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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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April 19, 2008 12:49 PM

Pivotal start versus Santana

Posted by Geoff Baker

Some of you are already predicting a series sweep by the Los Angeles Angels coming off last night's 5-4 defeat for the M's. Well, I can tell you one thing. Tonight's tilt (a 6 p.m. contest) will likely decide which team wins this series. And the Mariners are in tough against homebody Ervin Santana, a pitcher who would be one of the top arms in the AL if he threw every game at Angel Stadium. Who can figure this guy out? Santana is 25-9 with a 3.14 earned run average at home since 2005, while going just 10-21, with a 7.14 ERA on the road. There have been Masters theses done on this guy's splits.

Santana's batting average on balls put into play (BAbip) -- our hot new discussion stat of the week, it seems -- is .270 at home, but a whopping .323 on the road. When you consider that .290 is about average, one would guess Santana has been quite unlucky when it comes to batted balls his fielders convert into outs. One would expect him to regress back to the mean and improve on the road, right? He actually won a road game the other night in Texas. But, well, you know. It was Texas. Not a great team. But it was on the road, give him that.

But if you buy into the BAbip theory, that would means he's been unlucky for what, three years? Seems a stretch. His BAbip was just about normal on the road in 2006, but he still put up some ugly looking peripheral numbers, including a .796 OPS against. Not as bad as his .904 (!) career mark away from home, but hey. Still a good bet for the hitters.

Remember, the BAbip stat does not take home runs into account and Santana has yielded plenty of long balls on the road. A total of one per game on average, compared to one every two games at home.

Interesting, since Angel Stadium over the years has tended to favor hitters more than pitchers, especially last season. Go figure.

The Mariners will have to go figure because they need to do something against Santana tonight or they will drop their second series of the year. Replacement starter Dustin Moseley going tomorrow bodes well for the M's in the finale. But tonight is the toughie.

How will the M's prevail? My unscientific, wild guess: via the long ball. Santana doesn't walk a bunch of guys, home or away, so waiting him out may lead to more strikeouts than anything else. But lefties can hit the guy, so I'd say there's a chance of red-hot Raul Ibanez doing some damage. The M's have to work the count off Santana and do something with any hittable pitches they do get. Between Ibanez and Richie Sexson -- a righthander, but swinging better than I've seen him do in two years -- the chance of some extra base hits seems to be there. When Santana does lose, the balls tend to be flying out.

Otherwise, it could be a long night full of strikeouts. A big test of the "new" Seattle patient approach tonight. The M's can be patient, but they'll have to make contact when they get something.

Anyone else have an idea why Santana is two different pitchers? Let's hear it.

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