Yesterday, the Kansas City Royals traded for pitcher Ervin Santana. Santana had spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Angels up to this point and had seen equal amounts of success and failure. He was a main part of the Angels rotation in 2011 and threw a no-hitter. Then, in 2012, something changed. He regressed. There was no apparent reason for the regression. Now, the concern in Kansas City should be whether or not they just traded for a pitcher who may be concealing an injury.
In 2011, Santana pitched 228 2/3 innings. He posted a 3.38 ERA and looked well on his way to becoming a fixture in the Angels' rotation. He had never really been a dominant pitcher, but the 2011 season marked the second-straight year with a declining ERA and they second-straight year with more than 200 innings-pitched. Santana's solid season in 2011 was marked by a no-hitter thrown on July 27, 2011 against the Cleveland Indians. If you were an Angels fan, you had to feel as if the team had something special. They had a rotation that included Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, and Ervin Santana. Unfortunately, Santana fell back to earth this past season.
Santana tossed just 178 innings this past season, and he had a 5.16 ERA. It was the second-highest ERA of his career. He went 9-13 on the season and didn't do much to help the Angels stay in contention. His struggles in 2012 could simply be a regression toward the type of pitcher he actually is - he has a career ERA of 4.33 after all - or it could be an indication that he was hiding an injury.
The 29-year old pitcher from the Dominican Republic pitched 200 or more innings in three of the last four seasons coming into 2012. This meant he was keeping his team in the game enough to remain in the game himself. And he was staying healthy. In 2012, Santana did not have any significant injury, at least that was revealed, but yet pitched 50 less innings than in 2011. Since he was making his starts, 30 of them to be exact, the fewer innings-pitched means he wasn't going as deep into games. And that could be a sign of a hidden issue.
The first place I like to start when analyzing whether a pitcher is concealing an injury is velocity. I'm clearly not a doctor, so I use what I have. In this case, we can determine whether Santana has had significant drop-offs in velocity for certain pitches where velocity is important.
Let's start with Santana's career averages:
Courtesy of Brooksbaseball.net
Santana has averaged 93.63 mph on his fourseam fastball. His sinker wasn't far behind at 93.29 mph. These are blazing speeds, but they are good enough, and they include his velocities from 2012. So the question is, was there a drop in 2012?
Courtesy of Brooksbaseball.net
In 2012, Santana lost over one mph in velocity on his fourseam fastball - 1.24 mph to be exact. According to the PitchFx data, he stopped throwing his sinker altogether, so we don't have a comparison point there. But we can see the fastball clearly lost velocity.
The next concern for a pitcher concealing injury is control. Santana actually walked fewer batters in 2012 than he did in 2011. He walked 61 batters compared with 72 in 2011. But don't be fooled by the raw numbers. Remember, he pitched 50 less innings in 2012. If we look at BB/9 (walks per nine innings), we see Santana averaged more walks in 2012. He had a BB/9 of 3.1 this past season and 2.8 in 2011.
One final consideration is Santana's release point. Sometimes when a pitcher is injured, they will change their vertical release point, which means they will throw more sidearm than over the top. In fact, many sidearm pitchers started throwing that way after an injury. In Santana's case, there is a noticeable difference in his vertical release point on a year-by-year basis, especially in 2012.
Santana has a straight over the top release point in 2007. Then, there was a drastic decline into the 2008 season. From there, Santana worked on improving his release point, but last season we saw another drop off for all pitches. The drop-off was not as drastic as after his first season, but it is worth noting based on Santana's struggles in 2012.
What does this all mean? That's for you to decide. Did the Royals just get an injured pitcher who refuses to admit the injury? Or, did Kansas City get a pitcher who can return to something closer to his 2011 form? We won't know the answers to these questions until next season starts, but based on the numbers, the trade should be concerning.
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