Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Atlanta Braves starter Ervin Santana has been the personification of average -- his career ERA+, which adjusts a pitcher's ERA according to ballpark and the league average ERA, is exactly 100, the baseline for the stat -- but he's been quietly dominant in 2014.
Fantasy owners shouldn't write off Santana's 0.59 ERA and 21/3 K/BB over 15 1/3 innings in his last two starts just because they came against the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres.
The right-hander, who rocks a chin-strap beard that would make Abraham Lincoln proud, has been due for a statistics boost and the stuff he displayed in those starts would have neutralized even the best offenses.
On the year, he's 10-6 with a 3.63 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 118 strikeouts in 131 1/3 innings, but his FIP is 3.10 and his xFIP is 3.23.
Armed with a 92-93 mph four-seam fastball and one of the nastiest sliders in the game, Santana has recorded the 17th highest chase rate, the fourth lowest o-contact rate, the fifth lowest contact rate and the sixth highest swinging- strike rate among qualified pitchers.
Santana has struck out 22.2 percent of the batters he's faced this season, 24th highest among qualified pitchers, but his swing and contact rates portend a higher K rate.
The right-hander allowed at least 0.93 HR/9 in every season in his career prior to 2014, but he's cut his home runs down to 0.62 this season while getting the lowest fly-ball rate and the highest ground-ball rate of his career.
Santana's fastball has typically been a weakness, but he's given up just three home runs on the pitch in 2014. In his first seven seasons, batters hit 109 home runs off his heater.
The 31-year-old started the season with a 1.99 ERA and 43 Ks in his first 40 2/3 innings and he's bounced back nicely after posting a 9.00 ERA and a 1.82 WHIP in 17 innings from May 16-26.
In his last 11 turns, Santana has recorded nine quality starts, a 3.30 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP and 64 Ks in 73 2/3 innings. He's done that despite having batters hit .320 on balls in play against him in that span.
The Braves also have a pretty easy schedule the rest of the season. Santana lines up to face the Padres on the road, the Washington Nationals at home, the Los Angeles Dodgers at home, the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road, the Cincinnati Reds on the road, the Marlins at home, the Marlins on the road, the Nationals on the road, the Nationals at home, the Pirates at home and the Philadelphia Phillies on the road. The only start fantasy owners should be wary of is the one against the Dodgers, though it's good he'll get them at Turner Field where he's been better this season than on the road.
Due to a career of inconsistency and mediocrity, Santana's trade value is likely closer to a SP4 than one of the most dominant pitchers in the NL, but he has a real chance to be a difference-maker down the stretch in fantasy leagues.