Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.
When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.
This time, I’m taking a look at White Sox swingman Hector Santiago.
A minor league starter who never even reached Triple-A and didn’t have great numbers in Double-A (74/39 K/BB in 83 1/3 IP), Hector Santiago seemed like an odd choice for a September callup, but he acquitted himself quite well, with a 1-2-3 inning in his debut and 4 1/3 scoreless innings in his other outing. He allowed just two baserunners while striking out two.
The 23-year-old lefthander has one of the most interesting arsenals out there, which is saying something considering he basically is a two-pitch pitcher. Those two pitches are a 92-96 mph tailing fastball…and a 70-80 mph screwball.
You certainly don’t see screwballs often, and when you do, they almost always come from finesse pitchers–the three I can remember recently were Danny Ray Herrera, Dallas Braden, and Carlos Guevara, none of whom could get their fastballs above 90.
Santiago basically had a 2/1 split between fastballs and screwballs in the majors, and he also threw a pair of low-80′s sliders.
As you might expect from a guy who relies heavily on a screwball, Santiago’s demonstrated a reverse platoon split in the past–for example, he walked more Double-A lefties than he struck out this season. That’s because he’s essentially a one-pitch pitcher to his fellow southpaws–26 of his 29 MLB pitches to lefties were fastballs. And outside fastballs, at that:
Santiago’s compact delivery (which actually looks a bit like a cross between Braden’s and Herrera’s, ironically) does provide some deception to lefties, and his heater has the velocity and action to confound them, but he’ll need to play to the fastball’s strengths and let it run inside more if he’s going to be effective to lefties. He could also stand to break out the slider or screwball more just to give them a different look.
He worked righties mostly away as well:
He seems to do a nice job, from this incredibly small sample, at locating the screwball away, although in the long run it’s going to be tough for him to throw a mid-70′s pitch over half the time to right-handed batters.
Since he’s more effective to righties, it would seem that Santiago is better cast as a starter than a reliever, but one has to wonder how he’d fare facing lineups three times per game with this sort of predictable approach.
I could see Santiago as the AL version of Josh Collmenter–an oddity that nobody really takes seriously as a prospect but who suddenly arrives as a fully-formed solid MLB pitcher, third pitch be damned. In order to do that, though, he’ll need to claim both sides of the plate as his–he’s just not going to survive throwing only a fastball to lefties and mostly a screwball to righties if he doesn’t at least mix up his locations.
If he’s pushed to relief, he could be the AL’s Mark DiFelice, as a one-trick pony who somehow makes it keep working, but in an era of hyper-specialized bullpens, would a manager understand how to use him?
For more on the White Sox, check out Southside Showdown!