Regular readers of BurningRiverBaseball.com should be familiar with the ‘Player of the Game’ scoring system, but for those who are not, read about it here first, because it will be the primary evaluator for the rest of this article.
There has been a lot made about Carlos Santana’s slow start as Indians fans grow tired of his under .200 batting average and lack of power when compared to previous seasons. He has had plenty of reasons to struggle as well, playing third base for the first time in his Major League career as well as dealing with injuries to his groin and head. The exact purpose for the extreme drop in batting average, despite consistently good at bats was discussed earlier in the season, but now he has played enough games to get a more significant answer.
Using the ‘Player of the Game’ statistical analysis, there are some very obvious splits when looking at Santana’s season by position. I will use the POG stat to start as it is all encompassing, considering hitting, defense and base running, but will later get into more traditional statistics. Of Santana’s 53 games played, the vast majority (26) have been at third base, although has been changing recently as he has played five straight games elsewhere and seven of his last eight. There were also two games where he started at third, then moved to another position. Santana has also been Yan Gomes primary back-up catcher, starting ten games behind the plate and more recently has taken over first with the injury to Nick Swisher.
As was thought early in the season, it certainly does seem like playing more difficult positions has affected Santana at the plate. At third, which is arguably the most difficult position on the field, he has earned just 0.62 POG points per game, partially because of his six errors (he hasn’t committed an error at first or catcher), but more so by his .129 average. When he has to concentrate on calling the game behind the plate, he is even worse, this time with an even greater emphasis on his poor offensive performance. This is the only position he hasn’t homered from and in fact, has just one extra base hit and three total hits in 34 at bats. One thing that hasn’t changed extremely between positions is that Santana always walks, but even there he has been significantly better during his short time at first.
Adding his numbers from first and DH together, Santana has hit five of seven home runs, knocked in 12 of 19 runs and batted .296. Despite playing in less games at DH and 1B combined (15) than he has played at third, almost all of his production has come from these positions. While this could be attributed to the fact that he has played less at third recently and has been heating up overall, that is not exactly the case either. One of his best games of the year was his first played at first, when he hit a three run home run against the Angels on April 29th. The same week he hit that home run, he hit two more as a DH, so it is not just the past week that has padded his numbers. Going back to his POG score, the last time he had one above 3.00 (a great game) as a third baseman was on May 14th and he only has two there on the season. He already has two at DH and three at first base, however, despite playing less time there.
While more evidence wouldn’t hurt, the early findings appear significant. Carlos Santana is a hitter first, who plays in the field out of necessity. When he needs to concentrate on his defense, his offense suffers, especially when he plays behind the plate. Considering this information, it is hard to argue for Santana to play third, especially with Chisenhall leading the team in all rate stats and it may be dangerous for him to play behind the plate. With multiple stints on the concussion DL already in his career, Santana could be risking significant brain damage in addition to being an overall poor defensive catcher. It was a great idea to use Santana as the back-up catcher to save a roster spot, but it has simply not worked out as planned.