Studies in irregularities: Hector Santiago's season and the White Sox rotation

USA TODAY Sports

Despite a lack of a normal schedule and a lack of righties, both are holding up just fine right now

Most traditional pitching statistics do a nice job of showing the nice job Hector Santiago has done this year for the White Sox. After Sunday's victory over Oakland, Santiago lowered his ERA to 3.12, with 52 strikeouts over 52 innings. He's walking more batters than recommended (26), but opponents are hitting just .226 off him, resulting in a respectable WHIP.

But that's also a boring way to talk about Santiago's season. You know what's better? Looking at Hector Santiago's season in terms of rest, batters faced, and pitch count.

G Date DR BF Pit
1 April 4 10 48
2 April 10 5 3 13
3 April 11 0 9 32
4 April 15 3 4 16
5 April 16 0 5 20
6 April 20 3 5 24
7 April 27 6 22 87
8 May 2 4 20 92
9 May 7 4 27 111
10 May 13 5 27 109
11 May 18 4 18 80
12 May 22 3 24 107
13 May 29 6 7 25
14 June 1 2 11 46
15 June 4 2 2 12
16 June 5 0 2 9
17 June 9 3
25 107

Santiago threw more pitches on Sunday than he had in his previous four outings combined. He also technically started on short rest -- it's not quite the same as somebody throwing 110 pitches four days apart, but it's far from routine.

What's funny is that neither of these are remarkable anymore. The last time Santiago threw 107 pitches, he was on short-notice short rest, pitching a day earlier than normal because Chris Sale's shoulder was barking. And he didn't even get enough time to adjust his schedule, as his coaches informed him of the change after he'd thrown his bullpen session. After chain of events, throwing 107 pitches three days after back-to-back short-relief appearances isn't that big of a deal.

Santiago has served as platelets for the pitching staff, stopping the flow of unaccounted innings from getting into less qualified hands. But I hope there's something of a trickle-down effect when it comes to his attitude. For example, you'll often see closers excused for struggling when pitching in situations that aren't tailored for them -- a non-save situation, tie games, multiple innings -- and these are guys who are paid $10+ million because of their mental toughness. But if you're Addison Reed and you're watching Santiago take the ball in all sorts of crazy situations and throw until he's told to stop, I can't imagine you could complain about the indignity of having to pitch in a tie game on the road.

(Fortunately, Reed's proven to be game for anything himself. He just happens to be the closer for this hypothetical.)

Star-divide

Santiago's schedule will settle down for the next month or so, since he's taking Jake Peavy's starts. That switch causes another strange deployment situation, as the Sox rotation comprises four left-handed starters.

The Sox used all four against Oakland, which was the first time the Sox started southpaws throughout a four-game series since 1980. This particular series seemed to be a good test for the four-lefty plan, considering:

  • The A's entered the series on a roll, having won 11 of 13.
  • The Oakland lineup features two switch-hitters and platoons at catcher, first base and an outfield position.
  • Coming off a 16-inning bullpen-drainer, White Sox starters had to pitch for as long as possible.

While the Sox took gut punches on Thursday and Friday, forcing them to scramble for a split, these kinds of performances should win more games than they lose:

Date IP H R ER HR BB K
Jose Quintana June 6 7.2 6 4 4 0 2 3
Chris Sale
June 7 7.1 5 4 4 1 2 6
John Danks June 8 8 3 1 1 0 1 6
Hector Santiago June 9 6.1 4 2 1 1 3 6

It's a mite foolish to expect Danks to repeat his Saturday line on a regular basis, but otherwise, this first full cycle reflects what Bill Parker wrote at MLB Daily Dish back in January, when he explored the history of lefty-heavy rotations:

As we expected at the outset, history hasn't had much to tell us. Teams with a disproportionate number of left-handed starters may tend to struggle a bit, relatively speaking, against the majority of hitters who are left-handed, but they've got a very large advantage against the left-handed ones, and it all seems to more or less come out in the wash. Or, rather: there probably are some very real advantages and disadvantages to running a lefty-dominated rotation, but the impact of those differences is likely dwarfed by a number of other factors, including -- and most notably -- the actual skill of the pitchers involved.

In this case, the skill of the lefties isn't what's going to make or break the team -- it's the Sox's (in)ability to score a reasonable amount of runs on a reliable basis that will ultimately determine whether they can dig out of this hole.

There's nothing new to report there, but we can update the my favorite stat of the season. The Sox may be riding a two-game winning streak, but they lowered the average amount of runs scored in their winning efforts:

Team Wins Runs per win
A's 38 8.68
Tigers 35 7.14
Indians 30 6.97
Red Sox 39 6.90
Blue Jays 27 6.89
Rays 34 6.38
Rangers 37 6.19
Astros 22 6.09
Twins 27 6.04
Angels 27 6.04
Orioles 35 6.03
Royals 28 5.75
Yankees 37 5.49
Mariners 27 5.18
White Sox 27 4.30
Average 31 6.29
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