Carlos Santana: Third Base & Selective Platooning


Apr 21, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) fields a ground ball against the Houston Astros in the sixth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Minimizing Fielding Impact Of Carlos Santana At Third Base

Carlos Santana experimented at third base while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic but there has been no decision as to whether the process will continue during spring training or not.

If it does there is every reason to believe that at various times during the 2014 season he will log a few innings at the hot corner. How much time? I’d be surprised if the time at third base was more than 15-20 games and was limited to around 100-120 innings.

The biggest concerns with Santana at third base seems to be whether shifting from DH to first base to third base to catcher throughout the 162 game season would distract him at the plate and affect his offensive performance.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The other more pressing concern is the impact that having his glove at the hot corner may have on the Indians pitching staff.

I’m not a mental skills coach and am not around Carlos Santana enough to answer the former but from looking at two starting pitchers the defensive impact of his glove at third base can be greatly minimized by having him at third base when either Justin Masterson or Corey Kluber are starting. Ideally, he’d start there when the opposition started a left-handed pitcher but starting against a righty should not be excluded.

When either pitcher is on the mound the impact of the third baseman is minimized several ways. First the opposing manager generally loads the lineup with left-handed batters putting more emphasis on the middle infielders and neither pitcher allows right-handed batters to pull the ball with great frequency.

In 2013 there were 803 plate appearances against Masterson and 61.5% (494 of 803) were against left-handed batters while Kluber had 608 plate appearances against and 53.8% (327 of 608) were against lefties.

To judge the impact of Carlos Santana’s glove in the field it will be necessary to examine the hit location, specifically ground balls, against both Masterson and Kluber.

In order to break down the hit-location against  Masterson and Kluber Baseball-Reference’s Event Finder was utilized. The Event Finder utilizes a field location and scoring system provided by Retrosheet.

The Retrosheets Hit-Location Sheet utilizes a standard scorers definition of position and the field is broken down by area. An example “5” is the area from the foul line to a certain distance past the third basemen toward the shortstop position. The next area is the “56” area which covers the area to the shortstop’s right and third baseman’s left.  Using the same scoring system the “25” area is between the catcher and third base and the “15” area is between the pitcher and third baseman.

The ground ball distribution for 2013 for both pitchers separated by left-handed and right-handed hitters is provided in the table below.

Mastserson had a 58% ground ball rate but the majority of the ground balls span from the shortstop position to the first base side of the infield. In total only 15 ground balls were classified as to the third base area and 29 in the area between third base and shortstop.

Kluber is less of a ground ball pitcher with a ground ball rate of only 45.5% which in itself lends to minimizing the third base defense. There were only 9 ground balls to the third base area and the 20 in the area between the third baseman and the shortstop. The majority of the ground balls against him also went to the shortstop area to the first base line.

The 2013 spray charts against both pitchers are presented below for all batters, right-handed batters, and left-handed batters. The green dots specify ground balls off the bat and as illustrated the impact of the third baseman is negligible relative to the other infield positions.

Final Thought: Carlos Santana may be able to play third base when either pitcher is on the mound. If the Indians have a lead they may remove him late in games for a defensive replacement which begs the question whether or not Santana’s bat should be maximized by having him leadoff in those games where he starts at third base? (refresh page if Spray Charts fail to load)

Justin Masterson Spray Charts 2013




Corey Kluber Spray Charts 2013