Do you #SmellBaseball? Do you have a Twitter account? You're probably followed by Ervin Santana, whose name has been boiling on top of the hot stove*. We already know a lot about Ervin; he was a solid pitcher for the Royals in 2013. He wasn't the same pitcher in 2014.
*I like to imagine the hot stove of the offseason as a literal giant hot stove. Each player gets his own heating element and a saucepan of water. The media runs around like a rookery of penguins turning on and off the controls to each heating element according to which names have popped up in their ether of sources. Thus, the player is boiling when the media has turned on his hot stove controls. Anyone want pasta now? I do.
Sources say that the Royals are meeting with Santana's agent in Arizona this week. Good stuff. What might Santana's price be? Keep in mind that any contract predictions probably don't take into account the draft pick the Royals would be giving up. The Royals have the 25th pick, the surplus value of which is roughly $8M (Tweet below). The Royals will almost certainly receive a pick when James Shields signs elsewhere, but I won't be taking that into account. The Royals will be sacrificing a pick by signing Santana whether or not they receive one in return for Shields. It's 1 pick vs. 2 picks. If I am incorrect in saying that the Royals will give up the 25th pick by signing Santana, please correct me.
If you're playing along at home, the nth overall baseball draft pick has an expected surplus value of around $40M/sqrt(n).— Christopher D. Long (@octonion) November 10, 2014
The FanGraphs crowdsourcing project predicts 3 years, $39M (median prediction). MLB Trade Rumors predicts 4 years, $56M. Add $8M to each, and you get 3 years, $47M ($15.7M AAV) and 4 years, $64M ($16M AAV). Santana would need to be worth something like 8 wins over 3 years or 10-11 wins over 4 years, depending on what you use for your $/win estimates and how you see inflation shaking out. Let's apply an aging curve, I suppose? Steamer is being silly and projects Santana for 1 inning in 2015, so I'm not really sure what Santana is projected for next year. Let's call it 2.5 fWAR after 2.9 fWAR in KC in 2013 and 2.8 fWAR in Atlanta in 2014. Santana will be 32 at the beginning of the 2015 season.
2017--1.5 fWAR (6 fWAR over 3 years)
2018--1.0 fWAR (7 fWAR over 4 years)
Santana would need to be on the upper end of projections each year to provide appropriate production for the prices predicted by those 2 sources. If you don't think the pick the Royals would sacrifice is worth $8M, then signing Santana for those prices looks much better. Santana is probably in line to produce $39M worth of value over the next 3 years.
Anyway, I noted at the beginning that Santana wasn't quite the same pitcher in 2014 compared to his time with the Royals. This graph will show you why.
The changeup is the most important difference, among other big differences. He just about doubled the changeup's usage. Jeff Sullivan looked at how Santana was using the changeup early in 2014. Gratuitous use of gifs in the article, but Sullivan's work is good.
Take a look at another graph, which gets more specific as to how Santana used his changeup.
Against lefties, Santana threw his changeup a bunch, and he showed confidence to throw it in any count. Against lefties, Santana was a 4 pitch pitcher. He used his changeup far less in 2013 with the Royals. Against righties, he was basically the same guy. His slider still makes RHH look like fools. Now, this usage pattern didn't necessarily decrease his platoon split; there basically wasn't a platoon split during 2013 with the Royals, but in 2014 his platoon split matched his career platoon split. I would expect that Ervin's mostly 2 pitch nature would lead him to get crushed by lefties as he has aged, but the introduction of a changeup and a sinker has perhaps staved off that precipitous decline. Pure speculation.
Here are some different stats comparing his time in KC to his time in Atlanta.
His strikeout rate increased more than his walk rate increased, and he gave up fewer home runs. That's all really awesome. Things possibly outside his control, BABIP and LOB%, increased. Not awesome. Atlanta has a pretty good defense, so I don't think you can pin the ERA-FIP discrepancy, BABIP, and LOB% values on the defense.
On the other hand, I went through his production allowed by batted ball type in 2013 and 2014. Here are those numbers.
|Year||Rel GB||Rel LD||Rel FB|
Santana had a great year in KC for contact management, except on fly balls. Those numbers regressed pretty close to the mean in 2014; I don't think it's evidence of a decline in contact management skills. I doubt Santana has any specific contact management skills. He's probably just average like most pitchers in this regard, subject to the whims of defense, park, and luck. Given the data we have, I would be willing to pin the ERA-FIP difference in 2014 almost entirely on luck.
Bottom line time. Santana has been fairly durable (though the high slider usage worries some); the Royals will like this. Santana found and effectively used a changeup in 2014; this is good. It helped out his strikeout rate since players have to worry about more pitches in all counts. Santana now has a 2 year track record of good, consistent performance. The Royals will like this. The addition of the changeup to his repertoire might help stave off a typical aging decline. Might. Maybe it's a graceful decline instead. If the Royals have to spend money on a free agent starter, Santana is a pretty solid choice.