Defending the Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Santana’s Offense

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May 24, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) hits an RBI single during the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Has Santana’s low batting average made him a bad hitter?

Many Indians fans have argued that Santana does not provide the Indians with any value due to his low batting average. This is completely false, as batting average is not a great indicator of a player’s contributions to a team. It’s not even a good indicator. Countless amounts of studies have shown that on-base percentage is more valuable than batting average, and they have used correlations between team success and the two statistics to prove this.

Rather than source a whole bunch of studies, it might be easier to show this point with a simple thought process. Each team is given 27 outs to score more runs than the other team. When a batter gets to the plate, any outcome that does not result in an out allows the rest of the team to continue batting, and thus provides the team with more opportunities to score runs. The main ways to avoid creating an out are through a walk, a hit-by-pitch, or a base hit.

Since Santana has walked roughly 17% of the time and has got a base hit roughly 17% of the time this season, he has allowed the Indians to continue batting about 35% of the time. This 35% number is also known as on-base percentage, which we prefer to display in a .346 format. For comparison, the average American League batter has allowed his team to continue batting roughly 31% of the time, which is significantly lower than Santana’s career mark of 37%.

Now, don’t get me wrong: a walk is not as valuable as a single. Walks are, however, a lot more valuable than one might think. This season, a walk has been worth roughly 78% of a single, meaning that singles have only been marginally more valuable than walks. When these adjustments are taken into account, a new statistic emerges: wOBA.

Jun 14, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) at bat against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Many readers may be complaining that we don’t need new statistics to measure the game; and if you are one of those people right now, you might be in for a pleasant surprise. wOBA isn’t really a crazy statistic that does mysterious things. In fact, if you are okay with slugging percentage, then there is no reason to dislike wOBA.

So what is wOBA?

wOBA stands for Weighted On-Base Average, and it is essentially a more accurate version of slugging percentage. Each outcome – a walk, hit-by-pitch, single, double, triple, and home run – is assigned a weight based on how frequently it created runs. That means that a walk and single are not equal, which should make many walk-hating fans very happy.

It turns out that Santana’s wOBA of .319 this season is nowhere near as good as his on-base percentage. In fact, it is marginally better than the AL average of .313. This season has been a down year for the switch-hitter, and nearly any statistic will show that. Throughout his career, he has tended to post wOBAs over .350 and even posted a wOBA of .364 just two years ago. These results are vastly superior to the league average.

Next, does his “swing for the fences” approach with men in scoring position cost the team?

Next: Does he 'swing for the fences' with RISP?