Ervin Santana vs. His Critics – Part 3
John Cortez poses with Ervin Santana at the 2003 Carolina League-California League All-Star Game.
I’m a nobody.
And if you like Ervin Santana, you’re a nobody too.
Thus spake Matt Hurst, Angels beat writer for the Riverside Press-Enterprise, in his latest salvo lobbed not only at Santana but also anyone who happens to support the kid.
“This is the Santana everyone knows,” Hurst wrote in his August 28 blog. "This is the Santana nobody loves. This is the real Ervin Santana."
Nobody loves Santana?! Really?!
I like Ervin.
And I know quite a few people associated the Angels’ minor leagues over the years who liked Ervin too.
One “nobody” was a diminutive deaf-mute named John Cortez.
John worked part-time as a batboy for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes a few years ago. His moment of fame came when Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke wrote about the special relationship between John and NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, who at the time was playing center for the Los Angeles Lakers.
During the NBA off-season he’d work for Rancho Cucamonga. In 2003, Ervin was with the Quakes, and was named to the California League All-Star Game.
Before the game, John gestured that he wanted me to take a photo of him with his friend Ervin, who was wearing his All-Star jersey. For which Ervin gladly posed with a big smile. John’s smile was just as big.
Presumably Matt wasn’t including all of Planet Earth when he declared that “nobody” likes Santana. So who are the somebodies whose opinion apparently matters?
The beat writers?
If so … who cares.
The beat writers are reporters. Their job isn’t to like or dislike someone. It’s to report the story. If the newspapers were filled with articles only about players that sportswriters like, then I guess we’d never read articles about Garret Anderson or any other player who has cause to distrust the media.
Perhaps Matt meant Ervin’s teammates.
I’m not privy to what goes on these days in the Angels clubhouse behind closed doors, so I can’t answer that one. Coming up through the system, from what I saw Ervin sure seemed popular enough with his teammates. Looking back through the FutureAngels.com Photo Galleries, I see pictures of him hanging out with teammates. I never saw anyone run from him. So he can’t be that bad.
Maybe Matt meant that his teammates are unhappy with Ervin’s recent erratic performance.
Well, no kidding.
None of us are. Including Ervin, obviously.
In the middle of a pennant race, the Angels need to rely on consistent performance. Manager Mike Scioscia handed Ervin a second chance, in a high-pressure game August 17 at Boston. He pitched one of the most dominant games seen anywhere in the majors this year.
Yet Matt writes in his blog that this was not the “real” Santana. The “real” Santana, he claims, is the one who failed to get out of the first inning last night at Seattle.
Funny, because if we look at Ervin’s career record, the “real” Santana is closer to the one we saw in Boston than the one who’s struggled the last few months. Through 2006 in his minor league career (which began at age 17), Ervin has a 38-16 (.704) record with 487 strikeouts in 480 2/3 innings. In 2003, when he was named to the California League All-Star Game, his ERA was 2.53 in 20 starts at age 20. In 2005, he was promoted at age 22 directly from Double-A Arkansas to the majors. He started 23 games that year for the Angels, posting a 4.65 ERA in 133 2/3 innings. Last year, he had a 4.28 in 33 starts, spending the entire season in Anaheim.
On Monday’s post-game show, John Lackey was asked about Santana. He didn’t say he disliked Ervin. He did say Ervin’s problem was too many pitches were finding the middle of the plate, but duly noted that Santana’s stuff is electric when he has his location.
We saw that last night in Seattle.
The radar consistently clocked Santana’s fastball at 95 MPH.
The problem, though, was that his fastball was finding too much of the plate, and it lacked movement.
Whether it’s strictly mechanical or a lack of mental “toughness,” that’s for pitching coach Mike Butcher to figure out.
In any case, Ervin only gave more ammunition to the instant-gratification crowd whose loyalty goes as far as the last box score.
The irony is that these are the same people who constantly whine about the Angels lacking infinite patience with Bobby Jenks. Would they have Bill Stoneman ship out Santana only to see Ervin mature past his temporary problem and become the next Pedro Martinez with another organization?
Ervin told Times reporter Dylan Hernandez he was happy in Salt Lake, where “nobody bothered me.” (Those pesky nobodies again …) So maybe that’s what the Angels need to do — return him to Salt Lake.
The Bees have only six games left in the season, but they won the PCL Pacific North title last night and will probably face Sacramento (an A’s affiliate) in the conference championship round next week.
Since Ervin probably won’t get another shot at a major league start this year, why not send him to Salt Lake and let him participate in a pressure environment free of the major league media glare?
Maybe he’ll regain his confidence, take that into the off-season, and report next spring to Tempe with a fresh perspective.
Let’s keep in mind he’s only 24 years old. Nearly all young pitchers go through growing pains. John Lackey was inconsistent his first two full seasons — he had a 4.63 ERA in 2003 and a 4.67 ERA in 2004. Certain fans on the Angels board called him "Lacknuts" and demanded the Angels dump him. Thank goodness Stoneman ignored them. Lackey was 26 years old a month after the end of that 2004 season, about two years older than Santana is now.
It would be pretty foolish to give up on a 24-year old kid with Ervin’s stuff just because he’s behind the maturity curve due to his upbringing in third-world squalor.
Matt also chose to call “ignorant” those who think positively of Santana, and although he chose not to name names it was pretty clear from the context he was referring to this blog.
In an era where newspapers are struggling to keep their readers, it does seem odd that a reporter would choose to insult those whose opinion differs with him, in particular a fan web site that in the past has been very supportive of his newspaper and his articles. This blog was pretty much the only fan site that spoke positively of Ervin when he was recalled from Salt Lake, noting that at Franklin Covey Field the hitter-friendly 4,500-foot altitude distorts pitchers’ numbers. On the road in neutral parks, Santana had been effective in two starts. So I pointed out that Triple-A really wasn’t going to make much difference other than to take off the pressure, and was proven right when he dominated at Boston. When Matt singles out the "Angels followers (I will save names to protect the ignorant) with blogs and filling up message boards that they believed in Santana and the guy everyone saw in Boston two starts ago was the real deal," the list of suspects is very short.
Bloggers by definition are subjective. They’re not meant to be professional journalists. Blogs are opinions, no more.
When a reporter is given a blog, it lets him cross the line between journalistic objectivity and personal opinion. But the danger in that is it exposes to the world a reporter’s personal biases. And when his readers learn of those biases, they’ll start to wonder whether it slants the journalist’s reporting. Matt called Ervin a "spoiled brat" in an August 23 blog that complained about Ervin granting an interview to someone other than one of the regular beat writers. Now Matt follows up by calling "ignorant" those who believe in Ervin despite his recent hiccup.
I doubt we’d have ever seen Jim Murray or Ross Newhan call their readers "ignorant" for the crime of disagreement.
But then I’m a nobody, so my opinion doesn’t matter.
UPDATE 8/30/2007 5:30 AM PDT — An article on MLB.com suggests that Ervin might get another chance to start for the Angels on Monday.
Scioscia said the staff is weighing its options for Monday’s starter against Oakland.
Ervin Santana, who yielded five runs on four hits and two walks while getting one out on Tuesday night, remains a possibility. Also under consideration are Dustin Moseley, following his superlative effort (5 1/3 innings, no runs, two hits) in relief of Santana, and Jered Weaver, who faced Hernandez on Wednesday and would be pitching on his normal day.
"There are some things we might be able to bring into Ervin’s game to help him," Scioscia said, having reviewed video of Santana’s starts with pitching coach Mike Butcher. "It’s frustrating. Ervin’s frustrated. Still, projecting his career, we’re as excited as ever. He’s got the potential to be very good for a long time."
Santana’s issues are command-related, falling behind in the count. He thought the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre in particular, hit good pitches in his first-inning unraveling.
I wonder if this qualifies Scioscia as “ignorant” in Matt’s eyes …