Ervin Santana Isn't Worth What He Thinks He Is
The market for free-agent starter Ervin Santana has been a slow-moving one so far this winter, with only a few teams reportedly interested in signing the now 31-year-old right hander. While the Detroit Tigers expressed at least some interest in the veteran this week, a signing does not seem to be imminent at this juncture, and any intrigue brought forth by the Minnesota Twins has evidently dissolved.
Two main reasons behind the stagnant market include the fact that A.) whichever team that signs him will forfeit rights to its first-round draft pick next summer, as he was classified as a 'type A' free agent at the beginning of free agency, and B.) that the nine-year veteran's asking price has been ridiculously high, reportedly in the ballpark of $112 million over five years -- enough for a whopping $22.4 million average salary over his desired contract length.
Is Santana worth that amount of dough? I don't think so. And neither should you.
Ervin Santana vs. league-average marks in 2013
Though Santana's 2013 campaign was impressive in several respects, including matching his career mark with a 127 ERA+ and 1.14 WHIP that ranks second-best -- his career-best was 1.12 in 2008 -- his basic numbers last season were not particularly breathtaking, especially compared to the league average mark for right-handed starters. Though he relinquished on average nearly a half run less per nine innings (3.24) than the league mark (3.63), he was essentially on par with every league-average category included in the table above.
Santana's plea for $22.4 million per year is made even more futile when we look at his current arsenal.
Comparing Santana's fastball in-play rate vs. league average
Looking at Santana's fastball results juxtaposed to the league marks last season, we see the pitch was well below average in many respects. While he held opponents to a .272 batting average, which was essentially equal to the .269 league average, opponents put the offering in play at a league-high 50.7% clip (shown and compared to the league-average mark in the image above) and placed quality contact on it at a high frequency, posting a .286 well-hit average that was fifth-highest amoung qualified righty startes last season. While he managed to post a lower walk rate (7.1%) than the league mark (8.4%), his strikeout rate of 9.7% was nearly half the 16% average mark, ranking sixth-worst among his counterparts.
Since we've established that Santana's fastball is below-average almost across the board, we must turn to his slider to see how it stacks up against the league mark. Since this is clearly his No. 2 offering (he threw it 39% of the time and his changeup at just a 5.1% clip last season, and opponents hit .353/.389/.588 against it), this should give us a good idea of whether Santana is worth what he thinks he is.
If his slider was ridiculously dominant in most categories, it might make up for his lagging fastball and the money could theoretically be presented to him. If it was below or approximately at the league average mark, then we know for sure that his desired $22.4 million over five years probably won't (and shouldn't) come to fruition.
Comparing Santana's slider swing rate vs. league average
Comparing the swing rate of Santana's slider to last season's league mark, we see his offering generated at least a bit more swings on pitches out of the strike zone. And the statistical evidence backs this observation -- Santana's slider posted a 38% chase rate (fourth-best among qualified right-handed starters) opposed to the 33.0% league mark, and 38.4% miss rate (6.9% above the average mark). Consequently, this gave Santana's offering a 35.1% strikeout rate (5.3% higher than average), which contributed to the bulk of his punchouts last season. But in total, opponents offered at only 48.6% of Santana's sliders last season, and that was actually below the 49% league average.
While Santana's slider was above the league mark in most respects last season, it wasn't a dominant offering. Given that his fastball was so ineffective across the board, these findings show that Santana's arsenal is below average altogether, which should convince us all that he should under no circumstances receive $22.4 million on average with his new team over the next five seasons. It just wouldn't make much financial sense.