As the Cleveland Indians thrashed the Cincinnati Reds this past week, outscoring the southerners 42-16 over the four-game stretch, DH/1B Carlos Santana figured into the final score more often than not. Santana hit .417/.529/.917, with a pair of homers and walking four times. It’s not a large sample size, only 17 plate appearances, but even since he’s entered the leadoff spot on April 22nd he’s slashed .270/.377/.517. But Monday against Cincinnati, something else happened. Santana tapped his toe.
Such a small thing, though a couple years back it was a topic of some conversation around the wigwam, and baseball really. When he loaded on his swing in with the Reds in town, his front foot rose, tapped the ground, rose again and planted, and only then did the bat move through the zone. It's something we haven't seen out of him in years, and suddenly, it's back and he spent the next four days mashing. It was a piece of his swing that was ironed out, the assumption being he’d be able to get to the ball faster and hit better. Here’s what he looked like last Monday night, when he made old, new again.
Here’s what it looked like a couple nights back against the Astros, before the tap.
I did look through the Twins series that followed, and all his at-bats were sans toe-tap. He just didn't make any highlights.
Again, such a little thing, but the minutiae of baseball are what make the great ones, great. It’s interesting to note that, when he moved Santana to the leadoff spot, Francona pledged that his player wouldn’t change anything with his swing. But among the things you can do with your swing, this is major.
It doesn’t seem to be impacting his ability to get around on the ball, in fact, he suddenly became unto a god, but it was also against Reds pitching. Anyone could look like Joey Votto against that kind of pitching, especially that bullpen. But unlike, say, Melvin Upton’s hitchy swing that just removes all flow to everything and makes him worse. This is something Santana has done in the past and demonstrated nearly elite ability with, and is more a timing mechanism anyway, a way to get the front foot down on contact. Victor Martinez does it when batting lefty as well.
Santana only appears to be doing it when batting left-handed, not tapping his toe on Friday night when he was turned around to face Red Sox lefty Tommy Layne after doing it to lead off the game. This tells me he isn’t Mickey Mantle who famously (and falsely) was known to have identical swings. Oddly, Mantle tapped when he batted from the right side but not the left. Myths and legends often lie.
Santana has always been a better hitter from the right side -- 131 wRC+ for his career from as a righty compared to 120 from the left side. If anything this year, though, he needs the help from the right side against lefties -- he’s got a 13 wRC+ while batting right-handed. That is not a typo, it is thirteen, a devil number. But, If he gets back to hitting from the right side like usual and starts finding this stunning kind of success left-handed, he is going to be a terror this summer. We just need our old acquaintance/foe Regression to arrive. And for the Indians to not face every Cy Young-caliber lefty in the league all the time.
What does this all mean? Who knows. Maybe this is the moment where Santana makes his Bautista-esque ascension from pretty good to baseball serial killer. Bautista re-inserted that huge leg kick to his swing and hit 54 home runs the next year, if you didn't know. Maybe it's a thing he only does in NL parks, or just against the Reds. Maybe this is all just temporary, like when Juan Uribe was a patient hitter for a week and a half, and Santana will revert. Players don't just do things like this randomly though, it's potentially a huge switch. It’s something to watch for.