Year in and year out fantasy baseball owners are left to wonder which Ervin Santana will show up and if he is worth the risk.
After a pretty good two year stretch during 2010 and 2011, fantasy owners likely considered Santana a No. 4 starting pitcher with some inconsistencies, but also with upside.
After a dominant second half in 2011, many owners invested in Santana as a breakout candidate in 2012, only to get burned. He had the worst season of his career going 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA. Even more alarming was that his K/9 dropped to 6.72 — his worst since 2006 — and his BB/9 jumped to 3.08, the had highest he issued since 2007.
A change of scenery did him well in 2013, as he transition nicely in Kansas City, pitching to a 9-10 record with a 3.24 ERA. Better yet, his strike out rate climbed slightly and he was walking nearly a batter less per nine innings. These numbers propelled him to be a top-36 starting pitcher in standard fantasy leagues, worthy of starting in all formats.
Despite a very good 2013, Santana still struggled to find a suitor via free agency. He ended up signing a one-year deal with the Braves late in spring training, but that also forced him to spend the first week or so in the minors to stretch himself out. He made his Braves debut on Wednesday against the Mets and did not disappoint, hurling eight great innings, while allowing three hits, issuing no walks and striking out six. It only took him 88 pitches to go the eight innings and he likely would have went the complete game if it was not his first start of the season.
His fastball sat around 92-93 MPH, while hitting 94 at times. He did a great job of painting the corners, especially with his slider. He showed no rust, throwing more change ups to left handed batters, which seemed to be too much for them to handle.
The right-hander threw 65 of his 88 pitches for strikes and forced 11 ground outs. In fact, he only threw one ball in the first three innings, which should put any worries of his previous command issues to rest. Of course, a large part of this is he was facing the Mets, the team with the highest strikeout percentage in the MLB. The Mets certainly did Santana some favors at chasing pitches outside the zone, but that can also be a testament to how much movement his secondary pitches possess.
It is only one start, but it certainly should not be overlooked. Pitching in the National League should do wonders for Santana, who has a chip on his shoulder after being overlooked all offseason long.
Those owners that grabbed him late in the draft should certainly feel rejoiced, as they did not have to stash him long to see their investment pay off. Others may have missed their chance to add the potential stud, but should try and strike if he takes a step back in his second outing.
Santana is not going to be as dominant all year as he was in his Braves’ debut, but he will be a No. 3 starting pitcher with upside going forward. If everything goes right this season, it is not difficult to picture Santana cracking the top-25 starting pitchers in 2014.