With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at pitcher Dennis Santana.
In perusing the 2021 Rangers roster — well, any roster, really, but 2021 for the purposes of this discussion — you’ll come across someone about whom you think, “Oh, yeah, that guy...he was on the team, wasn’t he?”
And in the case of Dennis Santana, not only was he on the team, he’s still on the team, having clung onto his 40 man roster spot all offseason, and heading into spring training with what would seem to be a leg up on making the Opening Day roster, if simply because of the fact he’s out of options, and the Rangers are going to want to avoid losing pitchers if at all possible.
Santana was acquired from the Dodgers in June of 2021 for Kelvin Bautista, a 22 year old smallish lefty reliever who, like Santana, is from the Dominican Republic. Santana is a righthanded relief pitcher who throws hard and has iffy command, something that the Rangers tend to have in abundance.
The Rangers also tend to collect guys who have gotten squeezed off the Dodgers’ roster, you may have noticed. There’s an argument to be made that the Dodgers are a really well run organization with a really deep roster, and so guys who get bumped from the Dodgers’ 40 man roster are more likely to have value that a player designated for assignment from another team. Chris Woodward also spent some time with the Dodgers, of course, and thus has some familiarity with their players — Woodward supposedly see Santana as a high-makeup guy, someone who he feels has intangibles beyond what he actually does on the mound.
Santana, as noted above, throws hard — he averaged 95.4 mph on his fastball in 2021, which twenty years ago would have had people freaking out, but now just makes him another generic pitcher who throws hard (he’s just in the 80th percentile in fastball velocity, per Statcast). He’s also a high spin rate pitcher — his fastball spin rate is in the 88th percentile, per Statcast — but interestingly, his pitches have a lot more horizontal movement than vertical movement. Vertical movement generates swings and misses more than horizontal movement does, which helps explain Santana being in the 55th percentile in whiff rate and 21st percentile in K rate.
Santana had a 4.28 ERA in 2021, which isn’t great, but his 5.19 xERA is even worse. Santana’s fastball was way too hittable in 2021 — his sinker generated a wOBA of .321, which is good, but an xwOBA of .443, which is terrible. It was .347 and .369 in 2020, so this is a recurring problem. Santana also throws a four seamer on rare occasions, and he had a .392 wOBA and .382 xwOBA on the four seamer in 2021.
I have to assume that the Rangers have some sort of plan they are working with Santana on in an effort to keep hitters from teeing off on his fastball. I don’t know what it is, or whether it will work, but if you want to know what Santana needs to improve upon to stay on the major league roster in 2021, it is “stop letting hitters crush his fastball.”