While it may seem crazy, the Cleveland Indians’ decision to put Carlos Santana in the outfield for Game 3 of the World Series makes complete sense.
The Cleveland Indians and manager Terry Francona are going to start designated hitter/first baseman Carlos Santana in left field for tonight’s Game 3 World Series game. Santana has not played an inning in the outfield this season and has only played once there in his big league career, way back in 2012. On the surface, this seems like a disaster but it’s actually a move that makes a lot of sense.
This won’t be the first time Santana has started a professional game in the outfield in his career. He actually played the outfield a decent amount in his early minor league days. In fact, Santana actually played more outfield than third base in the minor leagues (66 in the OF, 58 at 3B). The Indians felt the “natural” third baseman could still play there at the big league level and named him the starting third baseman in 2014.
Things didn’t go as well as they had hoped and Santana was back behind the plate and at first base/designated hitter after a short stint at third. It was then decided that Santana remain at first base and designated hitter, but was this really necessary?
Despite popular opinion, Santana is pretty athletic. It’s the reason the Los Angeles Dodgers felt he could make the move to catcher years ago despite being primarily an outfielder/third baseman. Now, is he a Jose Ramirez type? Absolutely not. But he’s also not a Victor Martinez/Ryan Garko type either who were lumbering bats that could barely handle first base let alone another position once moved out from behind the plate.
Santana has improved defensively at first base as well, showing more range than he has in years past, posting a +1 DRS (defensive runs saved) and 2.2 UZR (ultimate zone rating). It’s only a one-year sample, but he looked a lot better to anyone who watched him this year. Obviously first base and the outfield are very different positions but it’s still worth noting that defensively Santana has improved this year.
Chisenhall Made a Quick Transition Look Seamless
We also saw Lonnie Chisenhall take to the outfield very well just last year. Despite never playing it as a professional before 2015, Chisenhall went to the minors and played a whole four games in right field before being called up and asked to start there.
And what do you know, Chisenhall looked damn good in the outfield almost from the second he got there. Chisenhall, like Santana, was a failed infielder who was very athletic, even more so than Santana. While athleticism doesn’t guarantee success in the outfield (see Michael Brantley) it sure helps.
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We also saw Jose Ramirez jump into the outfield this year despite just five games there between the minor and major leagues. No one is running to hand Ramirez a Gold Glove in left field but he never embarrassed himself and held his own and that’s all the Indians need out of Santana. Remember too, Santana is replacing Coco Crisp in left field, not an Alex Gordon-type. Crisp did post a positive DRS (+1) but had a -3.4 UZR and his arm is horrendous, likely costing the Tribe at least one run in the Boston series. And of course, there’s Santana’s bat.
The Cleveland Indians Need His Bat
Despite many fans who will cry foul, Santana was the best everyday hitter for the Indians this year, posting a 132 wRC+ (weighted runs created) and tying Mike Napoli for the team-lead with 34 home runs. Even more impressive was how well Santana hit versus right-handed pitching posting a 144 wRC+ and .915 OPS, both tops on the team.
His .374 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching was also best on the Cleveland Indians and instrumental out of the leadoff spot (where he always hits versus righties). The Indians face a tall task at the plate against National League ERA king Kyle Kendricks and can’t afford to lose their best offensive player at this juncture.
Santana very well may not play the whole game in the outfield either. He could get two at-bats before the start of the bottom of the third inning and even if Tito takes him out then it’s better than a single pinch hit opportunity. He could probably play four or five innings in the field and get at least three plate appearances as well and by then it could be safe to turn to a Rajai Davis to replace him (possibly as a pinch runner too I may add).
There are definitely some major risks with the move by Francona. Wrigley Field has the ivy wall and some weird outfield dimensions that can give even the best outfielders fits at times. And while we’ve see many guys make the quick switch to the outfield, it’s always been during the regular season and not in Game 3 of a World Series. The stakes are way higher and each mistake more magnified.
However, the risk/reward factor says it’s worth it to at least try it. The Indians don’t have the pitching they could have with injuries and need to squeeze every drop out of the offense they can to support Josh Tomlin tonight and Corey Kluber in Game 4. I for one applaud Francona for this decision, which is the right one that makes a ton of sense.