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Here’s Why Ex-Yankees Pitcher Could Be a Steal for the Pirates

Tuesday’s announcement that the Pittsburgh Pirates plucked pitcher Dennis Santana from the New York Yankees didn’t garner much attention. After all, the waiver claim was just one of many moves made by the Pirates this week. These included two minor league contracts (Jake Woodford, Luis Cessa), two waiver claims (Santana, Niko Goodrum), one player released (Wily Peralta), and two others designated for assignment (Jose Hernandez, Ben Heller).

On the surface, the addition of Santana didn’t deserve much fanfare. In seven major league seasons with four teams, the 28-year-old right-handed reliever is 10-14 with a 5.34 ERA and 1.418 WHIP. This season, he had a 6.26 ERA and 1.354 WHIP in 23 appearances with the Yankees. Furthermore, opposing batters lit him up to the tune of a .262/.333/.418 slash line.

Dennis Santana Could Be a Steal For the Pirates

Discussing the addition of Santana with SportsNet Pittsburgh reporter Hannah Mears on Wednesday, Pirates manager Derek Shelton said, “We know he throws strikes . . . There’s a couple of things that we see that we may wanna adjust, we may wanna tweak.”

Shelton wasn’t asked and didn’t offer what those “things” might be. Not to worry, however, because my crack research and analytics team (me) has uncovered them.

Let’s Take a Deep Dive Into the Numbers

Santana features five pitches. The following table shows their usage and the results in 2024.



Opponents Avg.

Opponents wOBA

Whiff Pct.
















Four-seam fastball










Santana has been throwing the wrong pitches all year. The reader will note that Santana uses three pitches roughly three-fourths of the time. However, only his cutter deserves to be used that often. The sinker generates no swing-and-miss and opposing batters are crushing it. Batters are also pounding the slider, although they’re also whiffing on it at a decent rate. His best pitches are the least used. Thus, the Pirates’ brain trust must be thinking: More four-seamers and changeups, fewer sliders, and ditch the sinker.

The Yankee Effect

More statistics indicate why Santana might pitch better for the Pirates than he did with the Yankees. Despite the high ERA, Santana’s FIP is above average at 3.91 and his xERA is 4.28. Both figures suggest that there may have been bad luck – lots of it – that contributed to his performance. Furthermore, his Neutralized ERA and WHIP, 5.00 and 1.333 respectively, indicate that ballpark factors may have been involved in his poor numbers.

In Yankee Stadium, opponents hit .290/.364/.464 against Santana. Nevertheless, away from Yankee Stadium, Santana was much better. Opponents hit just .206/.270/.294 against him on the road. Possibly Santana, who was an unpopular Yankee, felt the stress of pitching in the Yankee Stadium pressure cooker. (In April, Crestline surveyed 999 baseball fans. Yankees fans were ranked as the most annoying, the most badly behaved, and the most arrogant fans in baseball. In 2010, when the Yankees visited PNC Park, brawls broke out in the stands, instigated by Yankees fans upset about the 1960 World Series. Most of them were born after 1960.)

Can You Stand More Numbers and Tables?

Improvement from Santana might also come simply from getting ahead in the count. The table below shows the results Santana yielded for the Yankees, of which the Pirates have surely taken note.



Batting Avg.

On-Base Pct.

Slugging Pct.

Batter ahead in the count




Count even




Santana ahead in the count




Finally, Shelton will be aware of Santana’s striking reverse splits, which may affect how he’s used as a Pirate.


Batting Avg.

On-Base Pct.

Slugging Pct.

Right-handed batters




Left-handed batters




The Last Word

With general manager Ben Cherington recently signing Woodford and left-hander Justin Bruihl, it’s clear that he’s unhappy with the Pirates bullpen and will continue to look for improvement. As Shelton stated, Santana does indeed throw strikes – 67 percent of the time in 2024. What Santana needs are more first-pitch strikes. If Santana changes his pitch usage and stays ahead in the count, his performance with the Pirates just might exceed what he did with the Yankees.

Main Photo: © Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports


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