Carlos Santana has been -- as Jason Lukehart so aptly put it -- Cleveland Indians’ fans favorite whipping boy the past couple years, but he has been far from a terrible hitter. Last season was a career-worst for the 29-year-old but he still slashed .231/.357/.395 and walked in 16.2 percent of his plate appearances. According to a recent examination of StatCast data by MLB.com’s Andrew Simon, a lot of Santana’s dip in 2015 can be attributed to just bad luck.
The data Simmons looked at suggests Santana was still hitting the ball extremely hard last season, despite his career-low .395 slugging percentage. He was hitting the ball so hard, in fact, that 49 of his hits that resulted in outs were leaving his bat at over 100 mph.
Santana was ranked 53rd in average exit velocity and 57th in launch angles among players with the most 100-mph contact, two factors that suggest he should be hitting a lot of extra base hits. However, among that same group of players, Santana was ranked near the bottom in batting average (75th) and slugging percentage (63rd).
This poor luck also reflected in Santana’s batting average on balls in play, which was .261 in 2015; a full .10 below his already-low .271 career BABIP. Simmons does not mention Santana’s previous seasons, but the switch-hitter also had a dismal BABIP in 2014 when his batted balls were dropping in for hits at only a .249 clip.
Simmons expects Santana to have a bounce-back year in 2015, and projection systems seem to agree. ZiPS projects Santana to finish the year with a .240/.369/.424 slash (121 wRC+) and 22 home runs, while Steamer projects a .239/.362/.416 slash (117 wRC+) with 20 home runs. Both would be an improvement for Santana, but still not quite the production that he has had in previous years. It should be noted that neither ZiPS nor Steamer take StatCast data into account, so they do not care if Santana was hitting the ball really hard and nothing was dropping for him. In theory, they could be undershooting his projections just going by previous seasons’ numbers alone.