Now pitching for your Kansas City Royals, Ervin Santana. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

Instant Upgrade?

Dayton Moore made a nice move yesterday, adding some much needed depth to a thin rotation. I don’t think anyone can say the Ervin Santana trade is a bad one. Giving up a fringe prospect for a proven big league starter is a steal, and the Royals are only on the hook for one year. General consensus on sports radio and the online community is positive.

However, I heard Moore on the radio this morning claiming the acquisition of Santana upgrades the rotation. Does it?

There’s not a doubt in my mind that Santana is now (probably) the best pitcher on this staff. In that sense, it’s an upgrade…to one spot in the rotation (the one currently vacated by Guthrie). Santana is only 29 and just one season removed from being a damn good pitcher. Heck, even last year, which was definitely not good (to put it nicely), he pitched like his former self during when it counted.

On the downside, he gave up a major league high 39 home runs, and Fangraphs had his WAR at -0.9, which is even worse than the 1.5 WAR of Luke Hochevar. So what happened in 2012? And will we see a repeat or a return to form?

For his career, Santana has given up 1.24 home runs per 9 innings – in 2012, however, that number rose 1.97 per 9. His HR/FB ratio was also through the roof in 2012, sitting at 18.9% versus a career rate of 10.8%.

So where did Santana go wrong last year? Most of his other numbers were similar to what he did in 2010 and 2011 – seasons which saw him win a total of 28 games and put up ERA’s of 3.92 and 3.38.

His K/9 numbers were down a little from 2011 (from 7.01 to 6.72), but were still in line with his 2010 rate of 6.83. His K and BB rates were pretty in line with his career numbers of 18.6% for K and 7.6% for BB (in 2012 he was at 17.4% and 8%). Santana put up a respectable WHIP of 1.27 (better than his 1.30 career number) and batters only hit .238 against him.

Looking further at what types of hits he gave up…everything was in line with those two prior seasons (line drives, ground balls, fly balls), with the exception of home runs allowed.

Judging by his month-by-month performance from 2012, there is reason to be optimistic. From August through the end of the season, Santana looked like the guy batters were used to seeing on the mound. In August he put up a 3.58 ERA, and in September/October he had a 3.68 ERA. Batters hit lower than .200 against him in both months. He struck out a total of 55 hitters in that stretch and only walked 16.

Even while pitching like a front line hurler over that stretch, though…Santana still had trouble with the long ball, giving up about 2.18 per 9 while otherwise performing like a top shelf starter.

I’m not sure what caused this spike. He’s always given up homers…but almost 40? Maybe he just threw a handful of awful pitches. Maybe spacious Kauffman Stadium will subtract 10-15 homers off his total of 39. What I’m saying is this: I don’t know why balls were leaving the park, but from what I can tell, it was a fluke.

Dan Haren…another potential target for the Royals? Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

If Santana pitches like he’s capable, he’s by far the best pitcher on this team – a potential number one starter for a rotation in need. All that said…is Santana, as Moore claims, an upgrade to the rotation? No…not yet.

As it stands, if you don’t count Jeremy Guthrie among our starting five (which I’m not, as he’s a free agent), we basically have replaced Guthrie, our top pitcher from 2012, with Santana. After that…we have the same group of number four and five types filling out the rotation.

I’ll take Moore at his word though. He says the Royals aren’t done making moves, and I think that’s probably true. However, they are going to have to make a couple more major additions like Santana before I’ll agree with Dayton that the rotation – as a whole – has been upgraded.

With the price on Santana being so low…Dayton should push redial and ask the Angels about Dan Haren. A 1-2 punch of Haren and Santana is an upgraded rotation. Even better…a 1-2-3 of Haren, Santana, and Guthrie. That’s a rotation that just might sneak a team into the playoffs.

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