits: 2 single and a homerun. This is one of the only 4 total homeruns he’s given up to left-handed hitters. The good news about these numbers is that all the extra base hits against this pitch come when Hector misses over the middle or lower middle part of the strike zone. This makes sense because if the pitch doesn’t break much it is very hittable. If Hector has good movement on the screwball on any given day it will be a very good pitch for him against both lefties and righties.

The last pitch we will analyze here is Hector’s cut fastball. Like most cutters it isn’t a swing and miss pitch. It is designed to induce weak contact. Righties struggle with this pitch a lot and have put up a .207 batting average against it. RHH have hit 2 HRs off of it when it broke more north/south than east/west. Lefties have had more success getting hits against it posting a .250 BAA but they’ve only hit singles against it. Hector doesn’t throw it much when the batter is ahead in the count but he’ll throw it pretty much any other time. He uses it equally against both lefties and righties but RHH have a harder time laying off it. LHH only swing at 26.72% of cutters they see where RHH swing at 40.67% of them. Since righties only hit .207 against the cutter it could be a very effective pitch against them. 

Hector Santiago is a work in progress. There is a lot to like about his arsenal and there are some things he could improve. The utilization of his pitches could be more effective. Just from the numbers it seems he falls in love with pitches that he can get a swing and a miss on even if those same pitches could get him into trouble when hitters make contact with them. I’m not privy to the adjustments being made in his approach against hitters and there is no PitchFx in spring to look at, but some of the news leaking out could be promising.

If Hector does improve his control of the break on the screwball and incorporates it more than that could really improve his game. It could cause him to adjust his approach against righties to compensate which would mean a decreased use of his changeup and curveball against them. Those two changes would go a long way in reducing his tendencies to give up the long ball and could allow him to reduce extra base hits in general.

If Hector adjusts the way he sets hitters up and utilizes his weapons more effectively he could get more early count outs. This is a mere hopeful speculation on my part but it seems he is under utilizing some pitches that could be very effective. Using his cutter more against RHH to induce weak contact and utilizing his four seam fastball up in the zone or above the zone as a put away pitch could both lead to more easy outs and strikeouts. Using his changeup a bit more to lefties could also help him utilize his defense more and get more early count outs on balls in play.

It remains to be seen what adjustments the Angels have made with Santiago since they acquired him. Dipoto saw a quality arm there and I think I can see it too. I hope the adjustments work out and he can blossom into the potential he has. Only problem with potential is it is just that until the player puts it all together. The good news is he already had success at the major league level and at worst he can be a number five starter. The hope we can have is that he can figure it out and become a middle or even top of the rotation pitcher with his screwball. Hector-mania anyone?'

For more on Hector Santiago, please see Robert Cunningham's piece here.
Love to hear what you think!

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