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  • Is Ervin Santana Really A Midseason Addition?


    Ted Schwerzler

    In just a few more days, the Minnesota Twins will be afforded the opportunity to see their $55 million free agent acquisition in action. After serving his performance-enhancing drug related suspension, Ervin Santana will rejoin the 25-man roster and the starting rotation for the Twins.

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    With the Twins pitching staff being where it is in 2015, what the Twins should expect from Santana remains somewhat of a mystery.

    After four years of futility from their starters, the Twins have seemingly turned a corner in 2015. No longer ranking at the bottom of the big leagues, Minnesota has finally opened a door that has afforded both more quality, and a higher quantity of starting pitchers. 16th in the majors when it comes to team ERA (3.87), and eighth in the American League, the Twins are in a much better place. Still dead last in the big leagues in strikeouts (439) and 27th in batting average against (.271), the Twins have plenty of reasons to work towards continued improvement.

    It's fair to question how Santana plays into that equation, however.

    As things stand currently, the Twins have some difficult decisions to make regarding the rotation. Phil Hughes is the staff ace, despite owning a 4.20 ERA. Hurt by the long ball in 2015, Hughes has taken steps back, but is still a lock amongst the group for years to come. Kyle Gibson and Trevor May highlight the young core of the rotation. Both top draft picks, Gibson has been one of the club's best pitchers, and May has operated as the ace for the majority of the season. That leaves Mike Pelfrey and Tommy Milone.

    Pelfrey continues to defy odds and owns a club best 3.06 ERA. Despite striking out next to no one, Pelfrey has gotten the job done after being sent to the bullpen out of spring training. Milone was jettisoned to Triple-A Rochester earlier this season, and after tearing up the farm, he's been on fire since his return. In five games since his return Milone has thrown to the tune of a 2.03 ERA and .246/.288/.364 slash line against. So how does Santana fit?

    Most seem to be operating under the impression that it's Milone who could be sent packing. With team control, and the ability to send him back to Triple-A, the former Athletics pitcher possesses the most flexibility. Ideally, a trade of Pelfrey would happen, but there's no doubt his value is not high around the league. No matter who is moved out of the starting five however, the addition of Santana may not be what it seems.

    Last season, Santana pitched in the National League for the first time in his career. His 3.95 ERA was backed by a 3.39 FIP (fielding independent pitching) mark. Despite being better than his final ERA suggested, Santana is far from a lights out pitcher. Owning a career 4.26 FIP in front of better fielding teams, there could be some cause for concern. Hovering around the high 3.00 ERA mark for the majority of his career, Santana's biggest asset to the Twins may be in his 7.2 career K/9, easily ranking among the best on the Twins staff.

    There's little doubt that Santana would fall in the category of a quality arm added into the rotation. In recent seasons, the Twins have needed to push more quantity to the mound than anything else. However, expecting Santana to come in and light the world on fire seems farfetched as well. Considering the staff has been pitching well of late, the shuffling of that chemistry and those arms could come at a cost for Minnesota.

    The Twins have a good problem in that they have more quality arms than they know what to do with. Right now though, Santana remains a wild card, and until Minnesota finds out exactly what he is going to bring, the hurt or gain from moving around Milone or another starter won't be felt.

    Despite being a long-term concern, it's also fair to suggest this problem may again rear its head in September. Due to his suspension. Santana is not eligible to pitch in the postseason. Should the Twins remain in the hunt, another rotation shuffle would need to take place before playoff baseball kicks off. Inserting Milone or someone else back in to Santana's spot after a demotion, and knowing production is immediately necessary, could also be a tough task.

    Of course the Twins did the right thing this offseason in bringing in a proven veteran to bolster the staff. Santana sitting out, and now needing to be brought in, brings a lot of questions as a midseason addition. The Twins are being forced to make a change that could bring a result they weren't initially planning on.

    For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

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    Ervin Santana throws a slider that is one of the most devastating strike-out pitches in MLB. The Twins have no other pitcher with a comparable strikeout pitch. If you saw him pitch last season and this spring (after he started using all his pitches), you shouldn't be suggesting that any pitcher in the current rotation should keep their spot ahead of him. If you know anyone who has faced Ervin Santana's 2014-2015 slider, ask them what they think of it.

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    "Despite being a long-term concern, it's also fair to suggest this problem may again rear its head in September. Due to his suspension. Santana is not eligible to pitch in the postseason. Should the Twins remain in the hunt, another rotation shuffle would need to take place before playoff baseball kicks off. Inserting Milone or someone else back in to Santana's spot after a demotion, and knowing production is immediately necessary, could also be a tough task."

     

    Nitpic...but this probably isn't true.

     

    The way postseasons are set up, teams rarely use five starters. Santana can pitch through the regular season end. Then, Were the Twins to make the postseason, they could simply drop Santana from the rotation and go with the other four. They would likely go with four anyway, they just wouldn't have the option of Santana being one of the four.

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    The answer to the question the title of the article poses is quite simply yes. A thousand times yes. Please anybody raise their hand and tell me Ervin Santana isn't a better pitcher than Mike Pelfry. The hand wringing over this "dilemma" is ridiculous.

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    @RhettBollinger: Molitor said May's move to bullpen isn't permanent. Also a nice way to give him a break in the short-term and limit his inning total.

    Wait!  Did they officially move MAY to the bullpen?

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    That's what I expected to happen.

    Not really sure how I feel about it. I want May in the rotation but he could be a fierce bullpen arm and the Twins need that in a big way.

    I applaud your ability to predict the Twins to do the dumbest things :-)  Here I was naive enough to give them credit in advance for starting to finally look at things differently. 

    Edited by jimmer
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    I applaud your ability to predict the Twins to do the dumbest things :-) Here I was naive enough to give them credit in advance for starting to finally look at things differently.

    I'm not convinced it's that dumb. Yeah, in a perfect world you want May in the rotation and he's not the worst starter by any measure... But right now, the rotation is serviceable. The bullpen is not.

     

    It's possible that this is the biggest net gain for the team because it gives Molitor three good to great strikeout pitchers to go 7-8-9 and shut down games. Kansas City has used the model "serviceable rotation, ferocious bullpen" for a few years and it has worked brilliantly for them.

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    I'm not convinced it's that dumb. Yeah, in a perfect world you want May in the rotation and he's not the worst starter by any measure... But right now, the rotation is serviceable. The bullpen is not.

    It's possible that this is the biggest net gain for the team because it gives Molitor three good to great strikeout pitchers to go 7-8-9 and shut down games. Kansas City has used the model "serviceable rotation, ferocious bullpen" for a few years and it has worked brilliantly for them.

    I know you aren't.  I am though. IMO, he's been our best pitcher (or at least he and Gibson) and he has a future with this team. I've gone over plenty of reasons/validations for this move and none of them outweighs the fact he's arguably the best guy in our rotation right now and that doesn't warrant a demotion...which IS what this is.

    Edited by jimmer
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    Put me down for Pelf in the bullpen. Two stinkers in his past four starts, offset by one really good game. He seems like the obvious candidate at the moment when ESan gets activated.

     

    I guess it wasn't that obvious to the powers that be...

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    I really, really don't like that decision. This just stinks of veteran coddling.

    I agree it feels that way with Pelfrey but I don't see why the Twins would cater to Milone. They didn't hesitate to demote the guy earlier in the season.
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    I know you aren't. I am though. IMO, he's been our best pitcher (or at least he and Gibson) and he has a future with this team. I've gone over plenty of reasons/validations for this move and none of them outweighs the fact he's arguably the best guy in our rotation right now and that doesn't warrant a demotion...which IS what this is.

    In the long run, I completely agree but right now, the team is handing away far too many games in late innings. May could stop that bleeding immediately. I'm doubtful whether Pelfrey or Milone would have the same effect.
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