Héctor Santiago

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Hector Felipe Santiago

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Hector Santiago was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 30th round of the 2006 amateur draft. He was signed by scout Chuck Fox and made his pro debut the following summer with the Bristol White Sox, going 1-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 appearances out of the bullpen. He went 5-1 with a 4.06 ERA in 38 games for the Kannapolis Intimidators in 2008 and then spent the next two summers with the Winston-Salem Dash.

Moved to the starting rotation in 2011, he was 2-3 with a 3.68 ERA for the Dash before being promoted to the Birmingham Barons. He posted a 4-2 record in 6 starts for Birmingham before being recalled by the Sox and making his big league debut on July 6th, pitching one scoreless inning in relief against the Kansas City Royals. His second outing the next day was outstanding, as he came in relief of starter Philip Humber in the 4th inning, and limited the Minnesota Twins to one hit and a walk over the next 4 1/3 innings, although his teammates were unable to mount a comeback and lost, 6-2. Those were his only two major league games that season, however, and he finished the year back in Birmingham, and still starting, ending up with a 7-5 record and 3.56 ERA in 15 starts.

In spite of his lack of major league experience, or experience as a reliever, Santiago made the White Sox staff out of spring training in 2012, and then was used as a closer, taking over for Sergio Santos who had been traded in the off-season. After 8 games, he had already picked up 4 saves, but his record was an unimpressive 0-1, 7.36, having given up 12 hits in 7 1/3 innings. On the plus side though, he had struck out 12 while walking only 3 batters. On May 4th, manager Robin Ventura decided to shake things, though, yanking career reliever Chris Sale from the starting rotation, where he had excelled, to take over as closer, and moving Hector to a lower-impact assignment. Sale's turn in the bullpen only lasted a few days, as he was returned to the starting rotation almost immediately, but Santiago had lost the closer's job for good. He finished the year at 4-1, 3.33 in 42 games, including 4 starts, with 4 saves and 54 hits allowed in 70 1/3 innings, while striking out 79 and walking 40.

Santiago was named to Puerto Rico's initial roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic, but asked to be excused a few days later. He explained that he needed to concentrate on spring training, given that the White Sox were looking at him as a potential replacement for the injured John Danks in their 2013 starting rotation. He ended up making 23 starts in 34 appearances with the White Sox, going 4-9, 3.56 for the last-place team. He pitched better than his record indicated, logging 149 innings during which he struck out 137 batters. On December 10th, he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in return for OF Adam Eaton, then was immediately flipped to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, along with P Tyler Skaggs, as slugging OF/1B Mark Trumbo joined the D-Backs. On December 13th, after the 2013 Rule V Draft was held, prospect Brandon Jacobs went from Chicago to Arizona to complete the deal.

Santiago had a tough start for the Angels in 2014 however, as he went 0-4 in 5 April starts, even though his ERA was 4.44 - not good, but not awful either. He continued his losing ways after that, however, and a 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on June 15th made his record 0-7, with the same 4.44 ERA, after 11 games. He had been moved to the bullpen for a time in late May, but had pitched very little in that role. Things went better after that, as his record was 6-2 the rest of the way and he managed to lower his ERA to 3.75 by the end of the year. In 30 games, including 24 starts, he pitched 127 1/3 innings and struck out 108 batters while finishing at 6-9. The Angels won a division title and Hector was used once in the postseason, pitching 1 1/3 inning in Game 3, during which he gave up a two-run homer to Eric Hosmer after coming in in relief in the 2nd inning against the Kansas City Royals after C.J. Wilson and Vinnie Pestano had already been chased from the mound. The Angels were down 5-1 by the time he left the game and never recovered, losing 8-3 to be swept in three games by the underdog Royals.

Santiago was an All-Star for the first time in 2015 even though he again failed to reach double figures in win, finishing at 9-9, 3.59 in 33 games, all but one as a starter. He was 6-4 with a sparkling 2.33 ERA in the first half to earn the All-Star berth, but fell to 3-5, 5.47 after the mid-summer classic. He pitched a career-high 180 2/3 innings and struck out 162 batters, but also led the American League with 29 homers allowed. He was back with the Angels in 2016 as news stories described him as "the last screwball pitcher in baseball". He was indeed one of the last practitioners of the once common pitch that had fallen into disfavor because of a reputation for being too hard on a pitcher's elbow. And even he was relying much less on the tricky pitch than he had in the past. The screwball was not the only thing that made him an outlier: he also had the lowest ground ball rate among regular pitchers, and in defiance of sabermetric principles, was able to constantly keep his batting average on balls in play lower than expected, making him somewhat akin to a knuckleball pitcher. In other words, his success came from his ability to induce batters to hit weak fly balls more than any other major league pitcher.

On June 27, 2021, he became the first pitcher to be ejected for having a foreign substance on his body following MLB's decision to start cracking down on such usage the previous week. Umpires had been checking each pitcher on a regular basis, since then, and Santiago was the first pitcher caught with something out of the ordinary on his glove. For his part, Santiago claimed the substance was just rosin and that he had done nothing wrong, but he was still issued a ten-game suspension. Things then went from bad to worse as on July 29, he was suspended for 80 games for testing positive for a banned substance, thereby ending his season. He was 1-1, 3.42 in 14 games between suspensions.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL All-Star (2015)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Ted Berg: "Major League Baseball's last screwball pitcher", "For the Win!", USA Today Sports, March 16, 2016. [1]
  • Daniel Kramer: "LHP Santiago ejected after glove inspection", mlb.com, June 27, 2021. [2]

Related Sites[edit]