AL WestAnalysis

No Strikeouts? No Problem For Dennis Santana!

In the current iteration of MLB the three true outcomes are king, but for one facet of baseball players, strikeouts are their favorite. Strikeouts are becoming more common amongst hitters than ever before and with teams using analytics to improve pitchers repertoire it doesn’t look like that will stop. Therefore, if you’re not striking out hitters, you either don’t have the stuff to get swing and misses or you are behind the curve in terms of pitching development. Luckily for the Texas Rangers, Dennis Santana does not seem to meet either of these thresholds and despite a below average Strikeout% has been very successful here in 2022.

The former Dodger product who the Rangers acquired via trade for Kelvin Bautista is having his best season of his career here in 2022. In 32 innings pitched he has accrued .9 WAR (21st best), has a 2.18 ERA with a 2.47 FIP. He ranks in the 95th percentile in average Exit Velocity and 91 percentile in Hard Hit %. Santana has maintained a BB% of at least 9% the last 3 years before 2022, but this year he has dropped it to 6.2%. He also has not allowed a single home run this year. His success is the result of his ability to limit hard contact and walks so far this year but strikeouts however, have not been part of the equation.

Below I plot the wOBA Allowed/Strikeout% of every pitcher in 2022 with a minimum 30 innings pitched. Dennis Santana finds himself in an interesting position.

The line of best fit does show there is a relationship between Strikeout% and wOBA but Santana does not follow that trend. Santana has been able to maintain a wOBA allowed that ranks in the 1st percentile of the league, despite a below average strikeout rate. The surprising thing about Santana is he doesn’t have bad ‘stuff’. He is in the 90th percentile in Fastball Velocity (averaging a 97.9 mph Fastball) due to a nice power sinker that has 17.4 inches of drop and a spin rate that ranks in the 88th percentile. Santana’s Slider has a 40.0 inches of drop as well (we will study this pitch further). He maintains a 33.7 chase rate which is in the 91st percentile in the league. Eno Sarris has him at a 108.8 stuff+ in his July 2nd rankings which is an improvement from his 103.5 stuff+ at the end of 2021. So the stuff is there but where are the K’s?


The slider has been Santana’s best pitch so far this year. It is producing a Whiff% of about 40% and a Run Value at -4, which is down from a previous year (-7), but still good nonetheless. It is however not your conventional slider. As mentioned earlier, it produces quite a bit of downward vertical movement but little to no horizontal movement. Looking at the movement profile and the spin axis of the pitch from Baseball Savant it shows the characteristics of a gyroscopic slider or a ‘Bullet’ slider. This pitch is basically thrown with the spin like a football. Here’s a plot of Santana’s movement profile with 2 other pitchers who throw ‘Bullet’ sliders:

Santana’s slider movement shows the characteristics of a ‘Bullet’ slider. It sits around the center of the X/Y axis which is where you would find those type of sliders. Santana’s average is slightly adjusted to the lower left of the graph, while Castillo and Pineda are closer to the center. One explanation is Santana’s spin rate. Santana has a much higher spin rate on his slider at 2653 RPMs compared to Castillo’s slider at 2423 and Pineda 1939 RPMs. The Spin Efficiency is higher as well at 19% Active Spin for Santana’s slider while Castillo/Pineda sit at 13% and 10%. Therefore, Santana applies the most TRUE spin to his slider compared to the rest (Santana – 504.07 RPMs, Castillo – 314.99 RPMs, Pineda – 193.9 RPMs).

The goal is to get the Spin Efficiency as low as possible to have as little of the movement dictated by the spin of the ball. This eliminates any horizontal movement and lets gravity do all the work. While Castillo and Pineda do a much better job of creating this effect, Santana’s slider is just as good. Below is what it looks like from the release point.

Notice how the spin axis spins like how a football would and then just drops off straight to the ground. Santana reduced his spin efficiency from 26 % spin efficiency in 2021 to 19%, suggesting his desire to get more vertical break on that pitch.


The slider on its own is a good pitch but the benefits to this slider is how it makes his fastball better. The benefit to the gyroscopic spin on the slider is it creates late break to home plate. Combine that with a pitch that has a high spin rate and you get a pitch that is able to be tunneled with the fastball, specifically his sinker.

The spray chart above indicates Santana’s willingness to throw both his slider and sinker over the plate. This has two positive effects. First, it puts both the slider and sinker on the same plane creating a tunneling effect that makes both pitches look exactly the same up until it gets to home plate. This makes it harder for hitters to pick up which pitches are coming when they are solely relying on the few split seconds it’s released from the pitcher’s fingers. The second impact it has is it leads to more strikes. As mentioned earlier, Santana has a much improved walk rate this year and this is a big reason why. Fortunately for Santana he hasn’t really had any repercussions from it.

Despite a sub-10 Whiff% on his sinker, Santana is allowing a .227 BA, .289 SLG and a .272 wOBA on that pitch. His sinker has the highest Exit Velocity at 87.2 mph out of the other 3 major pitches, but that is to be expected given it’s a fastball down the middle. The usage of these two pitches has led to improved weak contact allowed over the course of this year. Santana has increased his Topped% from 34% to 39.8 and increased his Under% from 18.6% to 25.8. Hitters are having a hard time barreling up his pitches. His sinker may not be getting the whiffs, reducing his ability in getting strikeouts, but that hasn’t stopped him from employing a two pitch mix that is limiting hitters ability to make hard contact.


Looking at Santana’s splits has also led to some explanations as to why the strikeouts have not been as prevalent in his game. First off when we look at his pitch mix from righties to lefties, he favors one pitch to the other. This year against righties, Santana has thrown his slider 57% of the time while his sinker was thrown 37%. Against lefties he does a complete 180, he uses the sinker 45% of the time, changeup sits at 34% and his slider falls all the way down to 18%. Santana clearly wants to use pitches that break away from opposing hitters against them (sliders break away from righties as sinkers/changeups break away from lefties as a RHP). The problem with this is it eliminates his best pitch for one half of the hitters. Santana has a 22.5 Strikeout% against righties while against lefties it falls to 13%.

Oddly enough, Santana has a slight reverse split where righties are slashing .187/.225/.240 while lefties are slashing .150/.239/.225 despite the righties seeing the better pitch more often. Righties seem to have a better shot at putting that sinker in play if it’s up in the zone and breaking towards them, regardless he has pretty good splits against both handedness, just the weird quirk with the strikeouts.

While there Santana has had success so far there is some concern. A career low .216 BABIP, lack of strikeouts, and a predictable pitch usage based on handedness could lead to some regression for Santana. We have seen some of that regression recently as Santana has allowed 6 hits in his last 3 games pitching in 2.1 IP. Some rolling metrics suggest this as well.

Both his wOBA and Exit Velocity are trending upwards over the last week which is not ideal. It’s a small sample but Santana’s ability to maintain his success is his ability to re-adjust to the hitters adjusting to him.

Despite the concerns, it shouldn’t take away from what Santana has done so far this year. Fortunately for Texas, Santana isn’t the only one having success in that bullpen. Brock Burke is currently sporting a 1.06 ERA in 42.1 IP. Matt Moore has made the transition to a reliever and it has paid dividends for Texas with a 1.98 ERA and 27% Strikeout Rate. The Texas bullpen currently ranks 16th in FanGraphs WAR which puts them middle of the pack, but these 3 have given Chris Woodward some reliable options out of that bullpen.

Photo Credit – @BallySportsSW

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button