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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

THE SANTANA QUESTION 

Ervin's start in St. Petersburg today did nothing to assuage his critics, and little to encourage his champions. He kept the ball in the park, but no matter what he did, it resulted in a hit. Hard groundballs were hits. Soft groundballs were hits. Line drives were hits. Flyballs were hits. Bloopers were hits.

And so the call resounds to sent Ervin to Salt Lake, as if this will help. After all, he never really pitched there, right?

Well, that part is true, but it hasn't seemed to have hurt him, has it? Do you really think his struggles now are happening because he didn't pitch much at AAA two years ago?

I mean, Ervin did struggle somewhat when he came up at first, at least with his consistency. His ERA stood at 6.20 after his first eight starts, but over his next 15, Ervin put up a more-than-solid 3.97 in 93 innings, striking out 65 against 27 walks.

As you know, Ervin was an above-average pitcher in 2006, as well, posting an ERA+ of 102. He probably was a bit lucky on balls in play, but, well check out this comparison between Ervin '06 and a Mystery Pitcher:
Pitcher          Age  BFP  BF/K  BF/BB  BF/HR  BF/H  ERA+
Ervin Santana 23 846 6.00 12.44 40.29 4.67 102
Lohn Jackey 24 885 5.86 14.27 28.55 3.97 92
Did you guess who the Mystery Pitcher was? I'll give you a hint: it's John Lackey, in 2003.

If you guessed John Lackey in 2003, you were correct. This is a comparison of each guy's first full season. Looking at his peripherals, you see that Ervin wasn't too far off of Lackey; a tad less strikeouts, a few more walks, but much better on hits and home runs -- and a year younger.

Now, did Ervin really get away with a season-and-half of solid major league pitching in a way that tells us he needed to experience AAA? In 48 starts from the middle of 2005 through the end of 2006, Ervin had a 4.18 ERA, striking out 206 against 97 walks in 297 innings. That's a major league pitcher.

Of course, he is pitching terribly this season. But I fail to see that his failures this year are due to his having "missed" development time in AAA. If that were the case, wouldn't we have seen these problems before? In, like, the previous 340 innings he threw?

Now, I'm not discounting the idea that maybe a trip to AAA might help him. But it seems like a rash move. I think that, if Ervin isn't straightened out within the month, it should be a trip to the bullpen, not the minors, for Santana. Let him work against major league hitters, in front of a major league defense.

There's room for him; we can always send Brandon Wood or Kendry Morales (whom Mike Scioscia appears to have little want of using) back to AAA to get regular at-bats. Joe Saunders (who everyone is talking about like he's an established major league starter, despite his bona fides being shakier than Ervin's in many ways, including his unexceptional performance for Salt Lake this year) can enter the rotation, or I guess even Dustin Moseley, though how a guy who strikes out less than one man per two innings is supposed to maintain success is beyond me.

What I know is that we have a talented pitcher who has suddenly become unable to pitch. He skipped AAA, basically, and for a reason. Let's keep him around, let him get it together against real competition in low-leverage situations if need be, and unleash him back into the rotation once he's back to where we know he can be.

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Comments:
I don't think there's anything in the world I can possibly care less about than Joe Saunders' AAA performance. It's not like he went down because he couldn't get major leaguers out, and now can't get minor leaguers out. He's not fighting for a job, because he knows it's there when a spot opens up. I'd practically guarantee you that his work in Salt Lake consists of a) trying to win, and b) trying to work on things that he'll eventually use at the major league level. And to the extent his failures are due to the latter, who cares? It's what someone in his position should be doing.
 
And to the extent his failures are due to the latter, who cares? It's what someone in his position should be doing.

How do we know this is the case, though?

Santana's problem is and always has been his inconsistency. The one and only thing he will get out of being at AAA is to make those kinds of screwups in the minors. From my point of view, at least we won't have to listen to his postgame nonsense about getting back on the horse every fifth day.
 
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