Stating that Carlos Santana is not the greatest player on the Cleveland Indians’ roster is often regarded as blasphemy among statisticians. But the right-handed slugger is batting just .211/.347/.367. For the second season in a row, Santana’s average is lingering dangerously close to the Mendoza line, and he has hit just nine home runs to go along with that.
Those familiar with statistics know that on-base percentage is a much greater measure of performance than batting average. And in that regard, Santana is far above-average, especially given how often he needs to walk to compensate for his lack of hits. But on-base percentage does not drive runners in, nor does it ensure that the player who is reaching base is effective at scoring runs himself.
Recently, manager Terry Francona moved Santana down in the lineup, allowing him to bat in the fifth spot rather than in the second spot. That is the perfect place for Santana, even though there are many who will disagree. While having a good on-base percentage would typically be an indicator that someone deserves to be at the top of the lineup, there are other factors that should be considered.
First of all, by moving Santana to the fifth spot, he is no longer clogging the bases at the top of the lineup. When he was batting second in the order, Santana was not good at taking extra bases. This season, he’s taken an extra bag just 30 percent of the times in which it would have been possible to do so. Moreover, he’s gone first-to-third or first-to-home just twice, out of sixteen times that he was on first base when a hit occurred. He’s scored from second base on hits just three times, in eight chances.
The fact that he doesn’t have very good instincts or speed on the bases should eliminate him from the first or second spot in the lineup, and it should similarly keep him from batting at the bottom of the order. Although Santana’s tendency to get on base would make him a good person to have at the plate when the lineup turns over to the team’s best hitters, his lack of base-running prowess would make Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley far less effective at driving in runs.
Also, Santana’s presence at the beginning of the lineup took away much-needed depth. When Santana was batting second, Brantley struggled at the plate, presumably because there was no real threat behind him. One important aspect of Santana’s game is his ability to intimidate pitchers. Because he has an excellent eye and he can also hit for power, pitchers are very limited in what they can convince him to swing at, or how many strikes they can risk throwing. It puts them in a complex predicament and forces them to make mistakes.
In the fifth spot, Santana will have a better overall impact on the team. Although his nine home runs are not very notable, he is capable of hitting quite a few more. He averages 24 per year, so he is projected to hit more homers in the second half. That power will be much more useful in the five-spot than at the top of the order.
His presence will also provide depth, in a lineup that lacks strong hitters. Having him bat at the top of the order sounded better on paper than it actually worked in practice, and moving him down was a smart decision.