2013 Toronto Blue Jays Reviews: Sergio Santos


Name: Sergio Santos
Position: Right Handed Pitcher

Just try and tell me you don’t want that chiseled jaw and cheekbones closing out game for the Blue Jays. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Expectations:

When pitchers and catchers reported to camp in mid-February, Casey Janssen was still dealing with lingering weakness in his shoulder as the result of an offseason “cleanup” surgery – he ended up appearing in just two tune-up games at the end of March. I saw this as an opportunity for Sergio Santos to finally establish himself as the elite closer that Alex Anthopoulos envisioned when he acquired the right hander, as he was (and still is) the most explosive arm in the Blue Jays bullpen. At the very least, he was expected to support Janssen from the eighth and help form one of the more dominant late-inning duos around baseball.

2013 Reality:

The reality of Sergio Santos’ 2013 season is the definition of a mixed bag. The upside: a 1.84 FIP, 9.82 K/9, 1.40 BB/9, and a 0.58 WHIP. The walk rate was easily a career best, and is perhaps even misleadingly bad when taking into account that two of his four walks were of the intentional variety. The downside: he was only healthy enough to pitch in 29 games, as he missed three months of the year with arm problems whose underlying cause seemed to be a moving target for the team physicians. The final diagnosis was that bone spurs were causing soreness in his elbow as well as lingering weakness in his triceps, and that they needed to be cleaned up. Santos came off the disabled list on August 1st and was teasingly overpowering in nearly every relief appearance thereafter.

2014 Outlook:

Contract remaining: 1 year, 3.75 million (club options for 2015, 2016, and 2017 worth 6 million, 8 million, and 8.75 million respectively, 0.75 million buyout on each option)

Minimum value: 1 year, 4.5 million | Maximum value: 4 years, 26.5 million

John Gibbons would be doing a disservice to this organization if he didn’t at least consider Santos a candidate for the closer role when camp opens next spring. The big right hander throws absolute heat, as his average fastball velocity of 94.6 mph was behind only Dustin McGowan (94.7 mph) and Neil Wagner (95.8 mph) among Blue Jays relievers. But unlike those two power arms, Sergio Santos features easily the best breaking ball on the roster, and one that should be considered amongst the uppermost echelon in all of baseball.

Santos utilized his slider like never before in 2013, throwing the pitch an astounding 43% of the time. From 2010 through 2012, he threw the slider 19%, 30%, and 27% respectively. Despite seeing the pitch with more frequency, hitters failed to garner an advantage, registering a grand total of zero line drives on the 130 sliders Santos offered up. They swung at the pitch a career-high 58.5% of the time, and also made contact a career-high 48.7% of the time, but regardless of their efforts, the end result was almost always the same; an out. 42 plate appearances ended with a slider in 2013 – opposing hitters line in those 42 situations? .049/.071/.049 – a mind bogglingly impressive -63 wRC+. Yes, that’s a negative.

No other Blue Jays reliever has displayed that level of dominance with a single pitch. Casey Janssen’s curveball, the closer’s most productive offering, registered a 9 wRC+ last season, but he threw it just 13% of the time, relying on precise location of a balanced repertoire to upset timing. Santos just shoved, and shove has fewer off nights than command.

Santos shouldn’t simply be handed the job – unless of course, Casey Janssen is traded this winter to save money and fill another hole on the roster, something I emphatically suggested Toronto do at the deadline – as it would be unfair to CJ and an insult to all of the success he’s had over the past two seasons. Since Opening Day 2012, Janssen has successfully converted 56 of 61 save opportunities (92%) while accumulating 2.4 WAR. But at the very least, Sergio should be pencilled into the eighth inning role, and if he looks just as dominant as he did last season, the leash on Janssen could be very short.

All PitchFX data courtesy Fangraphs.com