Every offseason, the Cleveland Guardians’ front office rummages through the free agent scrap heap and signs discarded relief pitchers to minor league contracts. Every year, almost without exception, at least one of them turns out to be a diamond in the rough.
This year, that diamond was Enyel De Los Santos.
The 26-year-old right-hander was first signed as an international free agent by the Seattle Mariners back in 2014. He was traded three years later to the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he made his big league debut in 2018. But De Los Santos struggled with the Phillies, even missing all of the 2020 season after being demoted to Triple-A the previous August.
He landed with the Guardians as a free agent this offseason after refusing a minor league assignment from the Pittsburgh Pirates after the conclusion of the 2021 season.
Naturally, De Los Santos’ first season in Cleveland now stands as his most successful, finishing with career bests in ERA (3.04), FIP (2.63), and WAR (1.0).
The most noticeable difference is the performance of his fastball. Not only did the average velocity on his four-seamer increase from 94.8 mph in 2021 to 95.3 mph in 2022, but the average spin rate also increased from 2194 RPM to 2251 RPM. Opposing hitters didn’t have nearly as much success against it. Hitters were batting .333 and slugging .625 against De Los Santos’ four-seam fastball in 2021, before batting .229 and slugging .367 against it in 2022. He also surrendered a career-low 6.5% HR/FB one season removed from a 20.5% HR/FB.
His slider also became an effective secondary pitch for the first time in his career, throwing it a career-high 28.4% of the time. Opposing hitters batted .174 and slugged .290 against his slider in 2022, and it was De Los Santos’ top putaway pitch by season’s end.
It’s difficult to overstate his importance to the Guardians’ bullpen this season, and it’s important to remember that he didn’t even make the Opening Day roster. De Los Santos started the season in Triple-A Columbus and didn’t appear in Cleveland until late April.
He tied with James Karinchak for fourth in the Guardians bullpen in WAR (1.0) and pitched the sixth-most innings (53.1) of any Cleveland reliever. De Los Santos arrived in Cleveland as Eli Morgan’s effectiveness was waning and before James Karinchak and Sam Hentges surged to the top of the bullpen in the second half of the season. He was a stabilizing presence in a bullpen that was desperately searching for reliable arms outside of Emmanuel Clase.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the immaculate inning he recorded against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 27, 2022, perhaps the cherry on top of his outstanding season.
Now we’ll see if De Los Santos can sustain this success.
Enyel De Los Santos’ 2022 stats
We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.