Is The Indians Carlos Santana Primed for a Huge 2015 Campaign?

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Opposing Teams Should Fear El Oso in 2015

For the 2014 Cleveland Indians, Carlos Santana was a bit of an enigma. His final 3.1 WAR was consistent with his 2012 and 2013 figures of 3.2 and 3.5, however El Oso’s 2014 had the potential to be so much more. Santana stumbled out of the gate for the Tribe, compiling an abysmal .151/.313/.280 slash line in April and .163/.343/.325 line in May. How, then, did Santana manage a 3.1 WAR? 

The answer is partially a .260/.385/.475 slash line in the second half. It also has to do with a career-best 27 dingers, matching his 2011 output. However, the biggest reason for Santana’s consistency year-to-year is his eye at the plate. Carlos led all of baseball last year with 113 walks and a startling 17.1% BB%. Despite a roller coaster season at the plate, Santana’™s ability to get on base never wavered because of his ability to take a walk. Terry Francona went as far as stating, “Our best leadoff hitter is probably Carlos Santana.” Given that the Tribe managed just a .247 average and .308 OBP out of the leadoff spot a year ago, Francona may be right.

Santana’s consistently high OBP is but one of the many reasons he may be primed for a breakout 2015 season. The only thing stopping him to this point seems to be defensive shifts. In 2014, Santana hit .144 against shifts and .321 with no shift. It is no secret Santana is a pull-hitter, and with the number of shifts utilized by opposing defenses increasing exponentially year-to-year, Santana’s average suffered in 2014.

To examine the issue with shifts a little further, Santana’s .247 2014 BABIP was significantly lower than his career .274 output. Looking at Santana’s batting average on line drives breaks it down a little further. A majority of a player’s hits comes on line drives; on average, Major Leaguers batted .688 on liners in 2014. This is in line with Santana’™s career splits, as he has averaged .734 on liners for his career. However, with a huge uptick in defensive shifts across the league in 2014, Santana’s batting average on line drives slipped to a meager .605.

What the numbers suggest is Santana’s .144 average against the shift last season severely reduced his average on line drives, and in turn his average overall. However, despite the shift, his .260 average after the All-Star break is actually higher than his career .252 average.

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So, it seems Carlos began to make adjustments to the shift after the All-Star break. He laid a few bunts down the unmanned third base line. He tried to slap the ball to the opposite field when he could. He also homered 13 times after the break.

The moral of the story here is that Santana seems primed to emerge as an offensive star for the Indians in 2015. His 27 homers are evidence of his power potential, and his sky-high OBP and walk totals are likely to remain constant. However, the biggest reason for optimism for Tribe fans is his willingness to adjust to the shift by taking hits when they are given to him. Extrapolating that willingness across a full season increases his average to .260 and his OBP to well above .400, perhaps leading defenses to shift less and open up the opportunity for more hits on pulled liners.

Additionally, with Santana now entrenched as the likely full-time first baseman for the Tribe, a position he defended admirably down the stretch, there will be more time this spring for him to work on his opposite field stroke, and less defensive pressure on him overall. It was no secret his failed attempt to learn third base last Spring hurt his offense early on.

Ultimately, I am excited about what 2015 will hold for Carlos Santana. I would not be surprised at all to see him emerge as a top-five player at his position this season. Perhaps a trip to the All-Star game could even be in the offing. Look for his WAR to rise above the 3.1 number from a year ago as his defense steadies and offensive output increases.

Clearly, for opposing teams, there are plenty of reasons to fear El Oso.

Next: Could Jason Giambi Return To The Tribe?

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