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I believe in Santana

Following up on my posts about LaPorta, Brantley, Masterson and Carrasco, I'm going to conclude the series with a short post on Carlos Santana.  After being stolen from the Dodgers for Casey Blake, Santana has done nothing but hit in the Indians organization.  Santana's 2008 breakout season split between Cleveland and LA was only reinforced by outstanding 2009 and 2010 minor league campaigns.  When Santana finally got the call to Cleveland last year, he was a hitter who profiled as a high average, very high on-base percentage, high slugging percentage kind of catcher.  This is what he did....

Santana showed outstanding plate discipline and on-base skills during his 192 Cleveland plate appearances.  He finished with 8 more walks (37) than strikeouts (29), giving him a phenomenal 19.3% BB-rate.  This helped him put up an excellent .401 OBP.  His batting average, .260, was not exceptional, but here he was hurt by a somewhat low BABIP of .277.  Since 2008, his BABIP has ranged from .304-.408 (good for a .362 average).  Adjust his line in Cleveland northwards by about 30-40 points and both his average and OBP began to look pretty great.  If one wants to quibble, they could say that his power, while still quite good (.207 ISO), underwhelmed.  Projected across a full season, Santana was on pace for 21 HRs and 46 2Bs, though, pretty nice numbers for a rookie.  Pitchers facing off against Santana actively avoided throwing him fastballs, as fewer than half the pitches he saw were heaters (48.0%).  This did not help the pitchers much, as Santana had positive run values on all of the types of pitches he faced except the ~170 changeups he saw (wCH/C -0.03).  If one really wants to be pessimistic, you could point out that Santana was in a slump the final month, and especially two weeks, prior to his injury on August 2nd.  But I am not a pessimist when it comes to Santana (see title).

My only real concern about Santana is what happens to him while he is squatting behind the plate, not standing next to it.  This concern, perhaps surprisingly, has nothing to do with stolen bases, as Santana caught more than 35% of the baserunners against him.  Instead it has to do with who and what Santana lets pass the plate.  Santana's 4 passed balls in 40 games put him on pace to put up a league-leading total across a full season.  This is hardly a major concern, but it would be nice to see some improvement in how he handles major league pitches.  The bigger issue is what ended his season, to which I can just say:


If the Indians are in a situation where the one or two runs saved by a Santana block of the plate are more valuable than Santana's health, a vast number of things have gone right in the Indians universe.  Quite simply, Santana should never put himself in the position of being hit while behind the plate.  I know this is baseball blasphemy, but Santana's value as a hitter far exceeds the very marginal defensive value of blocking the plate.  Let it go.  Let the runner advance to go and let us collect your hits.

Below the fold is the posture I would prefer Santana take when baserunners are heading towards a close play at the plate:



Positive Indicators for Carlos Santana

  • Games played (>95% of possible games)
  • Increase in power (ISO ~250)
  • Decrease in passed balls (on pace for 10 or fewer)