Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
They say if you have the choice, take quality over quantity. But why not have both?
That seems to be Ervin Santana's philosophy these days.
While not as dominant as he had been in his previous four outings, the Kansas City Royals righthander was good enough to earn his fifth straight quality start Tuesday against the Braves.
This month, Santana is 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA and a .182 batting average against. The ERA and average against are the lowest he's had during any month in his nine-year career.
Who knew leaving Disneyland for the nation's barbecue capital would be such a game-changer?
The transition from Anaheim to KC has been incredibly smooth for the 30-year- old Dominican. In his first 15 starts with his new team, the hard-throwing righty boasts a 2.74 ERA in 105 innings of work. That ERA is good for fourth- best in the American League. His 1.01 WHIP ranks fifth in the AL.
Santana has been a thoroughbred for the Royals, who, despite a disappointing 35-39 record, are only six and a half games back in the AL Central. Prior to Tuesday's six-inning effort, Santana had logged at least seven innings in each of his previous seven starts.
In 15 appearances, Santana already has 11 starts of at least seven innings. That's the same number he had all of last season. In fact, he's averaging more innings per start than perennial aces Justin Verlander (6.06), Matt Cain (6.31) and Felix Hernandez (6.85).
Eleven is also the number of quality starts Santana has collected this season. That's a 73 percent success rate, higher than those recorded by All-Stars Gio Gonzalez (69 percent), Stephen Strasburg (64) and Yu Darvish (63). Last season, only 15 of Santana's 30 appearances were quality starts (50 percent).
It's hard to find an area where Santana hasn't improved this season. His ERA (2.74), opponents' batting average (.226) and WHIP (1.01) are all career-highs and so is his 4.67 K to BB ratio (sixth-best in the American League). His 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings isn't a career-high but it's darn close (highest since 2008).
Obviously for a pitcher to have a career year at this age, something has to change. For Santana, the change has come in his pitch selection.
A year ago, Santana was hurling fastballs on 57.4 percent of his pitches. This season, he's only throwing fastballs 54 percent of the time (lowest of his career) with a noticeable increase in sliders (40 percent usage versus 35.3 percent in 2012). His changeup rate has stayed about the same (6.0 percent versus 7.3 last season).
The increased reliance on sliders could have something to do with Santana's career-high ground ball to fly ball rate this season (0.91 percent). Santana is still giving up too many home runs but the 14 he's allowed in 2013 represents a vast improvement from last year when he led all of baseball by giving up 39 homers in 30 starts.
This change in approach has helped with Santana's consistency, which is something he's had trouble finding in the past. Santana has been extremely blow-up prone throughout his career but this season he's really only had one bad outing (5 ER in 7 2/3 innings May 23rd against the Angels). And even that wasn't as bad as some of the seven or eight-run massacres we've seen from him in years past. In 2012, Santana allowed five runs or more ten times including five instances when he gave up at least six earned runs.
Turning the corner like this with a new team isn't unprecedented in the major leagues but it's definitely not common. A.J. Burnett turned things around in Pittsburgh last year after a tumultuous stay in New York (11-11, 5.15 in his last season with the Yankees). Meanwhile, Carl Pavano, though out of the league now, witnessed a similar turnaround in Minnesota (17-11, 3.75 ERA during the 2010 campaign) after a terrible season in Cleveland a year earlier (9-8, 5.37).
Santana hasn't been blowing fantasy owners away in the W column (just five wins in 15 starts) but that isn't his fault. The Royals have only scored more than four runs twice in Santana's 15 trips to the mound. During a four-game losing streak in May, the struggling Kansas City offense produced a combined eight runs for Santana.
Who knows, maybe Santana will be invited to compete in next month's All-Star Game at Citi Field. And if not, at least he'll have plenty of barbecue places to choose from back home in KC.
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