Jered Weaver and Dan Haren stole most of the headlines about the Angels starting rotation in April and the first half of May, but Ervin Santana continues to be the Angels' best pitcher over the last week, after allowing only one run on six hits, two walks and six strikeouts in six innings of work against the Oakland A's.
Santana improved his record to 3-4 and lowered his ERA from 4.18 to 3.95 for the season. While Santana will never be the pitcher he was in 2008—when his fastball averaged 94.4 mph and he averaged 8.79 K/9—he can still be an above-average starter in the American League.
Santana's xFIP of 3.52 (2010 xFIP was 4.31) suggests that he has pitched better in 2011 than his numbers indicate even with a favorable HR/FB ratio of 8.3 percent.
So, why hasn't Santana regressed this season?
For starters, he has improved his walk rate from 2.95 to 2.17 BB/9 (the second-best rate of his career). Additionally he is fourth in the majors with a 67.7 first-pitch strike percentage.
His strikeout rate of 7.77 K/9 is the second best rate of his career despite a similar swinging strike percentage and a slight decrease in his average fastball velocity (92.5 to 92.2 mph). However, Santana has decreased the usage of his ineffective changeup, from 6.1 to 2.6 percent and has thrown more fastballs. Santana's best pitch, his slider, has also seen an increase in both downward and horizontal movement.
Santana showed increased velocity in last night's start—he averaged 93.1 mph on his fastball and he topped out at 96. However, he showed the same increase at this point last season and his average velocity dipped over the next month.
He will always be a fly-ball pitcher and prone to home runs, but if he continues to pitch with the same peripheral numbers he should not finish with an ERA in the 3.70 range.
Santana is a formidable No. 3 starter in a rotation that is keeping the Angels afloat in the AL West.