How many times can Carlos Santana walk into the record book? The Cleveland Indians star continues to show some of the best plate discipline in baseball.
The 34-year-old veteran has always had a knack for getting on base over his now 11 years in the league, but on 2020 is on a historic pace thanks to his tremendous plate discipline. So far this season, Santana has drawn recorded 27 walks over 23 games.
Dubbed Carlos ‘SLAMtana’ around some fan circles, Santana has made an impact up and down the Indians’ order, contributing as a lead-off hitter on some occasions, clean-up in others and occasionally in the bottom third of the order.
He’s bounced around the field as well. He started his career as a catcher while spending time at third base and even left field before ultimately settling in at first base. Regardless of where he is batting in the order or playing in the field, he has always found a way to get on base.
Prior to the 2020 season, Santana had already been a proven challenge for opposing pitchers, having led the league in walks during the 2014 season with 113. In fact, over his career, those numbers have almost seemed routine. Santana has hit triple-digit walks four times in his career (2014, 2015, 2018, 2019) while registering 99 in 2017 and 97 in 2011. That brings the question – how many times can Santana etch his name in the record book for the category?
The first step is the Cleveland Indians’ record book, which he is steadily making progress. While in an Indians’ uniform, which has been 10 of Santana’s 11 seasons, Santana has drawn 861 walks, which is currently second in club history behind just Jim Thome with 1,008.
Now, the Major League Baseball record is a long way away for Santana, being held by Barry Bonds with 2,558, which is 368 more than the second-place Rickey Henderson. As it currently stands entering Wednesday’s game, Santana is tied for 131st with 971 career base on balls if you include his one season with the Phillies.
However, there is one stat that Santana could inch closer to, although it might be numbed down given the state of the season. Santana is currently averaging 1.23 walks per game. Even when Bonds had a career-high, and MLB record, 232 walks in 2004, he averaged 1.58 walks per game, which illustrates just how great of a season Santana is having in the walk department.
The difference between that Bonds’ record-season and this year of Santana is the intentional walks. Of Bonds’ 232 walks, 120 were intentional. This means that just 112 were actually “drawn” by Bonds. All of Santana’s walks this season have been “drawn” with none of them being intentional.
Transitioning back to Cleveland, the Indians’ single-season record for walks is held by Thome with 127 walks during the 1999 season. Although Santana won’t be able to hit that mark, we return to the average walks. During the 1999 season, Thome still did not average a walk per game, coming in with 0.87 walks per game.
Again, Santana’s walk numbers look even more impressive when looking at the intentional walks issued to Thome. During the 1999 season, Thome was intentionally walked 13 times ,meaning 114 were drawn at the plate. When removing intentional walks for Thome, he averaged just 0.78 walks per game. Bonds in 2004 without intentional walks? 0.76 walks per game. Santana this season without intentional walks? He still hits the same 1.23 walks per game.
Another player Santana’s walks compare to is hall of famer and Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams‘ 1941 season, considered possibly the best hitting performance in baseball history for a single season.
Williams logged an average of .406 over 143 games while also drawing a league-leading 147 walks. Of those 147 walks, 25 were intentional, meaning Williams drew 122 walks over 143 games that season, bringing his average walks per game to 0.85 without intentional walks.
While Williams’ greatness that year isn’t remembered for his walks, but the gap between what Santana is doing this year and that year for Williams is still fascinating to consider.
One final question to consider is “What if?” What if we were playing 162 games this year?
It’s hard to imagine that in a full season, Santana would be able to keep this up, but why not consider the possibility. On his current pace, in a 162 game season, Santana would end the year with just about 199 walks. That number would be the second-most in a single season and would be one shy of joining Bonds’ 2004 season as the only players to log 200+ walks in a single season. So, yes, this is a rather historical season for Santana despite not playing a full 162-game season.