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Article: Where Are We Now? (152 Down, 10 To Go)

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 06:29 AM
On Wednesday, the Twins lost in New York to the Yankees (Rinse. Repeat.) Fortunately, the Twins got help from the American League Central...
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Should the Twins offer Mauer a Koivu-like extension?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 06:27 AM
Wild GM made a shrewd move I thought giving Koivu an extension at an affordable price in a cap-driven world.   No cap in baseball. N...
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Article: MIN 12, DET 1: Once Again, The Twins Bounce Back

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 05:44 AM
That’s more like it! After a demoralizing sweep, the Twins opened up a stretch in which they’ll face the Tigers in seven of their final 1...
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Article: Game Thread: Twins @ Tigers, 9/21@6:10pm CT

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 05:44 AM
New York was absolutely no fun at all, but it’s ok… we got time to have some fun yet. We have a 4-game series in Detroit that begins toni...
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Can Hector Santiago Elevate and Dominate?

Hector Santiago is a fascinating pitcher in that he defies all the advanced metrics. Taking into account all the best ERA predictors, it makes no sense that from 2012-15 he managed a 3.84 ERA, which is identical to Jon Lester's mark over that same span.

A big part of what made the difference for Santiago was that he was as tough as nails when pitching with runners in scoring position. His performance with runners on slipped last season, along with the majority of his other stats.

The sabermetric community appears to have taken the stance that Hector's luck finally ran out, but is it that simple? Does he not get any benefit of the doubt for being a solid starter for over 500 innings prior to last season?
Image courtesy of Gary A Vasquez, USA Today
First impressions are important, but everyone deserves a second chance. Santiago got off to an absolutely rotten start with the Twins, but he ended the season pitching well, and there’s reason to believe he could in line for a bounce-back year.

Over his final seven starts of 2016, Santiago posted a 3.19 ERA and 1.23 WHIP while limiting hitters to a .207/.294/.389 line. He also may stand to benefit from recent changes in hitting philosophy. Santiago may be the perfect antidote to the "elevate and celebrate" trend so many hitters seem to have (justifiably) gotten behind.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs recently wrote a pieceabout how pitchers could adjust to that trend. I don't want to give away the whole article (it's well worth your time), but in it Sullivan makes a pretty significant discovery: Homer rates are trending up, but only on pitches in the lower and middle third of the zone. The takeaway?

"... conventional wisdom has said the best way to avoid a home run is to pitch down. In truth, at least now, it’s probably to pitch up. High fastballs are associated with homers, but they should really be associated with pop-ups and empty whiffs."

It just so happens Santiago’s fastball is pretty nasty up in the zone. His career swinging strike percentage is 8.1%, but that number skyrockets on heaters in the upper third of the strike zone, according to data from BrooksBaseball.
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To put that into perspective, neither Clayton Kershaw nor Stephen Strasburg have a single spot on the grid where their fastballs have a whiff rate of 20 percent, let alone three. Taking a look at the zone profile of slugging percentage against Santiago over his career, you can see even more evidence that staying up in the zone may be advantageous.
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With a defense led by Byron “Death To Flying Things” Buxton, the Twins are expected to be above average in the outfield. The infield? Not so much, particularly on the left side. Toss in the fact that BABIP is much higher on ground balls than fly balls and it seems to make a lot of sense for Santiago to try to continue his extreme fly ball ways. He led all qualified pitchers with a 50 percent fly ball rate last season.

The Castro bump

You can’t talk about Twins pitching these days without dropping the F Word: Framing. What did you think I was gonna say?

With the arrival of pitch-presenting guru Jason Castro, the hope is the entire Twins staff will take a step forward, but it seems nobody wants to divvy out any of that hope to Hector. Well, Castro's strengths should actually be particularly well-suited to benefit Santiago. Here's a look at Santiago’s called strike percentage against right-handed hitters from FanGraphs:
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It's very difficult for lefty pitchers to get that up and away corner called as a strike against right-handed batters, but if anybody's going to help it's Jason Castro. Parker Hageman recently wrote an excellent piece on Castro's framing, er ... proper receiving. In that article, was this graphic showing where Castro excelled in getting strikes called:

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Castro is a wizard at getting outside strikes called on right-handed batters. Dallas Keuchel, a lefty who has thrown primarily to Castro over his career, gets that high and outside pitch to right-handers called strike called 61 percent of the time. Even a small improvement for Santiago up from 54 percent could go a long way toward him becoming a more effective pitcher.

There's also evidence that Santiago has benefited from working with other good pitch framers in the past. Here is a breakdown of all the catchers he’s pitched to for at least 50 innings, sorted by ERA:

A.J. Pierzynski: 2.84 ERA, .639 OPS
Geovany Soto: 3.00 ERA, .653 OPS
Tyler Flowers: 3.41 ERA, .692 OPS
Hank Conger: 3.47 ERA, .660 OPS
Chris Iannetta: 3.74 ERA, .727 OPS
Carlos Perez: 4.26 ERA, .766 OPS

The only one of those guys who rated out as a below-average framer during his time as a teammate of Santiago’s, according to StatCorner, is Perez (-6.6 RAA over last two seasons). Santiago had the least amount of success working with Perez. Hmm ...

Infield flys rule

Another part of the “secret sauce” that has made Santiago a deceptively good pitcher his his ability to induce popups. Santiago ranked ninth among qualified pitchers with a 13.5 IFFB percentage last season. If a pitcher can get a high percentage of strikeouts and infield fly balls, good things are going to happen. Here's a look at how Twins pitchers have fared in those categories over the past five seasons:

Santiago: 20.5 K% + 12.1 IFFB% = 32.6
Hughes: 18.6 + 11.5 = 30.1
Santana: 19.3 + 9.5 = 28.8
Gibson: 15.6 + 10.0 = 25.6

What about the WBC?

Santiago has been away from the team, pitching in a long relief role for Puerto Rico, but it would appear he's still in good shape to be ready for the regular season. Here's a summary of all his appearances this spring:

Feb. 28: 12 pitches
March 5: 24 pitches
March 11: 42 pitches
March 14: 52 pitches
March 20: 63 pitches

Santiago is scheduled to start for the Twins Sunday. I’d imagine he can crank it up to 80 or so pitches in that start before flirting with 100 in his final warmup game of the spring. Having pitchers in the WBC isn't ideal, but Hector looks like should be ready to go. Plus, I imagine he may have learned a thing or two working with Yadier Molina the past few weeks, so maybe that time away from the team turns out to be beneficial.

So, he’s Cy Santiago?

I’d love to wrap this up by making some bold prediction that Hector is going to be the ace of the staff and lead the Twins rotation back to respectability, but that’s probably not going to happen. Santiago’s command is spotty, his strikeout rate dropped to a career low last season and you can expect him to still give up his share of walks and home runs.

But can we be optimistic about Santiago delivering a solid season? Something in line with his career averages prior to last year? I think so, yet most Twins fans are trying to find ways to run him out of town.

There’s a reason Hector has made it this far. When he was drafted in the 30th round, he threw a fastball and … nope, that’s it. One pitch. Over time, he evolved a diverse enough pitch mix to become an effective major league starter.

He’s been making adjustments his entire career. It seems unwise to count him out now, especially if you have any faith in Derek Falvey’s ability to foster a pitching staff. Santiago is also hitting free agency for the first time at the end of the year, so there’s all the incentive in the world for him to spin out a good season.

Hector Santiago’s time with the Minnesota Twins didn’t get off on the right foot, but he deserves another chance.

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50 Comments

I wish you convinced me, but you did not.  Call me the pitch framing skeptic - have you read the scouts report in Sports Illustrated - calling Suzuki a much better catcher?  Play with stats all you want, Castro is okay, Santiago is a filler and neither are going to move the Twins up the standing - the only things we have going for us is that the White Sox are writing off this season, KC is going downhill, the Tigers only need a couple pulled muscles in their old crew!

    • sploorp likes this

 

- have you read the scouts report in Sports Illustrated - calling Suzuki a much better catcher?

 

Link.

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Deduno Abides
Mar 23 2017 09:28 PM
His secondary pitches have always been mediocre or worse, as you alluded to in your article, and both scouts and stats say that his fastball last year was much worse than ever. Fastballs rarely get better with age, so Santiago's going to have to greatly and suddenly improve his secondary pitches in order not to suck. Even if Castro turns out to be the Picasso of pitch framing, the pitches have to get past the hitter for that to matter.


I suppose the upside of Santiago is that Buxton will have a lot of opportunities to make a case for a gold glove, as long as he doesn't get injured chasing the lasers Santiago is going to give up.
    • sploorp, d-mac and D.C Twins like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Mar 23 2017 09:31 PM
I love that high zone whiff rate. It will be worth watching Santiago's starts just to hear Bert say he needs to keep the ball down.
    • Oldgoat_MN, Willihammer, Deduno Abides and 2 others like this

Nice research, but the answer to the question is still a simple no.

    • d-mac likes this

 

I wish you convinced me, but you did not.  Call me the pitch framing skeptic - have you read the scouts report in Sports Illustrated - calling Suzuki a much better catcher?  Play with stats all you want, Castro is okay, Santiago is a filler and neither are going to move the Twins up the standing - the only things we have going for us is that the White Sox are writing off this season, KC is going downhill, the Tigers only need a couple pulled muscles in their old crew!

SI really ripped the Twins chances of even being respectable this year!!!!!

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tarheeltwinsfan
Mar 24 2017 06:35 AM

Lots of infield pop-ups +Sano at 3B = potential problems unless Sano improves his ability to catch pop-ups from what we saw last year.

I'm very skeptical. The only thing that Santiago has going for him is his ERA, and that is clearly helped out by pitching in Anaheim (one of the top-5 pitcher parks, particularly against RHHs) in front of one of the best defenses (3rd in UZR from 2014-2016). And despite ballpark advantage, he STILL had a home run problem - one of the 5-10 worst pichers at HR/9 from 2014-2016. I think home runs will be a real problem for him this year.

    • Deduno Abides, sploorp and d-mac like this
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woolywoolhouse
Mar 24 2017 07:00 AM

 

Link.

 

I don't have the link, but I have the SI (2017 MLB Preview) in front of me. Here's what "a rival scout" wrote:

 

"They [Twins] gave Jason Castro a lot of money to be their front-line guy. They had a good defensive catcher in Kurt Suzuki and let him walk. I would rather have Suzuki than Castro..."

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woolywoolhouse
Mar 24 2017 07:03 AM

 

I don't have the link, but I have the SI (2017 MLB Preview) in front of me. Here's what "a rival scout" wrote:

 

"They [Twins] gave Jason Castro a lot of money to be their front-line guy. They had a good defensive catcher in Kurt Suzuki and let him walk. I would rather have Suzuki than Castro..."

 

Same scout said: Twins should have definitely moved Dozier (but doesn't say for what or whom); Sano is not good at third; Buxton needs to bunt; and - while admitting Rosario and Kepler both have strong arms - neither are offensive players, which is what teams need from their corner outfielders. 

    • Mike Frasier Law, ThejacKmp and sploorp like this

It's a well reasoned argument, but there continues to be "something" about Santiago that keeps me from buying in. I think it all comes back to the numbers not quite making sense. I like logical data, and Santiago's seems to fly in the face of logic more often than not. 

 

I see him as Ricky Nolasco by a different name. There will be some great starts, along with some total duds, but he'll mostly be mediocre. Certainly not someone I'd want to write into my rotation in pen. He'll do until there's a better alternative - but nothing more. 

Wow! Over 1300 words on why we can have at least some optimism regarding Santiago and you get no positive comments at all. I guess the lines:

 

But can we be optimistic about Santiago delivering a solid season? Something in line with his career averages prior to last year? I think so, yet most Twins fans are trying to find ways to run him out of town.

 

were not changing any minds at all. Everyone still wants to run him out of town!

One of the comments even refers to Santiago's age (he's younger than Gibson).

Here are a few things I would not put money on regarding Santiago in 2017:

> being an All-Star pitcher

> being below league average.

> being worse than Gibson

 

I think the article showed exactly why there is room for optimism. No idea how all the optimism around ESan having another really strong year, Hughes coming back from surgery and performing well, Duffey and Gibson ignoring last year and recreating their 2015 seasons and Berrios and Mejia pitching well in MLB ran out when it got to Santiago.

 

Guess people just don't like him.

 

    • Blake, gil4, Mike Frasier Law and 7 others like this

criminy, it's March still.  I'm buying this cool cup of Kool-Aid.  Well done, Tom.

 

As for that rival scout quoted by SI; he doesn't work for the Phillies, does he?

 

Sports media goes with narratives.  The popular, and easy narrative, is that the Twins suck, they're old school and resistant to change, so far behind the curve that they're almost ahead of it.  

 

    • Mike Frasier Law, Hosken Bombo Disco, Deduno Abides and 3 others like this
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Willihammer
Mar 24 2017 07:33 AM

I love that high zone whiff rate. It will be worth watching Santiago's starts just to hear Bert say he needs to keep the ball down.

He'll get away with 19 pitches up there then on the 20th one is cranked for a double. "That's why you gotta keep the ball down!"
    • USAFChief, woolywoolhouse, Hosken Bombo Disco and 3 others like this

 

Same scout said: Twins should have definitely moved Dozier (but doesn't say for what or whom); Sano is not good at third; Buxton needs to bunt; and - while admitting Rosario and Kepler both have strong arms - neither are offensive players, which is what teams need from their corner outfielders. 

 

Buxton needs to bunt? What is this, 1970?

 

I have never read anyone on the planet, until now, describe Suzuki as a good catcher.

 

edit: has this scout seen the other LFer in the game? Look at the FG projections? 

    • rghrbek likes this

 

I have never read anyone on the planet, until now, describe Suzuki as a good catcher.

 

You must be living in a bubble because that's all Twins fans talked about when he was first signed.

Honestly Santiago could go either direction.  The deciding factor on Santiago will be how the defense performs behind him.  

 

It's difficult to imagine the Twins having a good or elite defense this year.  Betting against Santiago is the safer choice.  

    • sploorp likes this

 

Link.

I will look and see.  I read it in the actual magazine. It is not on the webpage - it was in the text in their MLB team by team break down and was written by an unidentified scout.  I was surprises.  On their web page where they give the Twins a grade of D as their final winter report they reverse that by saying: "Minnesota got better at catcher (Jason Castro is an outstanding pitch framer), which could help lift an uninspiring rotation, but few of the players signed since we took an in-depth look at their off-season moves figure to do much to help the club improve on last year's 103-loss season."

 

I have scanned the article - but they want a url for an image so here is what they said, "They gave Jason Castro a lot of money to their front-line guy.  They had a good degensive catcher in Kurt Suzuki and let him walk.  I would rather have Suzuki than Castro."  

 

He'll get away with 19 pitches up there then on the 20th one is cranked for a double. "That's why you gotta keep the ball down!"

 

I wish we could bookmark this post, and then take bets on what date Bert says this exact quote. 

    • USAFChief and Mike Sixel like this

I'm buying into Santiago being an effective, dare I say, above average starter for this team. If they don't tweak his mechanics too much, and let him pitch "effectively wild" I think he can outperform his FIP once again. 

    • Mike Sixel, Oldgoat_MN and Tom Froemming like this

 

I'm buying into Santiago being an effective, dare I say, above average starter for this team. If they don't tweak his mechanics too much, and let him pitch "effectively wild" I think he can outperform his FIP once again. 

 

this. If they try to make him something the opposite of what has made him successful, then I'll have doubts.

    • Oldgoat_MN, LA VIkes Fan, Tom Froemming and 1 other like this

 

I'm buying into Santiago being an effective, dare I say, above average starter for this team. If they don't tweak his mechanics too much, and let him pitch "effectively wild" I think he can outperform his FIP once again. 

I'm not sure his strategy of "give up a lot of flyballs in a ballpark that suppresses right-handed power" is going to play in Minnesota.

    • d-mac likes this

Some good reasons for optimism pointed out in the article and we have 5 consecutive years of his actual ERA being lower than his FIP with 2 different teams. Yes, as long as we do not try to change him I am cautiously optimistic about Santiago having a good year for us. Good being defined as our 2nd or 3rd best starter and within 10% of his career average stats.  

    • Oldgoat_MN, Hosken Bombo Disco and Tom Froemming like this

 

I'm not sure his strategy of "give up a lot of flyballs in a ballpark that suppresses right-handed power" is going to play in Minnesota.

 

I don't know, it seemed to work briefly for Hughes. I think more importantly, they need to let Santiago pitch the way he always has in the past. When they tried making him pitch with more control last season, he was lit up more than a Christmas tree. 

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Dave The Dastardly
Mar 24 2017 09:39 AM

Interesting article. Can't say as it makes me giddy about Santiago though. But I'm hard to giddy. That's why I haven't bit into the tail-wagging-the-dog (is there a pun in there somewhere?) theory over Obi Wan Castro and pitch framing either. I suppose somebody is going to come up with a nut-cup-adjustment statistic next and high school catchers all over the country will be working on their... balls instead of strikes.

    • Oldgoat_MN, Vanimal46 and Tom Froemming like this

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