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Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes

TwinsCentric: Ervin Santana's impressive turnaround

If the Minnesota Twins somehow miraculously find themselves in the postseason, they will have Ervin Santana’s month of September as a big reason for that.

Yes, it is crazy considering that by the end of August the fan base was ready to declare Santana’s signing a huge mistake. Over his first nine starts of the year, Santana owned a 5.53 ERA -- the sixth highest in baseball in that span. He had allowed 11 home runs -- tied for second-most in that time -- and he managed to strike out just 14% of batters he faced. In an instant, that all changed. Over the past 30 days Santana has the second lowest ERA (1.47) falling just behind the Cubs' Jake Arrieta (0.37), who has been pitching out of his mind this season.

In a matter of a few weeks, Santana has gone from a pariah to a savior. How did that happen?
In late August, following a stretch of starts in which Santana allowed 25 runs over 24.2 innings and a sad 11-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Minnesota Twins pitching coach Neil Allen identified Santana’s compromised release point as the source for his struggles. He used some unorthodox drills in order to help Santana rediscover his natural release point. On his recent media tour including an in-game chat with Fox Sports North’s Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven, Santana has been crediting that session as the reason for his turnaround late in the year. Over his 11 seasons at the major league level, Santana told the audience that he had never attempted any sort of drills like the one Allen put him through in Tampa.

Allen's choice of drills -- specifically the shortstop-ground ball drill -- appeared designed to help a problem with Santana’s struggles while pitching from the stretch. Prior to the session, Santana struggled mightily when throwing with runners on base, allowing seven home runs with runners on base. Essentially, he made every bad situation worse. However, after that session, Santana has limited the hard hit contact and has missed more bats.

Attached Image: Santana_Stretch.png

While there is little evidence of Santana’s vertical release point (height) changing much, PitchF/X data shows one major change he has made to his approach -- his horizontal release point is drastically different. Turns out, Santana has shifted from the third base side of the rubber to the first base side of the slab.

Attached Image: Snatana Rubber.png

While the narrative surrounding Santana has been focused on the bullpen session where Neil Allen taught him all the secrets of throwing good, the fact that Santana has made a tangible change in his approach has been wholly ignored or overlooked by the local media and hired baseball pundits. Meanwhile,’s Alec Dopp astutely picked up on Santana’s mound changes and posted about them on September 15, showing visual stills of his new release and their implications. By’s database, as Dopp showed, Santana began throwing from the first base side of the rubber for his August 19 start in New York -- or about a week before his magical bullpen session with Allen.

Does repositioning on the mound really give a pitcher that much of an advantage?

Even adjusting a few inches on the pitching rubber can supply an entirely new angle for a the same old pitch -- it adds an element of deception, says Washington Nationals’ starter Doug Fister.

“Whether it’s my height, where I stand on the rubber, the sinker I throw, whatever it may be. Trying to deceive a hitter is what I’m trying to do, keep him off-balance,” Fister told the Washington Times. “So, if moving over a little bit can help just a fraction of an inch, then hey, I’m going to try to take as much benefit out of it as I can.”

Since repositioning towards the first base side of the rubber, Santana has seen an increase in swings-and-misses out of his slider, particularly on pitches located in the strike zone. His chase rate grew from 34% to 39%. His swinging strike rate on the pitch went from 17% to 22%. Opponents’ well-hit average went from .167 to .046. Perhaps the minor adjustment has added another element of difficulty to the pitch.

Attached Image: output_wzmhdv.gif

Then there is just a comfort level that moving a few steps over can provide to a pitcher. In Milwaukee, Brewers’ top prospect Taylor Jungmann cited his move from the first base side to the third base side in AA Nashville as one of the reasons he has had success in 2015.

“I can’t explain it but I started throwing more strikes. My mechanics were a little more fluid. I didn’t change a whole lot; I just moved to the other side of the rubber,” Jungmann told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It felt natural. It made it a little easier to be consistent with my (pitching) motion. The biggest thing was getting my breaking ball back.”

Of course, it doesn’t always work for everybody. Back in 2012, then-Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta explained to the media his logic as to why he went back to the first base side of the rubber after a tryst with the third base side. Going back to the first base side "[m]ade the pitches more effective because I could command them better. And the comfort level was much greater, much better. You need to find a delivery that you can repeat on every pitch.” Fast forward to 2015 and Arrieta is now one of the game’s best pitchers and uses the extreme third base side of the rubber to do all of his hurling.

The Nationals’ pitching coach Steve McCatty downplayed the effects of that type of adjustment saying “Can it have a major impact where you say, ‘Oh my God, we landed on the Moon?’ Some guys it does. But most of the time, it’s not a big deal.”

Did the shift have some game-changing effect on Santana’s pitching or was it Allen’s tutelage that helped revive his season? The answer is likely both. Santana’s shift may provide him with a more deceptive angle and comfort on the mound while Allen’s drills helped correct his release point and helped him to not fall off towards first as much. Either way, there is no denying how markedly different Santana has been since the end of August.

Naturally, the biggest disappointment is that if Santana somehow leads the team to the postseason because of his PED usage, he would be unable to participate in any games. Still, no matter how the remainder of the season plays out, Santana has rebounded nicely in this season and has given the Twins front office some reassurance that he can be a key component in next year’s rotation.

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TwinsCentric: Resiliency defines 2015 Twins

This season for the Twins started on just about the flattest note possible. The club's prized free agency acquisition was nailed for steroids and suspended for half the year three days before the opener, then the team went 1-6 in its first week of games, getting outscored 45-16 by division rivals in the process.

Few would have guessed that almost six months later, the Twins would be angling for a playoff spot with a win total in the 80s.

The Twins are enjoying their best season in half a decade and hanging with the big boys even though their roster doesn't exactly stack up to the teams they're racing against.

The Astros are led by likely Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and Rookie of the Year shoe-in Carlos Correa. They're a Top 5 American League offense in OPS and they lead the league in team ERA.

The Angels, while less impressive on paper than Houston, are anchored by two-time reigning MVP Mike Trout and have gotten 38 homers from Albert Pujols. Their rotation features an assortment of youthful standouts such as Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Andrew Heaney.

The Twins, meanwhile, have gotten sub par production from nearly all of their highest-paid players, haven't had a significantly above-average starter in the rotation (excepting Tyler Duffey's late-season performance) and have endured instability in the bullpen all year.

Yet they're going to finish in the top half of the AL in wins, and they're still clinging to legitimate postseason hopes with six games remaining.

I don't know how to quantify or explain it, but the resiliency that this Twins team has shown again and again has been a defining factor in their success.

It started with the rebound from that horrible start. Following the 1-6 run to open the year, the Twins won three straight and 31 of their next 46 to move 11 games above .500 by early June. It was a remarkable turnaround and there have been several tribulations in the months since then that they have been able to overcome.

Remember that deflating four-game series in Kansas City back in early July where the Twins – within four games of first place at the time – had a chance to sweep but instead took two losses on 10th-inning walk-offs? Maybe not, because they immediately bounced back to take six of seven at home against the Orioles and Tigers.

How about that heartbreaking sweep at Yankee Stadium in August that included a gut-punch grand slam from A-Rod? The Twins followed that series by winning six straight games and four straight series.

More recently, there was the five-game slide at Target Field in mid-September that seemingly sucked every trace of wind from the team's sails. All they did was take six of their next eight to climb right back into the playoff picture.

Even on an individual level, we've seen this propensity for overcoming adversity. There are plenty of examples within the past few weeks alone.

Glen Perkins, amidst a brutal stretch and coming off perhaps his low point in Detroit, entered with a two-run lead against Cleveland on Monday night and gave up a hard-hit leadoff single on an 0-2 count, creating a "Here we go again" type of feeling. Then he struck out two straight hitters and escaped the inning unscathed.

Phil Hughes, battling back issues and decreased velocity, followed up his worst start as a Twin with a huge performance last week against the Indians, navigating his way through five scoreless innings.

And Tommy Milone, who was needed to replace an ill Hughes as emergency starter in a crucial game on Monday, shook off two rotten outings to deliver a strong performance and pick up a win.

The resilient quality that we have consistently seen from this year's Twins team really differentiates them in my mind from Ron Gardenhire's squads over the past four years. During that era, bad losses turned into losing streaks, and losing streaks turned into extended spells of misery. If you want to see how those teams reacted to getting knocked down, take a look at their records in August and September. As cliche as it sounds, Gardy's late-tenure groups really didn't seem to have much fight in them.

Regardless of what happens over the next five days, no one will be able to say that about the 2015 Twins, and to me, that's an extremely encouraging sign for a youth-led team overseen by a first-year manager.

Final, 10/4 R H E
Kansas City 95-67 6 10 1
Minnesota 83-79 1 7 0

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