As part of Terry Francona's efforts to inject some life into the Cleveland Indians struggling offense, he's moved first baseman Carlos Santana to the number two spot. The 5'11" 210 former catcher is never going to be much of a threat to steal a base, but he has the chops for batting second where it really matters: on base percentage.
Despite being a career OBP machine, hitting second in the order is new territory for Santana at the major league level. Including the last two games at Kansas City, he has only 31 career plate appearances in the 2-hole, with 18 of them coming back in 2011. Even the idea of batting a lumbering first baseman such as Santana second in the lineup would have been sacrilegious a few years past, but this is 2015 and it's the smartest place for him to bat, given this roster.
So far in 2015 Santana is getting on base at an impressive clip, even more impressive than his already stellar career numbers. As of May 7th he has an OBP of .398, with more of his times on base coming from walks than from hits. He's walked in 21.2% of his plate appearances this season, the highest rate in MLB. Santana has always been a very selective hitter, with a 15.8% career walk rate and .368 OBP.
The problem as far as the Indians are a team is concerned is the fact that there is no one is taking advantage of it and driving him home. This isn't Santana's fault, but it's a side effect of the Indians offensive struggles as a whole. Despite getting on base 44 times in his 104 plate appearances as the team's cleanup hitter, he scored only 14 runs, with 3 of those coming on his own home runs. When he reached by a walk, single, or double, he was scoring only 27% of the time.
It's hard to fault Santana for not scoring runs when, to this point, he's had the likes of Brandon Moss, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Bourn inconsistently hitting behind him. With Francona's recent lineup changes he'll instead be in front of the red-hot Michael Brantley and lefty masher Ryan Raburn, and with the red hot Jason Kipnis in front of him, Santana should still come to bat with runners on a good amount of the time.
Although the Indians ultimately lost the game, this new order paid off quickly on Tuesday night against the Kansas City Royals when Santana walked in the first inning and was immediately brought home with a Michael Brantley 2-run home run. It worked again during Wednesday's route of the Royals when he made it home on a wild pitch in the 2nd inning and again when he scored off of a Ryan Raburn double in the top of the 7th. Three times on base, and he scored after each of them.
At the very least, Santana should be staying put at the 2-hole until he finds his power stroke again. The argument that Carlos should be hitting 3rd or 4th to make use of his power falls apart pretty quickly when looking at his power numbers this year. His .364 slugging percentage is a full .075 behind his career average, and his isolated power has dipped as well - currently at .125 compared to a career .191. There's no reason to believe at this point in the season that Santana won't eventually find his power again (he's started slow before and ended up just fine), but as long as he's "only" getting on base right now, there's no reason not to let him wear down pitchers ahead of Brantley and Raburn as long as they are both streaking.
All of this becomes null and void should the Indians decide to call up Francisco Lindor, but that's a whole other discussion.