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Brushing Up On Sergio Santos

He's an airplane!
He's an airplane!

Everything has been crappy and sad and confusing for two consecutive series.  Everything!  So I'd rather pretend none of that happened and talk about something happy, namely Sergio Santos.  I projected him as a tick above average before the season started and I thought he'd be functional this year while making progress toward Really Good.  Instead, he's more or less repeated his performance in 2010 and the 3.13 ERA projected by the community has been more or less spot on to this point.

As it turned out, his stuff has been maybe even better than he showed in 2010.  His K/PA has gone from a very nice 24% last year to a truly elite 33% in 2011.  He's walked a few more batters per PA so far, but the strikeouts more than make up for it.  In combination, both rates tell the story: Sergio has outstanding stuff and decidedly below average command.  As a reliever, the former significantly outweighs the latter.

Going back to the film, I really wanted to make sure to watch the catchers and see with what kind of frequency Sergio was hitting the glove.  And at first, I was surprised at how well he was doing.  Rarely actually hitting the glove, but largely keeping it close.  Upon further inspection, I realized what was going on: Ramon was setting up more or less right in the middle of the plate for every pitch.

Yeah so the Sox are definitely still treating him with kid gloves.  Which is what you'd expect from a guy with 121 career innings pitched in professional baseball.  To be fair, when AJ caught him he was moving around more than Castro for Sergio, but it was still far less than typical.  And I was hoping I'd see a guy who the Sox could rapidly move to starter, dreaming of a true ace the Sox have long lacked.  But that's just not who is he is right now.  I'm still going to hold out hope way down the road once he gets to the last years of arbitration. It's just definitely not happening next year or the year after. He's too raw.

Which is not to say what he is right now isn't valuable.  He has an opportunity to move into the elite closer club because there are very few pitchers in the majors who have his stuff.  He has three very good pitches.  The fastball is a true four seamer with good vertical movement and obviously plus plus velocity.  He hasn't gotten the number of whiffs you might expect from the kind of fastball he has, but I think it's pretty clear that hitters are sitting dead read on the heater.  Given that he's both wild and has great stuff, it's the obvious strategy.  

Because you definitely can't sit on the slider.  Tons of horizontal movement, solid downward bite and it's usually in the 85 mph range.  Over the course of his major league career, nearly 30% of swings get whiffs.  That's compared to the major league average of less than 14%.  Sure, that number will come down a bit over the years just as a matter of regression.  But that's an insane number.  Hitters have so little time to recognize it given the fastball velo and the movement just makes it all the better.  Might be the best slider in baseball.

The change is no slouch either.  He's gotten whiffs on nearly 18% compared to the under 13% league average.  He still hasn't exactly figured out the feel on it.  Sometimes he throws it so hard that it doubles as legitimate sinker, but when he's got the feel, it's another elite pitch.  If he can figure out how to add and subtract, it could be a pitch he throws to righties to get grounders when he throws the hard version.  Even with his struggles with the pitch, it's still clearly above average with room for improvement.  

And that's pretty much the book on Sergio: he's very good right now but he has an incredible amount of potential.  Very few pitchers can do what he's done to major league hitters and he's doing it with probably bottom quintile MLB command.  Which, yeah, should temper our enthusiasm a bit.  But Don Cooper is our pitching coach and we've got him for at least 4 more seasons after 2011.  Honest to God, he could be a Cy Young winner somewhere down the road.

For those interested, here's the play-by-play from the PAs I watched:

-6/25 Jayson Werth - Ramon is setting up right in the middle of the plate when he asks for the fastball.  Sergio misses up with the first, down and away with the second and finally hits with the third.  He moves a bit in the neighborhood of where he wants it, but he's mostly setting up in the middle of the plate.  Then Werth can't hold up on a check swing for another fastball.  Sergio finishes him off with an absolutely sick slider.  Werth didn't look comfortable the entire at bat.  K.


-6/25 Ian Desmond - Ramon still setting up in the middle of the plate.  First fastball for a strike.  Next two off the plate followed by two pretty near perfect spots.  Last one gets a whiff.  K.


-6/25 Ryan Zimmerman - Up and in too far, ball 1.  Next fastball is away, a bit off the plate.  Weak groundball to Teahen at first.  3U.


-6/29 - Seth Smith (LHB) - AJ catching now.  He seems to be moving around.  Sets up away and Sergio puts it right on the glove.  Smith hits a humpback line drive.  LO8.


-6/29 Ryan Spilborghs -  AJ now not moving much.  He's shaded just a bit away. Sergio bounces a fastball that AJ picks on the backhand, then hits AJ in the glove.  He moves farther off and Sergio drops in a perfect slider low and away off the plate for a whiff, 1-2.  Next slider is much farther off, followed by another that catches too much plate and ends up fouled straight back.  Yet another slider is much higher up in the zone, buckles Spilborghs and gets him looking. K.


-6/29 Chris Iannetta - AJ shades outside and gets a slider right in the glove.  Next slider in more or less the same spot.  Third slider gets popped foul behind the curtain.  Fourth slider is buried in the dirt for the whiff.  K.


-6/30 Seth Smith (LHB) - AJ setting up on the edge away and Sergio puts it too far out.  AJ moves in a bit, still looking for it away and Sergio misses way inside.  Still setting up outside, third fastball is too far up.  Finally gets his fastball over on the fourth.  The fifth is off the plate, but Smith helps him out by fouling it off.  Another foul and then another, both on fastballs.  Then a slider in that really isn't that close, but Smith helps him out again and whiffs.  K.


-6/30 Ty Wiggington - Fastball off the plate away and then on the plate, 1-1.  Slider pretty much over the heart of the plate, 1-2.  Next slider misses way on the wrong side of the plate.  Third slider gets the job done.  K.


-6/30 Charlie Blackmon - Fastball away for a strike right to AJ's glove.  Fastball up, Blackmon swings through it.  Then fastball waaaaay off the plate.  Slider in fouled off.  Change away gets a ground ball.  4-3.


-7/4 Eric Hosmer (LHB) - First pitch fastball, thigh high outer third.  Hosmer drives it to deep center and Rios botches the attempt to rob the HR.  He's pretty scary.  HR.


-7/4 Brayan Pena (LHB) - Fastball for a strike.  Biiiig slider that the bottom falls out of.  Backdoor 0-2 slider is a good spot, but Pena goes oppo for a hit.  1B.


-7/4 (LHP) - Mike Moustakas - Fastball up gets shanked oppo foul.  Fastball just off the corner.  Change right over the heart of the plate freezes Moustakas.  Slider up and away just catches the corner.  Moustakas is not happy.  K.


-7/4 Alcides Escobar - Fastball away on the corner, fouled back.  Fastball center cut and Escobar just looks at it.  Slider away gets a cut though, fouled back.  Fastball in the same spot, also fouled away.  Fastball up and Escobar drives it, but Lillibridge is in left.  LO7.


-7/4 Chris Getz (LHB) - Fastball away right to the glove.  Fastball in gets chopped through the 3.5 hole.  1B.


-7/4 Mitch Maier (LHB) - Change totally misses the spot and ends up down and in.  Fastball well off the plate.  Another fastball lower, on the plate gets a swing.  Deep flyball…but caught.  F9.