He signed Ervin Santana.
In this space, I roundly applauded the move for that reason, in that it was the only move that made sense given the team’s 2014 aspirations. Still, expectations were (reasonably) mild for Santana given his track record of “on again, off again” seasons in the American League, and because he would arriving late into the process after signing on March 12th, the big right-hander was an unknown, at least with regard to the start of the season.
Because of that, there was certainly a contingent of people who weren’t in love with the signing. The reasons were wide-ranging, from the fact that the Braves “overpaid” at $14.1 million for 1 season (in stark contrast to the rule that are no bad one-year deals) to the point of view that Santana simply wasn’t as good as the player (Medlen) that he was replacing. However, the 31-year-old right-hander has been everything that the optimists envisioned and Santana has even been good enough to convert a few people from the negative side.
Santana has been electric in his first two starts (SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT!!!) with 17 strikeouts in 14 innings (10.93 K/9) to go along with only 2 walks and a lights-out ERA of 0.64. In fairness, it is tough to expect that type of strikeout production from a pitcher with a career rate of a shade over 7 per 9 innings, but in the National League, a reasonable uptick is expected, and the fact that Santana is another legitimate power right-hander (to go along with Julio Teheran) gets the fan base excited.
On average, Santana’s fastball is sitting at 92.9 miles per hour through 2 starts (stats via FanGraphs) with a tick up to just over 95 at the maximum effort level. That isn’t blinding speed, especially from the right side, but when you consider that guys like Medlen (89.7 MPH career average) and Minor (90.5 MPH career average) aren’t exactly blowing guys away with the fastball, the playoffs begin to come into view.
There has long been an argument against the Braves (despite their pitching success) from a post-season standpoint in that the old-school baseball view of October success is predicated on power, strikeout pitching. Last season’s Braves didn’t have that type of feel, but if you squint hard enough to see a playoff four-some of Teheran, Minor, Alex Wood and Santana, it is suddenly reasonable to expect some opposing hitters to wander back to the dugout after strikeouts.
Yes, that vision is getting far ahead of where we need to be at this stage, but Santana’s start has brought some positive feelings to the table, both from the club and the fan base. Expectations shouldn’t rise to uncomfortable levels (remember: this is a pitcher with a career ERA of 4.16), but even if “Big Erv” is simply the pitcher that most of us expected him to be (ERA in the mid-3.00′s, solid K’s, low walks), he may very well be an upgrade even over a fan favorite like Kris Medlen.
season marathon is just getting underway, but if we allow some suspension of belief on Tax Day, Ervin Santana’s arrival could be the best thing to happen to the 2014 Atlanta Braves.