The Angels traded Ervin Santana and 1 million dollars to the Kansas City Royals for minor leaguer Brandon Sisk. The Angels exercised Santana’s 13 million dollar option before the trade, so the Royals are essentially paying him 12 million dollars, plus whatever value Sisk is worth. So first, we will take a look at Santana, and then a look at Sisk.
With Free Agency officially beginning on Friday, the first thing you have to look at is opportunity cost (the concept of Opportunity Cost is basically: if you purchase or do something, assuming that either your resources or time is limited, you lose the ability to buy something else or spend your time doing something else. The opportunity cost is what you are no longer able to do or buy because of the item you bought or the time you spent. For example, if I decide to spend all my time playing Xbox, then I am unable to write for Fantasy CPR and then Z emails me wondering why I haven’t been writing things about players you have never heard of. Or if you spend 40 bucks on cigarettes, that is 40 less bucks you can spend on something else. The baseball example is that if a team spends money on one player, they may not be able to afford another player. This is why Sabermetricians care about things like WAR dollars and complain about certain contracts. It is not that they don’t want to see players make money, they just know that if you spend money on the wrong players, or too much money on good ones, you may not be able to afford the right players.) Is paying Santana 12 million (plus the minor leaguer) a better move than spending 12 million dollars in free agency? It is a team that consistently has one of the lowest, if not the lowest (they were ranked 27th in 2012) payroll in baseball. Because of this, they have to The Royals most pressing need is starting pitching (they could certainly use a couple more position players, but who doesn’t), so we will limit the discussion to starting pitching when looking at other free agents. Here are just two that I would take over Santana that should cost a similar amount:
Joe Blanton added velocity in 2012 after a multi-year lull where his fastball dropped below 90 MPH on average. He was too hittable (23.4 LD %, and 15.3 HR/FB %), but was very average nevertheless (101 FIP -). Blanton is a couple years older than Santana, but has a 101.75 FIP – over the past 4 years. So in that time, he has been a good #4 starter, just slightly below league average. He might get more than 1 year (which is all Santana is locked up for), but I don’t see how he would get 12 million dollars (at least I don’t see how I would pay him that much).
Anibal Sanchez is expected to receive 12-15 million dollars per year this off-season in what seems to be at least a relatively thin free agent market for starting pitching. According to FanGraphs’ WAR dollars, he has been worth just over 17 million each year from 2009-2011. Sanchez does a good job of one of the first things you look for in a pitcher, he misses bats. His swing percentages and swinging strike percentages are all better than league average. In 2011, his strikeout percentage was 24.3% and in 2012 it was still above average. As his career has gone on, he has really limited his walks as well and does an above average job of keeping the ball in the park. He gets a good IFFB %, and he has evolved into somewhat of a ground-ball pitcher.
I would rather have either one of those pitchers than Santana. Of course, just because you are willing to sign a free agent doesn’t mean that he will necessarily come, especially since the Royals have been not very competitive for a long time now. So what do they have in Santana?
Santana was one of the worst pitchers in baseball this year. In fact, he had the worst FIP – out of all the qualified starters in the Majors. He gave up nearly 2 homers per 9 innings. The 2nd worst home run pitcher in baseball was Phil Hughes, who had a 1.65 HR/9IP. Unlike Phil Hughes, Santana cannot use his ballpark as an excuse for the homers. According to Baseball Reference’s multi-year park factor, the Angels park gets a 92 out of 100, meaning it is very pitcher friendly. In 2012, it played even more pitcher friendly, getting a 91.
He seems to have ditched his sinker, and had become increasingly predictable:
Starting off so many counts with fastballs proved to be ineffective and unwise as he had lost a full MPH from 2011 to 2012. Reports were that teams believed they could fix his slider. While his slider wasn’t as effective as it had been in previous years, it was still a pretty good pitch, giving up a 68 wRC +. It was his fastball that had so many problems, as he gave up a 162 wRC + with it, which is not only the worst of his career, it was equal to Ryan Braun and Buster Posey’s 2012 offensive season. His slider didn’t have very good Pitch F/X ratings though, as it moved vertically similar to Tyson Ross and Jason Marquis. In previous years, it had better ratings, similar to Ubaldo Jimenez (the pre-broken one), Yovani Gallardo, and C.J. Wilson.
If the Royals plan on adding payroll, then the trade is perfectly fine, as they can continue to find free agents to boost the pitching staff (it hardly seems that waiver claim Chris Volstad is an answer). However, it is doubtful that they will add such salary. Last year, the team traded away Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez. The trade ended up being a disaster for the Royals as Sanchez turned out to be broken. It is hard not to think that Santana is already broken. Unless the Royals see something in his delivery or mechanics that allows him to bounce back, it is hard to imagine Santana will succeed in Kansas City. The division is weaker, but he will still have to face Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera (along with Paul Konerko and others). The ballpark in Kansas City also plays very neutral according to park factors, which isn’t like to help his home run problem and declining stuff.
Brandon Sisk is a former independent ball player who has put up good numbers in the minors since being signed by the Royals (but has not pitched in the Majors yet). The 27 year old left-hander is not really a prospect by definition, but he is seen as a guy who could be a middle reliever. Reports show that he sometimes has inconsistent command and his walk rate is too high (11.7 % in the PCL in 2012). His FIP was about league average, while his SIERA was better than PCL averages. The one year park factor for Omaha (the Royals PCL affiliate) was 104, meaning it was a more hitter friendly than the average PCL park. So you could cut his numbers a little slack. He threw 4.11 pitches per plate appearance. The two pitchers with the same Pit/PA (at least 60 innings) were Kyle Drabek and Jose Arredondo in 2012. The latter was good, while the former was not. Despite this high number, he threw more strikes than average.
Thanks to 2 Spring Training outings in 2012, we do have some Pitch F/X data for Sisk. Here are the pitches he throws according to Brooks Baseball:
So Sisk clearly doesn’t have plus stuff, which makes sense considering the route he has had to take (and the fact that he is 27 and hasn’t thrown a MLB inning). The pitchability is also somewhat of a concern, which is not a great combination. He didn’t really show that he has the ability to “miss bats” in the PCL either:
Jerry Dipota, the Angels GM, notes that Sisk has all of his options left (which has value in itself) but will compete for a bullpen job this year. The Angels bullpen was perhaps the Angels biggest problem this year, earning just a .9 WAR. 57 different MLB relievers had a .9 WAR or better in 2012. The Angels had just 2 left-handed relievers that were above replacement in 2012. So they could clearly use another lefty reliever. Though he has faced much fewer lefties than righties for some reason, Sisk has a 2.52 FIP and 3.13 SIERA over the last two years against lefties.
The Angels would have had to pay Ervin Santana 1 million dollars in buyout money if they decided not to exercise his option. So basically, this is like releasing Santana plus getting a cheap reliever that might be able to help them. I don’t really think Sisk amounts to much, but I guess it is better than nothing.