The other Santana
Can we start the campaign for a new nickname? Presenting Ervin “Magic” Santana. I think it works; I’m really tryin’ here. The Angels starter needs some sort of pizzazz to emerge from the shadow of the all-world ace (Johan) who he unfortunately shares the same surname with. And, hey, we’ve obviously seen ‘Magic’ used as a substitute for Ervin, or Earvin, in the past, and this 27-year-old right-hander has exhibited some magician-like qualities of his own to make the nickname fit. Now that he’s been wowing people with his pitching again, I say we give it a shot. Work with me …
Magic Santana surfaced with one of the most remarkable opening acts in baseball history. If you watch the MLB Network religiously, you might have seen one of those epic Bob Costas-narrated flashbacks that detailed Santana’s career debut when he allowed a chronological cycle to the Cleveland Indians before retiring a batter in the first inning. Yes, the first four batters Santana ever faced singled, doubled, tripled and homered in succession, and it’s never happened before. This scarcely documented supernatural occurrence is truly a hidden gem in baseball lore.
Santana has also shown the ability to disappear without a trace and then reappear in a flash. He emerged as a front-line starter with a 16-8 campaign in 2006, only to have his effectiveness vanish in ’07 when he was lit up for a 5.76 ERA and 14 losses. He rematerialized as a dominant force by going 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA and 214 Ks in ’08, only to saw his owners in half during an injury-plagued ’09 when he limped to a plus-five ERA. Lately, it appears his bewildering talent is beginning to present itself once again, so you may want to seize the day and grab him while he’s still available in almost half of Yahoo! leagues.
Over the last three starts, Santana’s performance has really lived up to the moniker, as he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA and 22 Ks over 22 innings pitched. This has brought him to 4-3 on the year accompanied by a solid 3.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, with six quality starts to his name. His slider has been biting again and his fastball is consistently reaching the mid-90s. It was still coming in at 92 in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s outing, when he pulled a rabbit out of his hat by going the distance in a 10-strikeout performance against the Blue Jays. It was his second complete-game victory against the Jays this season, after he held them to one earned run on April 18. This is no small feat as Toronto currently leads all of baseball in runs scored.
Magic (yep, still pushing it) has sort of been the anti-Roy Halladay in 2010, as he’s faced a murderer’s row of opponents thus far. Six of his 10 starts have come against the Blue Jays (twice), Yankees (twice), Red Sox and Twins, who are all ranked in the top six in runs scored in the American League. Nonetheless, he’s managed to rank second in the AL in innings pitched with 69 (one-third of an inning behind James Shields), fifth in strikeouts with 62 and his two complete games are good for a first-place tie. With his next three starts (assuming things stay according to schedule) against the Royals, Mariners and A’s, things should get even better.
One thing that seems a bit paranormal considering his solid performance is that Santana’s groundball-to-fly ball ratio sits at 0.55, noticeably worse than his career average of 0.62. He’s pitched to 132 fly balls this season — blowing away the rest of the league by 10 — which has contributed to him allowing 12 home runs, tied for the most in baseball. This puts him on pace to surrender 41 dingers, demolishing his career high of 26. Santana’s always been more of a fly-ball pitcher, but long balls have never been this much of a hindrance, so you can assume things will begin to even out.
In fact, there are already hints of progress, as six of the homers came during his first four starts (at home vs. Twins, at the Yankees, in Toronto, and at home vs. the Yanks again), which he followed up by limiting opponents to three long balls over his next five outings. He had a hiccup in that department Tuesday night when he allowed three solo shots to the Blue Jays, but considering those Birds are running away with the ML-lead in homers with 79 (the Red Sox are a distant second with 62), I’ll write it off as a fluke. I can do that; it’s my blog. Anyway, once he gets his grounders and fly balls in line with his prior career performance, and starts facing some easier competition, Magic Santana could really start enchanting fantasy owners.