Defending the Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Santana’s Offense

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Jun 13, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) at bat in the fifth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Has Santana hurt the team by swinging for the fences?

Another big complaint that has aroused in the comment section has been Santana’s “swing for the fence” mentality that leads to too many strikeouts when the game is on the line. One fan pointed out that Santana strikes-out over 100 times a season, and that a strikeout machine isn’t going to “get it done”. While striking-out over 100 times in a season may seem like a lot, it actually isn’t. In fact, Santana has struck-out at a rate lower than the league average in all but one of his seasons.

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And as for Santana’s swing for the fence mentality with runners in scoring position, there is little evidence to support this claim. Between a quarter and a third of his plate appearances come with runners in scoring position, and Santana has hit roughly the same amount of his home runs in those situations. Even further, aside from this season, Santana has struck-out less frequently with runners in scoring position than his seasonal average, something that one would not expect if a batter were swinging for the fences.

Not only do outcome statistics suggest that Santana is not swinging for the fences with runners in scoring position, but his batted ball statistics agree with this conclusion. His career fly ball rate is identical to his fly ball rate with runners in scoring position, and he has hit fly balls at a lower rate with runners in scoring position this year than with runners not in scoring position. Finally, Santana has walked more frequently with men in scoring position than without men in scoring position, showing that he isn’t going to swing at junk to try and go deep.

To be fair, the results with runners in scoring position have been less than desirable so far this season. He has posted a .183/.340/.280 slash-line with runners in scoring position, and his wRC+ of 81 says that he has created runs at a rate 19% worse than league average. While his .217 BABIP with men in scoring position would certainly suggest luck as the culprit for his struggles, his 45.2% pull rate and 46.8% groundball rate make me think that he is just hitting into defensive shifts.

Conclusion:

I’m not arguing that Santana is perfect, and I’m not afraid to criticize a player for his weaknesses. What I am arguing is that Carlos Santana provides the Cleveland Indians with offensive value, and that many things of which fans accuse him are factually incorrect. Anyone who wants to pick on Santana’s game should be criticizing him for his defense or base running, not his offensive skills.

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