Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 11/19/14
Mlb-indians-blue-jays

Carlos Santana’s 2011 season drew a line in the sand among most Indians fans I know.  There was the group that wondered why his batting average was so low (.239) and consequently seemed somewhat bearish on his potential, maturity-level, talent, etc.

The other group drooled over his on-base percentage (.351) and power potential (.457 slugging percentage).  They wrote off his low batting average to poor luck on balls in play, and figured that he was bound to break out in a major way in 2012.  He had a great batting eye and prodigious power.  The rest typically takes care of itself.

You’ll remember that I was in the second group.  And now I’m worried that maybe I was wrong, because Carlos Santana’s 2012 is not going well.

The reason I know that 2012 is not going well is that my brother has not yet forgiven me for the advice I gave him during his fantasy baseball draft.  Something along the lines of, “You’ll regret not having him on your team.  Best hitting catcher in baseball this season.”  There may or may not have been a “Book it” involved.

But I also know that Santana’s 2012 has been bad because I’ve had to watch the games.  I’ve witnessed more weak groundouts to second base than I ever wanted to.  I’ve seen all the foul outs to third base and strikeouts with men in scoring position.  I’ve lived Santana’s demise, and I’ve not enjoyed it one bit.

And because I was so bullish on him coming into the year, I’ve mostly shielded myself from actually looking at Santana’s numbers.  I know he’s been bad, so why would I bother verifying that by looking up the actual recorded facts?  That would just add to the humiliation.  Better to just wait for him to come out of it, right?

Well, that’s what I told myself in April.  And I told myself that in May.  And I told myself that in June.  And now it’s freaking July, and Santana doesn’t seem to have come out of anything.  In fact, he seems to be getting worse, if such a thing is even possible.1

So I think it’s time I do my service to the community and go ahead and look at the numbers.  It seems like the grown-up thing to do, and I’ve been told I should start behaving like one of those.

Ready?  Good.  Let’s do this:

2011 2012 BB% 14.7% 15.9% K% 20.2% 20.7% BABiP 0.263 0.268 AVG 0.239 0.222 OBP 0.351 0.341

Now, as you’ll see, he’s much worse in 2012 at everything, and now we can just move…

Wait a second.  He’s walking more often in 2012 than he did in 2011? More of his batted balls are falling in for hits this year than last?  He’s barely striking out any more in 2012, resulting in an on-base percentage that is only slightly down from last season and still well above league-average?  This does not compute.

I don’t understand.  I know that Carlos Santana is having a crummy year.  I’ve witnessed it.  So why isn’t it showing up in these numbers?

There are, of course, some numbers I’m leaving out of the table.  You’ll remember that there are only two things that good hitters must do if they hope to remain good hitters: (1) not make outs; and (2) hit for power.  This is why OPS works as a decent shorthand when evaluating a hitter.  The on-base percentage measures the “not making outs” skill and the slugging percentage measures the “hitting for power” skill.  There just isn’t a whole lot more that we want our hitters to do.

And that’s the rub with Santana’s 2012 so far: somebody pulled the plug on his power.  He’s still walking plenty–his 16% BB-rate is well above league average.  But those power numbers are godawful.  There are about eleventy ways to measure this, but let’s choose just a few.

In 2011, Santana had 64 extra-base hits.  This season, he’s on pace for 35.

In 2011, Santana had 27 home runs.  This season he’s on pace for nine.

In 2011, Santana slugged .457.  This season he’s at .339.

In 2011, Santana’s isolated power–defined as the difference between slugging percentage and average—probably the best pure measure of power–was .217.  This season it’s at .115.

Not since he was a 20 year old infielder in the Dodgers’ organization has Santana had an ISO below .200.  He’s never had an ISO as low as his current .115.  Unless you have access to some Little League numbers that I can’t find.

There’s talk of bringing back the much ballyhooed toe-tap–that perhaps Santana replaced the toe tap with a higher leg kick, throwing off his timing and balance and sapping him of his power.

I don’t know about any of that, really, but it sounds like something a hitting coach might say when all else has failed.  The coach’s version of, “It hurts when I do this….then stop doing that.”

Maybe Santana needs the toe tap.  Maybe he needs some time in the minor leagues to get some confidence back.  Maybe the All-Star break will clear his head, and he’ll come back on a tear.

Or maybe I was wrong all along, and he’s just never going to be the sort of power hitter I told my brother about.

But we better hope that’s not true.  One of the consequences of basically punting on any offensive production from our 1B, 3B and LF is that we have to lean a bit heavier on positions from whom other teams can accept defense-only. For example, we need our second baseman and our short stop and our catcher to be above average hitters if we hope to compete.  Right now, Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera are holding their own and giving this team a fight shot.  But Carlos Santana is dead last among qualified catchers in slugging, ISO, and batting average.  This regression will not stand, man.

I’ve written this more times than I care to remember, but regardless of any potential trade addition, this team will only go as far as its core players can take it.  If Santana keeps this power-drought going much longer, that’s not going to be very far.

___________________________________

  1. Through May 2, Santana was at least a reasonable hitter, putting up a .260/.409/.466 line.  But since then?  .205/.307/.281.  He has exactly one home run in his last 202 plate appearances, most of which were in the four or five hole in the lineup.
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