Carlos Santana: Offensive Force


Sep 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman

Carlos Santana

(41) in the dugout against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Indians hope the slugging switch hitter has found a home at first base

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No Cleveland Indians player signifies the dichotomy of the old guard of baseball fan and the new(ish), analytically inclined fan quite like Carlos Santana. The way someone views Santana’s 2014 season says everything that could be said about one’s purview of the game.

The “traditional” stats don’t jump off the page, save for the 27 home runs. A .231 average is nothing to write home about and 85 RBI and 68 runs scored don’t seem like much for a guy hitting in a key spot in the lineup. There’s a non-insignificant portion of the fan base who views Santana’s terrible April and May months (.159 combined batting average) as inexcusable, even if it may have been caused in part by the Grand Santana-As-A-Third-Baseman Experiment of 2014. A game in April counts the same as a game in September after all, and an otherworldly series in July against the Royals and great play the rest of the season doesn’t make up for a nearly invisible first two months.

The people who believe the above paragraph (and there most certainly are people who feel that way) have the right to believe whatever they want. But they’re flat out wrong. Carlos Santana is an offensive force in an era where those players are increasingly difficult to come by.

Santana’s prowess when he swings the bat shouldn’t be understated. His 27 homers tied him with Adrian Gonzalez for 17th in baseball, and his .196 ISO ties him with Adam LaRoche and Ed Carroll man-crush Adam Dunn for 21st in baseball among qualified hitters.

But it’s his prowess when he’s taking pitches that truly makes Santana an elite offensive player. Santana’s 17.1 BB% was first in baseball among qualified hitters, and it wasn’t even that close (Jose Bautista came in second at 15.5%). Even when he couldn’t buy a hit through April and May, he still ranked fourth and second in those respective months in walk rate. The fact that he managed a .343 OBP in May despite collecting just 14 hits is nothing short of astounding.

Sep 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) in the field against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Santana’s penchant for patience at the plate helped him achieve a .365 OBP, good for 22nd in the league, ahead of stars such as Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, Carlos Gomez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Alex Gordon. Santana’s wOBA, one of the best measures of true offensive output, was .353, ranking 35th in baseball directly ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Donaldson, and Todd Frazier. As long as teams are allotted just 27 outs per game, Santana’s ability to avoid making them is a major plus in his favor.

Moving forward into 2015 and beyond, Carlos Santana will be a key cog in the Tribe’s success. The five year, $21 million extension Santana signed in 2012 is a bargain; he’ll make $6 million in 2015 and $8.25 million in 2016 with the club retaining a $12 million option for 2017. Santana has settled in nicely as the everyday first baseman and will likely man that spot over the life of the contract.

But ultimately it’s Santana’s performance at the plate that will help drive the Indians towards a playoff push. Santana will play the 2015 season at 29 years old, so he should be right at his peak as a hitter. More consistency from month to month would be helpful; those games in April and May do count after all. But there’s every reason to think his early season woes were nothing more than an aberration; random variance aided perhaps by the constant moving around the diamond on defense and maybe some frustration with the heavy amount of infield shifts thrown his way. Another interesting thing to look for next season is to see whether Tito Francona will experiment with batting Santana second in the order, where his league-leading walk rate and power production can best be leveraged.

Add everything up, and the Indians have one of the best offensive players in the game to anchor their lineup. Santana’s blend of good power and excellent patience at the plate makes him a perfect fit in a lineup that at times can be short on both. The Indians front office was smart to lock up an elite offensive talent to such a team-friendly deal, and Carlos Santana will continue to provide great offensive production and great Twitter interactions in 2015 and beyond.